HALLETT ABEND September 1 1944


HALLETT ABEND September 1 1944


Chiang Kai-shek—liberal leader or dictator? Military genius or puppet? Herewith a frank appraisal of China's Generalissimo


IT IS always possible when several score foreigners who formerly lived in China are assembled to obtain at least half a dozen sharply differing replies to the question: “What manner of man is

General Chiang Kai-shek?”

The answers to this question will always cover the following wide range of opinion:

1. A great military leader.

2. An ardent Christian convert who will Christianize China.

3. The man who unified China in order to fight Japan.

4. One of the world’s great liberal leaders.

5. A reluctant dictator who longs to introduce real democracy to the Chinese people.

6. A figurehead for the Soong family and a man largely under the domination of his wife, Soong Mei-ling Chiang.

Even in Chungking today, and in the rest of China, most replies about the real character of the Generalissimo will follow one of these opinions, or at best be a combination of two or three of these careless estimates based upon shallow observation and ignorance of the personal record of China’s new President.

Actually Chiang Kai-shek is none of these things. He ÏS first of all a Chinese of the deepest patriotism, and although his ambition is tremendous he would probably sacrifice himself and his personal aspirations if by doing so he could assure the liberation of his country. But he is at the samo time an unusually clever Oriental type of p ditician. He is a man who chooses his aides shrewdly but who is so continuingly jealous of personal power and of rivals that he lets

none of his aides acquire great personal fame. He is more of an opportunist than a man of principle, and while he has given lip service to liberalism he is by nature autocratic and conservative. He is no figurehead for any person nor for any clique; he is instead domineering by nature and often dangerously stubborn.

General Chiang is not a well-educated man by Chinese or foreign standards. Now in his 58th year, he knows little of the world outside of China, with the exception of Japan and that portion of Russia surrounding Moscow. He made one brief official visit to India and one brief visit to Egypt. His only other knowledge of any except Chinese ways of life came through his occasional and superficial contacts with foreigners at Shanghai and at Hong Kong, with missionaries at Nanking and Kuling, and his official interviews with foreign diplomats stationed in China and with notable visitors from abroad.

Because it seems that China-—nominally at least— is to be one of the “Big Four” it is important that the public acquire a clearer idea of what General Chiang Kai-shek is really like—as a human being, as an administrator and as a statesman. Widespread misapprehensions concerning great public figures often lead to widespread disappointments, and disappointments result in the alienation of sympathy among whole peoples.

What, then, are the facts concerning the man who is in China as much of an absolute dictator as Joseph Stalin is in Russia? What are the truths which should be understood in place of the six prevalent misapprehensions concerning the Generalissimo?

Taking them in their order, they are these:

1. In my view the record indicates that General Chiang is not a great military leader. He has rarely taken the field since 1928, and since the sensational advance northward of the Nationalist armies which ended in the capture of Peking he has no notable battle nor campaign successes written down to his credit as a commander in combat or in action. Before the consummation of the uneasy alliance effected at Sian late in 1936, Chiang and his generals failed consistently in annual attacks against the armed Chinese Communist forces.

From the time he emerged from obscurity in the summer of 1926 General Chiang has always had the advantage of the guidance of foreign military experts. During his famous and triumphal northward march from Canton to the Yangtze River, he was ably advised by General Galen, a Soviet military expert. When he fell out with the Communists lie employed General von Seeckt, once Germany’s chief of staff. Later Hitler recalled Chiang Kai-shek’s German military advisers, who at one time numbered nearly 70 experts of various kinds, but those of them who were Jews chose to remain in China, and some of them are still there. Today, of course, the Generalissimo enjoys the advice of numerous British and American military and air experts of outstanding ability.

2. General Chiang’s sincerity in adopting the Christian faith is not to be doubted, but he certainly gives no sign of ever intending or even hoping to make China a so-called Christian nation. Chinese are tolerant about religious beliefs, and when the Generalissimo joined the church to which his wife’s family belonged it won him neither acclaim nor condemnation among the Chinese people. In China, a man doesn’t give a fig whether his next-door neighbor is a Confucian, a Buddhist, or a Taoist. At óne time adoption of the Christian religion by a Chinese was apt to lead to business and social ostracism, and during the height of the Boxer movement it often brought about slaughter of the convert and his whole family. But today tolerance is the rule.

