CHINA HERITAGE QUARTERLY China Heritage Project, The Australian National University ISSN 1833-8461
Nos. 30/31, June/September 2012


Asia's Man of Destiny | China Heritage Quarterly

Excerpts from H.H. Chang's
Chiang Kai-shek: Asia's Man of Destiny*

The Genesis of the Book

When I came with my family to this country some three months before Pearl Harbor was attacked, the war in China was already fifty months old. We disembarked at San Pedro. Before we landed a reporter asked some pertinent questions about the war with Japan. He wanted to know if the Burma Road was in danger. He also wanted to know how it was that a peace-loving country like China could fight alone against a strong military power like Japan for so long without adequate modern equipment. Above all, he wanted to know all that I could tell him about the remarkable man who had become the acknowledged leader of his people. That was my first contact with American public opinion.

I intended to make a short stay in Los Angeles and complete my arrangements for the family before proceeding to my own duties. The openness and climactic wonders of southern California were indeed marvelous. Though we knew no one there, it was not long before we had a circle of friends who were all kind and anxious to be of help. They were especially anxious, however, to know about conditions in my country. Theirs was a lively and healthy intellectual curiosity. But I soon realized that in spite of the many channels of information which were open to the American public, the understanding of China and things Chinese was both limited and quite often inaccurate. It was not America's fault. It had been brought up on information that somehow did not seem to offer a satisfactory explanation for the phenomenon of a brave and sustained war of resistance.


Interest in the Chinese personalities behind the war was naturally keen. What kind of man is your Chiang Kai-shek? What was his training? What is the background of his thoughts and beliefs? How does he rule his country? These and many others continued to be baffling questions. 'We don't know him at all,' many of them would tell me. Others would say, 'He is so far away from us. He is so very Chinese, and frankly there is no common medium through which we can understand or appreciate him.'

Requests soon came in from many quarters for both my wife and myself to speak, with which we gladly complied. I accepted the invitation of the Institute of World Affairs at Riverside. We appeared before clubs, churches, and public forums; and in a few months we were happy in feeling that we were supplying a need which the American public was anxious that we fill. Finally we were invited to speak on the radio, where our voices could reach not only a few thousand, but hundreds of thousands or perhaps even millions of listeners. And with the hearty response that we received through the mail from people of all walks of like we felt increasingly convinced that here was a piece of work that we must perform as a matter of duty.

But the immediate stimulus for the present volume came at an informal gathering of writers and men of letters who had come to California from all parts of the world. It was natural that the conversation should drift to political matters. The crisis in India was then on everybody's lips, and Mr. Louis Bromfield, the author of The Rains Came, had much to say on the subject. From India we turned our attention to China. 'How do you account for the magnificent stand that you are making in China?' 'What are the factors behind this success?' were among the many questions that were asked. As one member of the gathering remarked, 'Surely a China that is showing such heroism, on such an epic scale, completely upsets all the traditional notions that we have been brought up to believe about that country. We must have been quite mistaken, but then how can we understand the real situation?'

I made the observation that China in fact remains the same China she has always been. There have been no basic changes in her culture or in the quality of her people. But I added that there was a new feeling in that country today. The war in the East, I said, was being fought between a highly organized and powerful country with no leadership and a weak and comparatively disorganized country that happened to have a strong personality and a great leader. It was, moreover, a war between militarism and aggression on the one hand and justice and a righteous cause on the other: there should be no doubt as to the eventual outcome of that gigantic struggle. The presence of Chiang Kai-shek had made all the difference in the world.

'Then, why don't you, for heaven's sake,' said one of them, 'write a biography of that man? Surely it should be your duty to bring us and the Western world nearer to him and him to us.' But I said I did not enjoy the reputation as a writer that most of those present did. I was willing, however, I explained, to help gather the material and perhaps to collaborate with one of them in particular who was considered one of the greatest living biographers in the world. The little group remained adamant; it insisted that only one of Chiang Kai-shek's own countrymen, who was at the same time familiar with the West and its literature and history, should undertake the task.

