Chiang Kai-shek (October 31, 1887 – April 5, 1975) was a 20th-century Chinese political and military leader. He is known as Jiang Jieshi or Jiang Zhongzheng in Standard Chinese. Chiang was an influential member of the Kuomintang (KMT), the Chinese Nationalist Party, and was a close ally of Sun Yat-sen.
Chiang was born in Xikou, a town approximately 30 kilometres (19 mi) southwest of downtown Ningbo, in Fenghua, Zhejiang. However, his ancestral home, a concept important in Chinese society, was the town of Heqiao (和橋鎮) in Yixing, Jiangsu, approximately 38 km (24 mi) southwest of downtown Wuxi, and 10 km (6.2 mi) from the shores of Lake Tai.
Chiang's father, Jiang Zhaocong (蔣肇聰), and mother, Wang Caiyu (王采玉), were members of an upper-middle to upper-class family of salt merchants. Chiang's father died when he was only eight years of age, and he wrote of his mother as the "embodiment of Confucian virtues".
Chiang grew up in a time period in which military defeats and civil wars among warlords had left China destabilized and in debt, and he decided to pursue a military career. He began his military education at the Baoding Military Academy, in 1906. He then left for the Tokyo Shinbu Gakko (東京振武學校), an Imperial Japanese Army Academy Preparatory School for Chinese students, in 1907.
There he was influenced by his compatriots to support the revolutionary movement to overthrow the Qing Dynasty and to set up a Chinese republic. He befriended fellow Zhejiang native Chen Qimei, and, in 1908, Chen brought Chiang into the Tongmenghui, a precursor of the Kuomintang (KMT) organization. Chiang served in the Imperial Japanese Army from 1909 to 1911.
Returning to China in 1911 after learning of the outbreak of the Wuchang Uprising, Chiang intended to fight as an artillery officer. He served in the revolutionary forces, leading a regiment in Shanghai under his friend and mentor, Chen Qimei, as one of Chen's chief lieutenants.
In early 1912, a dispute arose between Chen and a dissident member of the Revolutionary Alliance who opposed both Sun Yat-sen and Chen, and who sought to avoid escalating the quarrel by hiding in a hospital. When Chiang located him, Chen dispatched assassins, and although he probably did not take part himself, Chiang later assumed responsibility in order not to get Chen in trouble. Chen valued Chiang in spite of his now legendary quick temper, thinking that such bellicosity was useful in a military leader.
After the success of the 1911 Revolution, Chiang became a founding member of the KMT. He became the Commandant of the Kuomintang's Whampoa Military Academy and took Sun's place as leader of the KMT when Sun died in 1925. In 1926, Chiang led the Northern Expedition to unify the country, becoming China's nominal leader. He served as Chairman of the National Military Council of the Nationalist government of the Republic of China (ROC) from 1928 to 1948.
The decade of 1928 to 1937 saw some aspects of foreign imperialism, concessions and privileges in China, moderated through diplomacy. The government acted to modernize the legal and penal systems, attempted to stabilize prices, amortize debts, reform the banking and currency systems, build railroads and highways, improve public health facilities, legislate against traffic in narcotics, and augment industrial and agricultural production. Not all of these projects were successfully completed.
Efforts were made towards improving education standards; and, in an effort to unify Chinese society, the New Life Movement was launched to encourage Confucian moral values and personal discipline. Guoyu ("National language"), was promoted as an standard tongue, and the establishment of communications facilities (including radio) were used to encourage a sense of Chinese nationalism in a way that was not possible when the nation lacked an effective central government.
Chiang led China in the Second Sino-Japanese War (the Chinese theater of World War II), consolidating power from the party's former regional warlords. Unlike Sun Yat-sen, Chiang Kai-shek was socially conservative, promoting traditional Chinese culture in the New Life Movement and rejecting western democracy and the nationalist democratic socialism that Sun embraced in favor of an authoritarian government.
Chiang's predecessor, Sun Yat-sen, was well-liked and respected by the Communists, but after Sun's death Chiang was not able to maintain good relations with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). A major split between the Nationalists and Communists occurred in 1927; and, under Chiang's leadership, the Nationalists fought a nation-wide civil war against the Communists.
After Japan invaded China in 1937, Chiang agreed to a temporary truce with the CCP. Despite some early cooperative military successes against Japan, by the time that the Japanese surrendered in 1945 neither the CCP nor the KMT trusted each other or were actively cooperating.
After American-sponsored attempts to negotiate a coalition government failed in 1946, the Chinese Civil War resumed. The CPC defeated the Nationalists in 1949. Westad says the Communists won the Civil War because they made fewer military mistakes than Chiang Kai-Shek, and because in his search for a powerful centralized government, Chiang antagonized too many interest groups in China. Furthermore, his party was weakened in the war against Japan. Meanwhile the Communists told different groups, such as peasants, exactly what they wanted to hear, and cloaked themselves in the cover of Chinese Nationalism.
Chiang's government and army retreated to Taiwan, where Chiang imposed martial law and persecuted people critical of his rule in a period known as the "White Terror". After evacuating to Taiwan, Chiang's government continued to declare its intention to retake mainland China. Chiang ruled the island securely as President of the Republic of China and General of the Kuomintang until his death in 1975. He ruled mainland China for 22 years, and Taiwan for 30 years.