In spite of a century and a quarter of Christian missionary effort in China, today leas than 1% of the country’s 450,000,000 people are regular attendants or communicants at any Protestant Christian church. There is a larger number of the population Roman Catholic. It is doubtful if General Chiang’s baptism has brought an additional 1,000 sincere converts into the Methodist churches of China. Some politically ambitious men have professed the faith hoping thereby to benefit their careers, but in this they have been disappointed, for the Generalissimo has never been known to go out of his way to give a job to a fellow church member.

3. It is a curious twist of fate which has put Chiang Kai-shek, in the popular imagination of most of America und Europe, in the position of being the man

who engineered and inspired China’s long battle of resistance against Japan. Actually it required a violent coup d'état and a period of imprisonment when he was at the mercy of his most hated enemies to persuade the Generalissimo to agree that unity in resistance to Japan should take precedence over the continuance of a civil war with the Reds, which had already raged for nine years.

Spent Staggering Sums

THE ferocity and duration of this Kuomintang campaign against the Chinese Communists has been little understood outside of. China. At one time Chiang Kai-shek mobilized about 900,000 of his forces against an organized Communist force of 180,000 Reds who had found refuge in the southern portion of Kiangsi province. The Government troops spent staggering sums of money ringing the enemy area with a system of hundreds of miles of military highways and thousands of small forts with an overlapping range of machine-gun and artillery fire. This ring of fortifications stretched through portions of five provinces, and before the Reds managed an almost miraculous escape they suffered 60,000 killed; and, according to the Kuomintang itself, the total civilian dead from shelling, bombing and actual starvation reached nearly 1,000,000 before Soviet Kiangsi was recaptured by the Government.

After they escaped from Kiangsi the Reds began a march which was to require a little more than a year to complete, which would take them through portions of nearly a dozen provinces, and which was to stretch to a length of 6,000 miles—a distance roughly twice that from Quebec to Vancouver. At one point they struggled across a mountain range 16,000 feet high, and for nearly every mile of that agonizing retreat they fought the Kuomintang’s ground forces and were bomfcfed almost daily from the air.

It was two years after the completion of this terrible ordeal of marching and of battle that General Chiang, in December, 1936, went to the City of Sian to order what he thought would be the final and fatal blow against the Reds, who were then centred north of Sian in a poverty-stricken portion of Shensi province.

For several days the Generalissimo’s northwest commanders argued with him, insisting that a compromise and unity of action against further Japanese aggression would be wiser than pushing what he was determined should be a campaign of annihilation against the Chinese Communists. Chiang Kai-shek would not listen, and his reiterated order was “Destroy the Reds.” On Dec. 10 the Generalissimo gave orders that the forward movement was to begin Dec. 12. Instead, on the night of the 11th, orders for a mutiny affecting 170,000 soldiers were given out, and by dawn of the 12th Chiang Kai-shek was a prisoner in the hands of those who had opposed him, after scenes of

violence in which more than half of his bodyguard was killed.

Only after a fortnight of imprisonment, during much of which time he stubbornly refused to eat, drink, bathe or utter a single word, was he argued into consenting to patch up a peace with the Reds in the interest of effecting a united front against future Japanese aggression. This was late December, 1936, and Japan attacked near Peiping early in July of the next summer.

During this crisis Chiang Kai-shek’s Christianity came prominently to the fore. For days, lying in bed, he did nothing but read the Bible—mostly the Old Testament. And he himself has recorded that when, on the morning of his being seized by the mutineers, he fled over a rocky and snowy hillside, he realized that “God had chosen me to save China.”

His explanation of this extraordinary convictionis that he paused in his flight and prayed for guidance to a place of safety and that God then sent two white rabbits, which he followed to a small cave under an overhanging rock where he was able to hide until the slaughter of his bodyguard was ended !

It is an illuminating index to the man’s character that he never was able to imagine God as sending him any sign that he should end the disastrous civil war which was taking an enormous toll of the lives of his own countrymen and which for nearly a decade wasted the nation’s financial and material resources which should, during that whole period, have been husbanded to repel repeated Japanese aggressions.

Fears Russia

CHIANG KAI-SHEK insisted then, and insists today, that his main motive in continuing campaign after campaign against the Communists was a sincere attempt to bring about unity in China in order that his country could become powerful enough to oppose the Japanese or any other foreign invaders. Actually he appears to have been obsessed then, as he is still obsessed today, by fear of Russia.