The idea was a challenge to me. But I hesitated. For I had doubts that a book written by me would do justice to so great and difficult a subject. If I were back in China it would probably be a different thing. But here in America I would have difficulty in collecting Chinese material, which was the only source that an adequate biography could draw upon. However, I proceeded with the plan, and before I knew it I had assembled a large amount of relevant documentation in the Chinese language upon which I thought I could base my endeavors. I also talked with people who had known the Generalissimo intimately. I talked with those of my countrymen who had just come from Chung-king, and gradually I felt that the plan was taking shape in my mind. I could, moreover, draw from my own experience, gained from many years of active service in the government. As a counselor in the Chinese Foreign Office and as director of one of its important departments, I was obviously placed in an advantageous position from which to observe the leader of the government at close range. I had also attended meetings where he spoke and had met him at banquets and many other functions.

In 1933 I was appointed to head a diplomatic mission in Europe and proceeded to Nanchang to bid farewell to the Generalissimo, who was then engaged in the bitter war against the Communists in Kiangsi Province. When I arrived he was at the front. I suggested that I see him there. But he returned to his headquarters before I was ready to leave. He invited me to have lunch with him, and I will never forget the utter simplicity of the man on that occasion. His quarters knew no luxury whatever and were no more comfortable than those of an ordinary civil servant. All the ranking generals were present. They had been trained under strict military discipline. The lunch was eaten with almost military precision, and it was to be expected that there was no free and lively conversation at the table. I was especially honored, however, with a half-hour interview when the lunch was over an the party dispersed. The Generalissimo made me feel at home and asked me many questions on the international situation, regarding which I found he was unusually well informed. When the interview was over, he escorted me to the door and gave instructions to his chauffeur that I be sent back to my hostel. That deep sincerity, that ease of manners, that courtesy and graciousness that we usually associate with the Chinese scholar were all there, and he was the first soldier in China! I at once recalled a famous saying by Confucius, which no doubt the Generalissimo knew. 'Let the prince,' said Confucius, 'treat his public servant with honor and consideration. The public servant must then serve the prince with loyalty.' Before I went back to Nanking the Generalissimo presented me with an autographed photo of himself.

Surely a man with so many interesting facets in his remarkable personality should be the subject of a full and adequate biography. But more than that, he is the epitome of his race. The Chinese war of resistance, which incidentally has now become the longest war in the history of the modern world and which seems to have baffled almost everybody outside of China, cannot be properly appraised without an understanding of its leader.

It may seem unusual to bring the name of Lytton Strachey into this foreword, but he it was who started to write biography in the manner of fiction. For better or for worse the method has come to stay, and its influence has been extensive. I wish, however, that it were possible for me to say, as he said of his eminent Victorians, 'Je n'impose rien; je ne propose rien; j'espose.'

It will be difficult to enumerate the many people who have helped me in the preparation of this book. To all of them I owe a debt of gratitude. I have also made copious use of material from various sources for which I am thankful. A portion of the book was prepared while I was on official duties in Washington, where I had the good fortune to pass the hottest summer on record. But then the Library of Congress came to the rescue and defied the weather by maintaining a consistent 78 degrees in its annex, where I spent many pleasant weeks. The staff was unfailingly helpful, and I am grateful especially to those in the Jefferson Reading Room who in one way or another placed their services at my disposal.

The greatest of all debts is one which I can only mention; to do more than that would be an impertinence. For how can I describe in words the quiet but sustained courage, the patience, the fortitude, and the constant encouragement of a loving and devoted wife who is, incidentally, my best and severest critic?

And now a last word. Although during the preparation of the book I ha access to a variety of source material and discussion with many people, it is free from any official inspiration or authorization. The opinions are entirely my own, and I alone am responsible for them.

Riverside Drive

New York City

October 1943


Parting of the Ways

On August 29- 1842, at about eleven o'clock in the morning, when the day's heat was already becoming oppressive, three representatives of the Imperial Chinese Government went on board H.M.S. Cornwallis, which was anchored near the bank of China's mightiest rived, the Yangtze, and soon after the Treaty of Nanking was signed with the British representatives.

That was the end of the Opium War and the beginning of China's international woes.

One hundred years afterward, on October 10, 1942, the thirty-first anniversary of what has now become one of the youngest republic, the Government of the United States, in association with the British Government, announced that it was 'prepared promptly to negotiate a treaty providing for the immediate relinquishment of extraterritorial rights' in China.

