cover image The Generalissimo's Son: Chiang Ching-Kuo and the Revolutions in China and Taiwan

The Generalissimo's Son: Chiang Ching-Kuo and the Revolutions in China and Taiwan

Jay Taylor. Harvard University Press, $62.5 (544pp) ISBN 978-0-674-00287-6

Taiwan enjoys a booming economy and a lively, boisterous democracy. In this deeply detailed biography, Taylor maintains that Chiang Ching-kuo is largely responsible for both. Though historically still in the shadow of his famous father, Chiang Kai-shek, whose Nationalist party lost China to the Communists in 1949 and who then fled to Taiwan, the younger Chiang spent a life that is itself fascinating. Born in 1910, as China was disintegrating into anarchy, Chiang as a young man spent 12 years in the Soviet Union as a student and Soviet Party functionary. Returning to a China in chaos, he proved himself a capable administrator amid the otherwise corrupt Nationalists. In exile in Taiwan, he gained immense power, especially after the death of the elder Chiang in 1975. According to the author (a former Asia specialist with the U.S. Foreign Service), he used this power for bad and good. As head of numerous secret agencies, Chiang helped keep Taiwan a brutal dictatorship for 30 years. Yet he was prescient enough to draw into the government skilled personnel who laid the groundwork for the island's spectacular economic development, and pragmatic enough in the years before his death in 1988 to see that a transition to democracy was necessary and inevitable. Of special note is Taylor's account of how Chiang skillfully read and used the changing trends of the Cold War and the post-Cold War period to allow Taiwan to not only survive but prosper. Whether the good Chiang did outweigh the bad remains an open question, but he clearly was a leader of importance. This work will long remain his definitive biography, which means that this could remain in print indefinitely, enjoying small but steady sales. (Oct.)