He also argued that before 1937 China lacked the strength to oppose Japan with force and that it was essential to gain time by any kind of device in order to train and equip the national armies. It is a reflection upon his political and military judgment, but not necessarily upon his patriotism or his personal sincerity, that the divisions he thus created within China and the enormous wastage of manpower, money and resources entailed weakened rather than strengthened his country.

4. The delusion that the Generalissimo is one of the great liberal leaders of the world is doubtless founded upon the fact that he is the titular and powerful leader of the Kuomintang Party, which still avows loyalty to the liberal policies, social, political and economic, Continued on page 34

Continued from page 6

promulgated by the late Dr. Sun Yat-sen, original leader of the Chinese Revolution.

It is true that all Kuomintang meetings are opened by having all present rise and bow three times before Dr. Sun’s portrait, and by repeating Dr. Sun’s “Three Principles of the People.” But the long and bloody record of the last 17 years, since General Chiang broke with the Communists and began to fight against them in 1927, shows that under his domination the Kuomintang has moved steadily farther and farther toward rigid conservatism. All labor movements have been firmly suppressed; the agrarian movement, designed to end the virtual serfdom of China’s “share croppers” and land-leasing peasants, has been discouraged and blocked; and freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and the liberalization of education have been discountenanced and even persecuted.

Under the guise of wartime censorship, there has existed for years a suppression of news about the actual economic, social and political conditions existing in that portion of China not under Japanese domination. What few persons in America and in Europe realize are the facts that even before Japan attacked China in 1937 there was also an attempt at an equally rigorous censorship and that foreign correspondents who attempted to write China’s domestic conditions with candor were immediately denied access to official sources of information and often subjected to various degrees of persecution.

These conditions are gradually coming to light as a result of the dangerous political ferment going on in China today. Since the end of March some astonishingly frank summaries of the conditions brought about by the continuing dictatorial rule of the Kuomintang have been published.

Sun Fo, son of the founder of the Chinese Republic and now president of the Legislative Yuan at Chungking, has even been bold enough to declare in an interview that the Kuomintang “has assumed the attitude and habits of a ruling caste . . . suppressing

outside criticism . . . and withholding from publication criticism within the party.”

Another prominent Kuomintang official, discussing village government, declares that the system “has been for a long time the private preserve of the corrupt gentry and the rapacious landlords,” and charges that “if a truly democratic government is to be built up . . . these corrupt oppressors . must be deprived of their power.”

The Kuomintang has continued to cling to dictatorial power on the grounds that the party is the only agency fit to conduct the Chinese people through the period of “political

tutelage” which Dr. Sun Yat-sen prescribed. But the years have brought no liberalization, and repeated promises concerning the institution of constitutional government have been deferred time and again “because of the war.”

One Party System

5. As long ago as 1912, after the Manchu Dynasty was dethroned, the English-speaking peoples of the world began to refer to “the Chinese Republic.” In the United States the phrase became “our sister republic.” But in modern China there has never been held anything remotely approaching what the English-speaking peoples call an election. Only in unimportant villages do the elders ever really administer affairs, and only in such places have the people any choice in the matter of minor public officials. From governors down to mayors of small towns, from Cabinet ministers down to the humblest tax collectors, all officials are appointed, and no one ever gets an appointment except through Kuomintang membership or the influence of some friend or relative who is in the Kuomintang. This party has a membership of less than one half of 1% of the entire Chinese population and by fiat has made illegal the very existence of any opposition political parties.

The fact that this condition continues to exist, and that criticism of this condition is strictly banned in China, negatives the widespread estimate of General Chiang as a reluctant dictator who longs to give the Chinese people genuine democracy.

The so-called “kidnapping” of General Chiang at the time of the Sian mutiny was strongly reminiscent of the Generalissimo’s high-handed treatment of Hu Han-min, one of the elder leaders of the Kuomintang and associate of Sun Yat-sen. Hu, then an official of the Nanking Government, was hauled from his home to prison without any proceeding except an order from General Chiang. He was kept for many months in a house surrounded by a high wall with watchtowers at all four corners, searchlights, and even machine guns mounted in the sentry boxes. Chiang’s long imprisonment of Li Chai-sum, another political opponent, was an equally autocratic action.