That marked the end of one century of impairment of Chinese sovereignty and independence and the beginning of a new era in which China will regain her equal status among the free peoples of the world.

When the United States made this move with Britain, she was aware of its deep significance, and the Library Bell in Independence Hall, symbolic of America's own love of freedom and liberty, rang thirty-one times as a fitting commemoration of an important event taking place on the thirty-first anniversary of the Chinese Republic. It was an unprecedented act in America's international relationship. Three days afterward the leader of the Chinese people responded to his gracious expression when he said:

'I, personally, am so deeply moved by this beautiful and touching gesture that I cannot find words adequate to express my feeling. As a boy the very words "Liberty Bell" and "Independence Hall" fired my imagination and made a profound and lasting impression on my mind. Throughout my struggle to secure national freedom for China I have continuously dreamed of the day when she would assume the full stature of an independent, democratic nation. Today this ideal has been realized.'

The man who said this was Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek. To the statesmanship, vigor, and personality of this one man more than to any other single factor must be given the credit for having realized this ideal. Dr. Sun Yat-sen preceded him, through forty years of unremitting toil, in keeping this ideal of a free and democratic China alive in the minds of his countrymen. But he died before his country became politically united. When he closed his eyes on Mach 12, 1925, at Peking, he was surrounded by those same war lords whose chronic civil wars it was his ambition to terminate as a first step in the unification of the country. Although to all appearances China remained as much confused as when he started out on his revolutionary career, the seeds had been sown; and in seventeen short years, through the devotion and energy of his young follower, those seeds have grown and flowered, until today, not only is China's position as a great power assured, but the history of the Asiatic continent and of the world will be different because of this altered position of China. Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek is in the prime of life, having celebrated the fifty-sixth anniversary of his birth on October 31, 1943. It is safe to say that what he will still be able to accomplish in the years to follow may yet exceed all expectations. Certainly the life of China and eventually of Asia would not be what it promises to be if Chiang Kai-shek had not appeared on the scene.

One hundred years, from 1842-1942, is indeed a short period in the life of a nation having an unbroken history of from four to five thousand years. But no nation has known, within the same number of years, an equal intensity in the change of national moods. To feel, as China felt, the immense pride in being the most cultivated and civilized people in the world, and then, in a few short years, to see all pride, whether justified or not, completely suppressed and trampled into the dust, is to pass from one extreme of national feeling to another. And this transformation took place within the brief span of two generations!

When King George III, that amazing monarch who lost a whole continent in the New World and acquired another in India, sent his first embassy to the court of the Chinese Emperor in 1793, this was how Emperor Chien Lung addressed him through Lord Macartney:

'You, O King, lie beyond the confines of many seas, nevertheless, impelled by your humble desire to partake of the benefits of our civilization, you have dispatched a mission respectfully bearing your memorial … To show your devotion, you have also sent offerings of your country's produce. I have perused your memorial: the earnest terms in which it is couched reveal a respectful humility on your part which is highly praiseworthy …'

'Swaying the wide world, I have but one aim in view, namely, to maintain a perfect governance and to fulfill the duties of the state: strange and costly objects d not interest me … Our dynasty's majestic value has penetrated unto every country under Heaven, and kings of all nations have offered their costly tribute by land and sea. As you ambassador can see for himself, we possess all things. I have expounded my wishes in detail and have commanded your tribute Envoys to leave in peace on their homeward journey. It behooves you, O King, to respect my sentiments and to display even greater devotion and loyalty in future, so that, by perpetual submission to our Throne, you may secure peace and prosperity for your country hereafter …'

George III must have received the shock of his life on reading such a message. But for Chien Lung the attitude was a most natural one. It was not a case of false pride. For was he not the lord of a domain that stretched all the way from the Amur River to Burma and from the China Sea to the heart of Central Asia? Within the circumscribed knowledge of the world that the Chinese then possessed, and with their vast cultural background extending to the early days of recorded history, it would be surprising if a Chinese Emperor did not feel that he alone was entitled to an exalted position over the rest of mankind.

