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Biographies: Chiang Kal-shek

Chiang Kai-shek, the Chinese Nationalist leader, was born in Fenghua, Chechiang province on October 31, 1887. Chiang’s father was a local merchant who died when Chiang was eight. Having spent a year in a Chinese military academy, in 1907, Chiang went to Tokyo to attend the Japanese Army Military State College. While in Japan, Chiang took part in revolutionary activities led by Sun Yat-sen. In 1924, when Sun set up a military academy near Canton in southern China, Chiang was appointed commandant of the school. 

After Sun’s death, Chiang assumed leadership of the Nationalist Party. In 1926, he launched a northern expedition against warlords, which in two years achieved China’s unity, a fragile unification destroyed by the Japanese occupation of Manchuria in 1931. During the war against the Japanese from 1937 to 1945, Chiang was China’s generalissimo.

The war with the Japanese weakened Chiang’s forces and corruption eroded his government’s legitimacy. In the war with the Communists that followed, in spite of heavy American aid, Chiang lost mainland China by 1949.

Chinese prisoner of wareThe Korean War proved to be a gift to Chiang, who had retreated to the island province of Taiwan. On June 27, 1950, President Harry S. Truman, reversing his earlier decision not to become further involved in the Chinese civil war, ordered full support to Chiang and instructed the U.S. Seventh Fleet to “neutralize” the Taiwan Strait to prevent possible attacks from the mainland. Chiang offered to send his troops to fight in Korea, an idea supported by General Douglas MacArthur. The offer, however, was turned down by the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. At the end of July 1950, Chiang received MacArthur in Taipei. The two discussed the possibilities of military cooperation, but nothing concrete came of the meeting and no Nationalist forces ever fought in Korea. But fervent anti-Communism and the indubitable fact that he was an enemy of the Communist Chinese gave added legitimacy to his regime and opened the floodgates of U.S. aid. In the decades to follow, Chiang’s regime became progressively less brutal and eventually opened to something close to democracy. In addition, the island republic’s economy boomed by the 1970s, until by the 1980s, its gold reserves actually surpassed those of the United States. Chiang was the president of the Republic of China on Taiwan until his death April 5, 1975. 

Jing Li 

Crozier, Brian, with Eric Chou. The Man Who Lost China: The First Full Biography of Chiang Kai-shek (1976). 
Furuya, Keiji. Chiang Kai-shek: His Life and Times, abridged English edition by Chun-ming Chang (1981). 
Morwood, William. Duel for the Middle Kingdom: The Struggle Between Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Tse-tung for Control of China (1980). 
Payne, Robert. Chiang Kai-shek (1969). 

Reprinted with permission from The Korean War: An Encyclopedia, edited by Stanley Sandler and published by Garland Publishing, Inc.