Chiang’s onetime admiration for Hitler and Mussolini and their Black Shirts and Brown Shirts inspired him to organize his personal gestapo—the dreaded Blue Shirts of China. He used the bullies and gangsters of this secret organization for the slaughter of thousands of lesser opponents on the excuse, sometimes true and sometimes false, that they were Communists.

There have, of course, been repeated promises to the Chinese people that at certain specified dates the Kuomintang dictatorship would be brought to an end and the Government be turned over to representatives freely elected by the citizens of China. From time to time there were postponements because of civil wars, because of the anti-Communist suppression campaign, because of various crises occasioned by Japanese aggressions. Now the “period of political tutelage” will, according to promise, be terminated as soon as possible after the final defeat of Japan.

During the late spring and early summer of this year there have been some inconclusive signs that are hopefully interpreted by certain optimistic observers as indications of an earlier liberalization of the Kuomintang regime. So far, however, these are wholly without substantiation.

Granting that the various excuses for postponement of relaxation of the

Kuomintang’s grip upon Chinese affairs may have been valid, nevertheless the record indicates a reluctance to relinquish power rather than the reluctant continuance of party dictatorship. And since General Chiang is the boss and dictator of the Kuomintang, 1 which can adopt no policy of which he | disapproves, it must be presumed that he personally is without enthusiasm for the early establishment of a democratic regime or for the growth of rival political organizations.

6. The idea that General Chiang is a figurehead and that China is really governed by him as a pliant agent for ; the now-famous Soong family is patently absurd. General Chiang is nobody’s tool or dupe. Even his charming wife, one of the three Soong sisters, has much less to do with the i formulation of policies and the making j of decisions of great weight than is j generally supposed.

The idea that the Generalissimo’s j wife is “the real power behind the j throne” is probably based upon the fact that although General Chiang understands English and speaks it fairly well, he is always reluctant to use any foreign tongue and consequently has his wife act as interpreter for him j on most occasions. He is also fairly fluent in Japanese and speaks a little ¡ Russian but rarely uses either language.

Chiang Kai - shek’s independence, ! which has gradually developed into domination of the Soong family, was manifested before he married the youngest of the Soong sisters, Mei-ling. Madame Soong, the mother, was a remarkably able woman and a devout Christian. She for a long time insisted that General Chiang must become a Christian before he could marry her daughter, but this he steadfastly refused to do. He made a counterproposal, which was that after his marriage he would conscientiously study Christianity, approach it with an open and enquiring mind, and that only if it appealed to him as the ultimate truth in religion would he consent to being baptized.

Change his religion for a woman? Never! So Chiang had his way.

Another incident connected with his marriage may seem trifling, but was , really of great importance as an index of character. Mei-ling had outfitted i herself with a magnificent trousseaugowns and hats and shoes from New York, from Hollywood, from Paris. The bridegroom-to-be looked over this wardrobe and sniffed contemptuously. His edict was:

“If you are going to marry a Chinese general, the head of the Chinese Government, then you must dress in Chinese-style clothes.”

There were tears. There were protests. But the magnificent imported I trousseau was given up. Some of the j dresses were given away to friends and ! some were sold. The wife of one American consular official bought five of the dinner and evening gowns. And since then Madame Chiang Kai-shek has always worn those Chinese dresses ! which are so startlingly becoming to j her slender and graceful figure.

Then there was the serious family j and state problem of Madame Sun Yat-sen, who is Madame Chiang’s sister and widow of the great révolu| tionary leader. Madame Sun had taken the side of the Chinese “Reds” when General Chiang split with the faction heading the Government at Hankow. She fled overland from Hankow to Moscow and remained in Russia for about two years, frequently denouncing the Generalissimo and charging that he had “betrayed all the liberal principles j of the Revolution.”

Madame Sun returned to China in 1929 for the state funeral accorded to ¡

her late husband when his body was taken from an ancient marble temple in the Western Hills near Peiping for final interment on Purple Mountain at Nanking.

Preferred Independence

Madame Sun Yat-sen was offered a luxurious villa at Nanking and a very large monthly pension if she would merely consent to reside at the nation’s new capital and thereby accord tacit approval of the Kuomintang regime headed by her brother-in-law. She I refused, and chose instead to live meagrely in a tiny two-room apartment in the French Concession at Shanghai.

When the Japanese took most of Shanghai in 1937, Madame Sun removed for a time to British Hong Kong and later went reluctantly to Chungking, believing that at least a semblance of unity was essential until after Japan had been defeated. At Chungking today Madame Sun is not exactly a prisoner, but there are restrictions placed on her movements and upon her callers. She is seldom permitted to speak for publication.