The tragedy was that this exalted position should have been humbled within so short a period of time. The Treaty of Nanking of 1842 was the first official announcement of a changed order when the Chinese, whether they liked it or not, were asked to accept an inferior status in the family of nations. But in spite of this diplomatic instrument whose significance they did not fully realize at the time, the Chinese continued to believe that they were immeasurably superior. Even though they were defeated in the Opium War, they considered it no more than 'a rebellious irruption of a tribe of barbarians.' Some of the ideas about Europe and America among the best-educated Chinese were so farfetched that they were quite pathetic. The prevailing notion was that, China being such a large and fertile country abounding in all good things, and all other places being so small and barren, the most important possessions of Europe and America must therefore all come from within the confines of China. Their belief was that the merchants who came to China constituted the sum total of all the important people or chiefs of the foreign countries. This belief existed to the last days of the nineteenth century.

A carpenter who worked for many year in the building of the British Consulate at Shanghai, soon after the Opium War, took for granted that 'with the exception of the Queen of England all Englishmen of any consequence personally knew me.' So also though even the educated Chinese. He would regard everything foreign as being the reverse of what it should be. When a book was shown to him he could not see how these 'barbarians ever managed to read.' 'Ah, it's all confused, I see,' he would say. 'You put the words anywhere, just as it suits your fancy.' Or he would think to himself, 'These are funny people. They write their language backwards. Instead of beginning from the right, they began from the left or the tail end. Instead of running perpendicularly down the page, they read sideways, and the words are written like the crawling of a crab.' In order to realize that these remarks are not so fantastic, all we need to do is to listen to what the average European or American has to say about China today. For the tables have been turned and, in spite of the enormous advance the world has made in the knowledge of foreign peoples, exactly the same remarks which the Chinese used about the perversity of the foreigners are now being used by the foreigners to describe the Chinese.

The amazing phenomenon was that the educated Chinese could not see, in spite of the Treaty of Nanking, that the countries which could produce, for instance, so large and so beautiful a thing as a ship involving, obviously, in the course of its construction, a high degree of technical skill, must be inhabited by people who had attained a high degree of civilization. He refused to be impressed by these sights. T.T. Meadows, who arrived in Canton in 1843 as interpreter to the British Consulate, was much exasperated by the stubborn and unreasonable attitude of the typical mandarin. 'We have, it is true,' he said, in interpreting the attitude, 'the power to do some great and extraordinary things, but so have the elephants and other wild animals he occasionally sees or hears of; in his eyes, therefore, we are all barbarians, possessing perhaps some good qualities, congregated perhaps together in some sort of societies, but without regular government, coarse and wild.'[2]

A state of mind so incapable of understanding realities and of knowing the actual conditions in those far-off countries that had the strength and power to defeat the Chinese in their own territory, both on land and on sea, must inevitably lead to further disasters and unhappy consequences. And so it did. The Opium War was soon followed by what is known as the Arrow War, again fought with the British and won by them in 1856-58. That was terminated by the Treaty of Tientsin, which imposed further limitations on China. From that time on the decline of Chinese prestige was precipitate. The Taiping Rebellion, which ravaged the country for at least fourteen years ending in 1864, further reduced the energy of a country whose vitality was already at a low ebb. Until then Britain and, to a lesser extent, France were the only countries that delivered blow after blow against a big and helpless China. But from then on other countries followed and demanded their share of the privileges. Russia, who always loomed ominously in the north, became active, but the worst was yet to follow. In 1894 the impossible happened. Japan, little Japan, which could not even be classed among the 'barbarian' nations, but was merely a country of 'dwarf slaves,' regarded by the Chinese as being on the same level as Siam, Burma, Indo-China, and other tribute-bearing tribes on the border, now also heaped indignities on China by roundly defeating her in a war over the question of Korea. That was indeed the last straw. The 'paper tiger' had until then at least the semblance of a tiger. The fate of China was not almost sealed. The processes of disintegration worked relentlessly and mercilessly on a country that, by all standards, was highly civilized and refined, possessing a rich treasury of the arts of peace, but lacking the energy and the means to withstand the forces of spoliation that were invading her from all directions.

Such was the condition of China when Chiang Kai-shek was born on the thirty-first of October 1887.

