On this day in 1887, in Chekiang province, China, Chiang Kai-Shek, leader of the Nationalist government of China from 1928 to 1949, is born. As a young man training in the Japanese military, Chiang was converted to the ideals of republicanism. Upon returning to China, Chiang fought against the dying Manchu imperial dynasty. He eventually joined forces with Sun Yat-sen’s Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang. Both Sun and Chiang became enamored of Soviet communism and even reorganized the Nationalist Party based on a Soviet model. Upon Sun’s death, Chinese communists, who had been admitted into the party, came into conflict with strict republicans. It was at this point that Chiang’s political shrewdness came to the fore, as he stemmed the influence of the communists in his party while keeping Moscow as an ally—that is, until Chiang led a coup that expelled the communists, feeling that they were too strong a challenge to his own control of the party. Chiang then lead the Nationalists in a march on Peking, eventually forming a new government under his control.
Unifying the country and keeping it from communist control were now most important to Chiang, even more important than his supposedly treasured social reforms or the invasion of Manchuria by Japan, which he did little to resist. But when full-blown war with Japan broke out in 1937, he was compelled to join forces with his communist enemies in order to repel further Japanese encroachments. China fought alone against the Japanese for four years, until the Allies declared war in 1941. Although the Allies hailed Chiang as the salvation of his nation, depicting him as a David against the Japanese Goliath, he was in fact a shortsighted tyrant who was more interested in maintaining his power base and privileges than fighting Imperial Japan. He resisted the attempts by U.S. Gen. Joseph Stilwell to create a modern Chinese army that would fight under joint Allied-Chinese control. He was more interested in getting hold of Lend-Lease money for his own purposes.
Upon the Allied defeat of Japan, Chiang returned to his battle against Mao Tse-tung and the communists. In 1949, he lost his nation to communism. Chiang removed himself to Taiwan, where he set up a relatively benign dictatorship—an alternate China.