Then there is the presently obscure case of T. V. Soong, who is Madame Chiang’s brother and who was incomparably the most able Finance Minister China has ever had. Indeed financial experts the world over declare that China’s T. V. Soong and Germany’s Dr. Hjalmar Schacht are today the greatest living wizards on governmental financing.

T. V. Soong in 1933 made a trip to the United States and negotiated what was known as “the $50,000,000 wheat and cotton loan.” He returned to China in triumph, and his popularity was immense. Then suddenly he resigned, to the bewilderment of the public.

The reason for his resignation was the fact that he refused to continue to raise money and increase taxes to be squandered upon civil war. Soong favored unification of China by negotiation, by compromise, and by loosening the grip of the Kuomintang. General Chiang insisted upon continuing his costly and fruitless war against the Chinese Communists and upon using his armies against regional warlords who would not knuckle under. Soong was succeeded as Finance Minister by H. H. Kung, who is married to the eldest of the Soong sisters, and Kung holds that same portfolio today.

For a considerable period Soong resided in Washington, D.C., not as Chinese Ambassador but as negotiator under Lend-Lease, and as China’s member of the Pacific War Council. Then he was made Minister of Foreign Affairs and returned to Chungking. Apparently there has been renewed tension. Obscurely worded and evidently heavily censored news dispatches from Chungking have recently told about Soong’s being ousted from control of the Bank of China. Several United Nations diplomats, wrho have recently flown over “the hump” to India, report that while Soong is still holding the title of Foreign Minister he is “almost a prisoner” and under restraints similar to those imposed upon Madame Sun Yat-sen.

However devious some of his methods may seem to Americans and Europeans, there can be no disputing the fact that General Chiang Kai-shek has made himself into the symbol of China’s resistance and of China’s unity and strength. That he is a man of transcendent ability as an Oriental leader and politician is not open to question. He has climbed to the top - and stayed there—in the face of terrific and unscrupulous opposition on the pan of many of his country’s

own leaders. Japanase intrigue has tried many a time to topple him from place and power.

It can be argued, moreover, that in the present state of political and social development in China, neither Chiang Kai-shek nor any other political leader could maintain himself in power except by the use of means which could not be tolerated in any country that makes a sincere profession of democracy. The difficulty with China is that its leaders and apologists use the words of liberalism but perform the deeds of autocracy.

This does not mean that they are deliberately nor even consciously hypocritical. All Chinese hold a peculiar reverence for the written word. For instance, the regime at Nanking once issued an edict “abolishing” illiteracy. Within a month after this event many Chinese high officials were gravely assuring ignorant visitors that illiteracy no longer existed in the country. It had been “abolished,” and that was that!

A striking instance of the General’s ability to weigh perilous situations and make quick and wise decisions is afforded by the problem whicli he had to solve when Japan started her present war in China by the attack at Marco Polo Bridge near Peiping in July of 1937.

He knew that the northern generals and their armies around Peiping and Tientsin would not fight effectively. He sensed the fact that Japan, at that time, wanted merely to “bite off” the five northern provinces of China and then digest them, just as Japan had

“bitten off” Manchuria a few years before.

The Generalissimo knew that China needed more time to arm and to prepare. He knew his country needed a stronger air force. But he had in mind, too, the fact that if he did not fight Japan then, the Chinese Communists would charge bad faith. He could not risk another prolonged civil war, with Japan growing stronger and stronger as she developed North China.

So Chiang Kai-shek deliberately precipitated war at Shanghai, where the Japanese did not want to fight. The Generalissimo decided that he could best save China and ultimately defeat Japan by making the conflict a war on a truly national scale instead of leaving it confined to the northern provinces, which were Japan’s immediate objectives.

The Japanese had abandoned their Concession at Hankow, evacuating all their nationals from all Yangtze River ports above Shanghai, and at Shanghai they had only about 3,500 soldiers and marines to guard a Japanese colony of more than 30,000 civilians. So General Chiang struck against the Japanese at Shanghai, thereby throwing the war into middle China and arousing his countrymen to a truly national struggle.

A daring decision of that kind is not that of a man who is merely a politician. It was not merely high strategy. It was statesmanship of a high order, and it is the ability to make decisions of that kind which has brought Chiang Kaishek to his present eminence.