It was the year in which Sun Yat-sen, then a young man of twenty-one, entered Medical College at Hong Kong after having spent a number of years of his boyhood in Hawaii. When China was humbled by the Japanese in the war of 1894-95, Chiang Kai-shek, then known to his parents as Chou-tai, was only seven years of age. He was playing on the cobblestone streets of Chikow or catching fish from the surrounding streams, a delight which to this day he has not forgotten. Nor was it likely that either his family or his immediate environment was at all affected by the great disaster that had befallen the country. Wars in China in those days were curiously localized though their consequences were national.

In the war with France in 1884, for instance, the Chinese soldiers actually routed the invading forces at Langson, while the government at Peking was signing the terms of capitulation. The war with Japan was fought along the coast of Shantung and to the north. News spread slowly to other parts of China. In time it reached the ears of the Chikow villagers, but life flowed on placidly as if nothing had happened.

No one had any premonition that Japan was to become such an enormous factor in Chiang Kai-shek's life or that he would be called upon, less that half a century later, to solve the same Japanese problem once and for all in the interest of world peace, and to lead in the progressive development of his own country.

In accomplishing these ends Chiang Kai-shek was fortunate in having a mother who had unusual vision for a woman of her training and environment, and a great leader in Dr. Sun Yat-sen, who was singularly pure in his ideals and whose charm and character left a deep and lasting impression upon all who came into close contact with him. Above all, Chiang was fortunate in having behind him a rich and abundant cultural heritage. For in both the case of Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek it has not been simply a matter of taking over foreign ideas and instructions as a means of developing their country. Rather has it been necessary for them to urge their countrymen to rediscover the essential virtues and qualities that have been the mainstay of their history. It cannot be a mere accident that China has had such a long and unbroken history. To acquire genuine strength is to find out what these qualities are, to have abiding faith in their efficacy even under the conditions of modern society, and to give them every opportunity for further development.

It has been said of the Renaissance in Europe that it was the discovery of man and the discovery of the world. The same remark can be applied to what has happened in China since Sun Yat-sen conceived the idea of overthrowing the Manchu Dynasty. Both Sun and Chiang desired that China should know a larger world, but above all they desired that China should know herself. Their work ha been, in the first instance, political and military; but their ultimate objectives are moral and spiritual. It is impossible to understand the accomplishments and the influence of Chiang Kai-shek without knowing that he has been continuing the work where Sun Yat-sen left off. And the highest thought of Sun Yat-sen was the creation of a great commonwealth which in essence was a conception of Confucius. 'When the great way prevails,' says the sage, 'the world becomes a common state.' Everything in China ultimately goes back to the pattern of thinking that Confucius and his followers wove. It was the conviction of Sun Yat-sen and now of Chiang Kai-shek that the old concepts and virtues not only retain their fullest value but must also serve as a foundation for the progressive social and political evolution of China as a modern nation. It is Chiang Kai-shek's task thus to create a new and better China and, through China, a new and better world.

To the student of sociology and history, the interesting question is whether it is possible to create a new and progressive society that can withstand the strain of modern conditions on the basis of values that are an inalienable part of a society that was so radically different in structure. Many are inclined to believe that the two are incompatible and that one must give way to the other. It is Chiang Kai-shek's belief that they are compatible. And I think that he has thus, either consciously or unconsciously, grasped the secret of China's long and vigorous history. The secret is in China's ability to absorb the new into the matrix of the old. The principle of continuity has ever been the most vital principle in the history of China. Archaeologists have recently discovered in their excavations stone sickles, in use during the Stone Age in China four thousand years ago, that are almost identical with the iron sickles now in use in different parts of northern China. When metal was first introduced and proved to be more efficient, the peasants did not discard the old instruments but adapted the new to the old requirements. This is even truer of moral values which, if they contain any truth, must possess an element of permanency about them. Chiang Kai-shek considers it essential that the new society should be constructed on the basis of these values. It is a great and interesting experiment that deserves close observation, sympathy, and understanding.


* New York: Doubleday, Doran and Company, Inc., 1944

[1] pp.vii-xi

[2]Desultory Notes on the Government and People of China, Thomas Taylow Meadows.

[3] pp.3-9