The Man Who Lost China
by Brian Crozier, with the collaboration of Eric Chou
Scribners, 430 pp., $12.95
A sympathetic but—for once—not fulsome study by the former Far Eastern correspondent for the London Economist and author of Franco (1968) and De Gaulle (1974). Crozier cheerfully describes Chiang as anything but a democrat or a resolute opponent of the Japanese. He attributes his fall to his “narrowly military” methods and to the restraint of the US in giving him aid. Often painted as heir to the liberal, modernizing nationalist Sun Yat-sen, Chiang was, according to Crozier, never a trusted collaborator of Sun’s; his base of power rested on Shanghai gangsters as well as on military forces. Americans were kept from learning about the central importance of his “Blue Shirt” shock troops; but, as Crozier writes, Chiang “had developed an admiration for fascism and Nazism” and
the outcome of this interest in Nazism was the formation of a fascist-type elite, numbering at 10,000 members, known as the Blue Shirts. The whole country was to be militarized from the kindergarten to the grave.
The English translation of Chiang’s wartime tract, China’s Destiny, remained classified as secret by the State Department because it was so “anti-Western and anti-liberal.”
This biography emphasizes two reasons why Chiang did not become what Crozier calls a real tyrant: his failure to gain genuine control of regional power centers in the 1920s, and his refusal to fight the Japanese instead of the Communists in the 1930s, which lost him popular tolerance. Unfortunately, the account of relations between Chiang and the US does not go much beyond the familiar stories of General Stilwell’s complaints about “the Peanut” and the State Department’s follies in viewing Mao as an “agrarian reformer.” Chiang’s Formosan years are seen largely as successful ones by Crozier. “Except on certain questions, such as anti-Communism, the personality of the President, or Taiwanese independence,” he smoothly writes, “the press was remarkably free….” We are left knowing a good deal more than we did about the man, but not about “the loss of China.”
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