Madame Chiang Kai-Shek: China's Eternal First Lady

Laura Tyson Li, Author
Laura Tyson Li, Author . Atlantic Monthly $25 (557p) ISBN 978-0-87113-933-7
Reviewed on: 05/22/2006
Release date: 09/01/2006
Paperback - 557 pages - 978-0-8021-4322-8
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To admirers, the wife of the Nationalist dictator of China and later Taiwan was a symbol of resistance to Communist tyranny; to detractors, she was a crafty "Dragon Lady" or a quisling of American imperialism. In this absorbing biography, Li, a former Taiwan correspondent for the Financial Times , manages a balanced portrait that situates Madame Chiang in an uneasy borderland between East and West. In her charm offensives to the United States seeking military aid during WWII, the author writes, the glamorous, Wellesley-educated Madame Chiang embodied a modern, Westernizing China that made her "a perfect focus for America's rescue complex." But Li also finds her "quintessentially Chinese" in her submissiveness to her husband's authority and "loyalty to clan and personality over principle." Amply conveying her subject's charisma without falling under its spell, Li diagnoses Madame Chiang as a classic "narcissistic personality" and critiques her complicity in the Nationalist regime's brutality and corruption and her lavish lifestyle, which alienated China's impoverished masses. Li is barely adequate at sketching the 105 years of Chinese history Chiang's life spanned, but she offers a well-researched, fluently written assessment of the life and impact of one of the 20th century's iconic figures. Photos, map. (Sept.)

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