It is sixty years to the day that the Republic of China (ROC), having been defeated by the Communist Party in the country’s civil war, relocated to Taiwan. To celebrate the event, Academia Historica, home to Taiwan’s national archives, is presenting an exhibition based on the 1949 diary of Chiang Kai-shek, the ROC’s leader for many years. The original of that diary, and indeed a lifetime of diaries kept by Chiang, are housed in the US, at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, copies of which have only recently been made available for public inspection under stringent conditions.
Chiang Kai-shek was born in 1887 in a place called Xikou which lies roughly 100 miles south of Shanghai and 300 miles directly north of Taipei. His father was a salt merchant, though he died while Chiang was only eight. An arranged marriage followed, and two children. Chiang trained for a military career, partly in Japan, where he served in the imperial army from 1909 to 1911. On returning to China, he took part in various revolutionary activities, until, in 1918, he joined Sun Yat-sen’s Kuomintang, or Chinese Nationalist Party, which was trying to overthrow the warlords and unify the country.
Sun Yat-sen died in 1925, leaving something of a power vacuum, but the following year Chiang won control of the revolutionary forces, and continued the campaign against the warlords. However, he had to fight a bloody battle against a Communist wing within the Kuomintang - involving the murder of thousands - before marching into Peking in 1928 and establishing a new central government. To further consolidate his power base, he married Soong May-ling, the sister of Sun Yat-sen’s widow, but first he had to convert to Christianity, and divorce his wife and concubines, because of the demands by Soong’s parents. Chiang’s government made many advances in the subsequent decade - economic, social, industrial - but was constantly harried by surviving warlords and the ousted Communists.
From 1937, and during the Second World War, Chiang’s resources were focused on repelling and stemming a Japanese invasion. With the help of the Allies, Japan eventually surrendered and withdrew from China. By then, however, Chiang’s rule was suffering badly from corruption and economic inflation, while the Communists, led by Mao Zedong, were growing in strength and influence. The US took a stand and suspended aid payments, but encouraged Chiang to negotiate with Mao Zedong. Wikipedia’s extensive biography of Chiang provides this note: ‘In his diary on June 1948, Chiang wrote that the Kuomintang had failed, not because of external enemies but because of disintegration and rot from within; and it was this, more than any alleged foreign intrigue, that contributed to his defeat.’
In the autumn of 1949, the ROC, defeated by the Communists, moved from mainland China to exile on Taiwan, and exactly sixty years ago today - on 7 November 1949 - its government resumed office there. However, it would be some months before Chiang himself made it to Taiwan and took up his duties as president. He was re-elected several times in subsequent decades, and remained leader of the ROC government in exile, formally claiming sovereignty over all of China, until his death in 1975. In the context of the Cold War, Wikipedia says, most of the Western world recognised this position, and the ROC represented China as a whole in the United Nations and other international organizations until the 1970s.
In memory of that day 60 years ago, Academia Historica is presenting an exhibition of Chiang Kai-shek’s 1949 diary, according to Taiwan Today, quoting from a story in China Times. The special exhibition - Critical 1949: President Chiang Kai-shek’s Resignation and Return - is running in conjunction with a documentary using material from microfilms of Chiang’s diary. The microfilms are in the care of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, Taiwan Today explains, where readers are only allowed to make handwritten copies, and therefore, their display in the exhibition and documentary is ‘especially valuable’. The documentary film crew, it adds, took a year going back and forth between mainland China, the US and Taiwan, consulting the diary and drawing on the Academia Historica’s files, as well as on films in the US National Archives and Records Administration. The Taiwan Today story gives one quote from Chiang’s diary, dated New Year’s Day 1949: ‘The enormity of the failures and ignominy of the past year has never been surpassed.’
In fact, Chiang wrote diaries for much of his life, and these are all held by the Hoover Institution. It divides them into four groups: Earliest Diaries, 1917–1931; World War II Diaries, 1932–1945; Postwar Diaries, 1946–1955; and Final Diaries, 1956–1972. But it also provides a detailed inventory of the diaries in pdf form, along with three pages of notes about them and their provenance. In particular, it notes that the diaries were given to the Institution by Elizabeth Chiang Fang Chih-yi, the wife of one of Chiang Kai-shek’s grandsons, and that the diaries will remain in the archives for 50 years ‘or until a permanent repository is found on the territory of China’.
The Journal of the Overseas Young Chinese Forum has an interesting article about the diaries, with many short quotes. It concludes: ‘What is the importance of Chiang Kai-shek’s diaries? This is a lively collection of papers. On August 25, 1929, he wrote: ‘my wife was suffering terribly after an abortion,’ fueling speculation of Chiang and Soong’s family life, for, by the time Chiang married Soong, he had contracted venereal disease and become sterile. In October 1933, when the central government was engaged with both defending against Japanese aggression and rooting out Communist activities, he ‘watched the moon with wife and sang Manjianghong [a Chinese tragic opera],’ a sensational moment quite different from the typical image of his seriousness and toughness. The diaries, therefore, provide scholars not only with details of major historic events but also insights into the ‘human element’ of history.’
Here is one quote included in the article, dated 14 October 1928: ‘I am so idle and self-indulgent that I have not been keeping my diaries for ten days! With such an unbridled and wanton attitude, how can I endeavor to wash away our national indignity and realize the success of the Chinese revolution?’
The Hoover Institution has kept Chiang’s diaries carefully archived, and only opened them to the public in stages. The Earliest Diaries were opened for inspection in March 2006, and since then one new group of the diaries has been made available each year until the final set was opened last July. However, there are stringent conditions applying: ‘Before examining the paper copies of the diaries, users must sign an agreement stating that (1) quotations from the diaries may not be published, broadcast, or redistributed in any form, without the written permission of the Chiang family, which retains copyright; (2) the diaries may not be photocopied nor photographed, so only handwritten notes may be taken; (3) cameras, cell phones, computers, scanners, and other image capture devices, as well as tape recorders and other recording devices, are not allowed while using the diaries; and (4) violations of the agreement may result in forfeiture of the privilege to access materials at the Hoover Institution Library and Archives.’