So, what is the current status of Chiang Kai-shek in China? He is the most troublesome of the Republican era-figures for the mainland to figure out. Anyone who can possibly be called a “democratic personage” i.e. vaguely leftist or progressive or something can be praised. Even warlords can be rehabilitated if they went over to the Communist side. Chiang was for a long time –the- bad guy of the CCP demonology, but as the Nationalist regime has been re-appraised so has he. This is not really surprising. He was not a Communist. But then economically neither are the current rulers of China. He was not a democrat. Ditto. He ran a fairly corrupt developmental party state, which should not be too difficult to justify. And he fought the Japanese. There is a nice exhibit up on the Nationalist government at the old Presidential Palace in Nanjing. It lays out the structure of the Nationalist government quite well and is pretty non-committal about his anti-communism, although it does point out that he helped defeat the warlords and such. They only really get down on him when they get to 1948. Under Sun Yat-sen’s Fundamentals of National Reconstruction China was to go through a series of phases of government. First was military dictatorship. Then a period of political tutelage, where under the direction of the wise party-state the Chinese people would be made ready for the third phase, which was constitutional government. Sun was well aware that just declaring a Republic did not make one happen.
In the age of autocracy, the masses of the people were fettered in spirit and body so that emancipation seemed impossible Those who worked for the welfare of the people and were willing to sacrifice themselves for the success of revolution not only did not receive assistance from the people but were also ridiculed and disparaged. Much as they desired to be the guides of the people, they proceeded without followers. Much as they desired to be the vanguards, they advanced without reinforcement. It becomes necessary that., apart from destroying enemy influence, those engaged in revolution should take care to develop the constructive ability of the people. A revolutionary program is therefore indispensable.
The displays at the Presidential palace seem quite respectful of Sun’s 5-power constitution, although they don’t talk much about the transition to constitutional rule. Chiang himself kept China in the stage of political tutelage for most of his time in power. As his critics pointed out this amounted to a dictatorship with vague promises of future democracy. At last, in 1947, Chiang moved China into constitutional government. He became President of China on May 20, 1948. This is often seen as the last act of a desperate man, trying to shore up support for a foundering regime. Here on the mainland, however, they seem to take it pretty seriously. The museum here in Nanjing calls him “President” Chiang after this point, with the title in scare quotes. All the institutions of the post-48 government are in quotes. Scare quotes are pretty common in CCP histories.1 Institutions of Wang Jingwei’s puppet government are always put into quotes or just called false (wei 伪) Always very important to let people know that someone else’s “democracy” is not the real people’s democracy. What I find interesting is that the museum is willing to grant Chiang legitimacy right up to 1948, apparently. It almost makes him seem like an old dynasty that is presented as having had the Mandate and then, right at the end, having lost it, rather than someone who was always an enemy of the people. Or maybe they just don’t want to say that the ’48 government was China’s first democracy, which I would probably agree with, although not for the same reasons the CCP would not want to say that.
Of course to some extent this is a moot point. I don’t think there is as rigid a central “line” on most historical topics as there used to be, and here in Nanjing in particular you might expect more favorable treatment. Still, I find it interesting to watch the changing reputations of historical figures.
they can be quite postmodern, those commies ↩