Chiang Ching-kuo

Chiang Ching-kuo (1910-1988) became chairman of the ruling Nationalist Party (Kuomintang or KMT) in 1975 and president of the Republic of China in Taiwan in 1978. He was the elder son of Chiang Kaishek, who led the KMT government until he died in 1975. Chiang Ching-kuo ruled until his death in 1988.

Chiang Ching-kuo was born in Fenghua, Chekiang Province. In early childhood he seldom saw his father and was brought up by his grandmother and mother in a Buddhist atmosphere. He was given a strict traditional Chinese education until he was 12 years of age when he left for Shanghai and Beijing to attend westernized schools. Chiang was a student activist and was involved in a number of anti-Japanese and anti-government protest movements.

In 1925 Chiang was one of 340 students elected to attend the Sun Yat-sen University of Moscow. At that time, his father was already a leading figure in the Kuomintang (KMT) which formed the first united front with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) against the warlords and foreign imperialist powers. His Moscow education was mostly the studies of revolutionary theories, Marxism-Leninism, and military science. He joined the Soviet Communist Youth League and later became a probationary member of the Soviet Communist Party.

During the course of the power struggle between Stalin and Trotsky, Chiang might have professed sympathy with the latter. He antagonized Wang Ming, then the CCP representative in Moscow. More importantly, due to his father's strong anti-Communist policy Chiang was sent to a Siberian mining factory in 1931 where he met and married his Russian wife in 1935. His classmates in the Sun Yat-sen University included Deng Xiaoping (Teng Hsiao-ping), Liao Cheng-chih, Ulanfu, and Lin Chu-han, all of whom later became prominent CCP leaders. Chiang lost his probationary party membership in 1936.


Early Political Career

In 1937, after spending 12 years in the former Soviet Union, Chiang returned to China. Stalin decided to release him because the KMT under his father's leadership had just agreed to a second united front with the CCP in order to fight against the Japanese aggression. Upon return, Chiang spent one year in Fenghua with his mother (who was later killed by a Japanese bomb) under the guidance of Hsu Daolin, a brilliant scholarly official and aide to Chiang Kai-shek.

Chiang's political career began in 1938 when he was appointed to head the county government in Kanhsien, Kiangsi Province, and simultaneously assumed the post of administrative inspector to supervise nearby counties. He used iron-handed methods to put together a series of administrative, economic, and social reforms. He established a political institute to train administrative cadres. One of his pupil-proteges in Kiangsi—General Wang Sheng—later became a prominent leader in Taiwan. Chiang formally became a KMT member in 1938 and was baptized as a Christian in 1943. From 1941 to 1947 he devoted himself to the work of the youth league organization, which was conceived as an institutional arm of the KMT to recruit and train young cadres. Through these efforts he established himself as an important factor in the KMT power structure.

The KMT-CCP war broke out in 1948. In the face of mounting inflation and financial chaos, Chiang was sent by his father to stabilize the situation in Shanghai. The efforts failed; and as the political situation of the nation worsened, many ranking KMT leaders either locked into a power struggle against Chiang Kai-shek or defected to the Communist side. In 1949 the KMT forces lost to the CCP, and Chiang's Nationalist government was compelled to seek exile on the island of Taiwan, also known as Formosa.

Upon arrival in Taiwan President Chiang Kai-shek was determined to build the island into a military stronghold for the purpose of counter-attack against the CCP regime on the mainland. The experiences of KMT defeat in China had taught Chiang Kai-shek many lessons. In the subsequent years he rebuilt the KMT party, re-established a network of intelligence and security forces, reformed the economy, implemented a policy of party control over the military, and re-organized the youth league as an entrenched mass organization of the KMT. He weeded out the disloyal and the incompetent; political loyalty became the most crucial criterion for holding important public offices. Chiang Ching-kuo was entrusted by his father to be a pivotal figure in all of these institution-rebuilding efforts. In the process, the young Chiang was able to establish his own power base.

In 1954 Chiang became a member of the KMT Central Committee, vice-secretary-general of the National Security Council, and minister without portfolio in the cabinet headed by General Chen Cheng, Chiang Kai-shek's right-hand man. In 1964 he assumed the powerful post of minister of defense and subsequently became the vice-premier in 1969. In 1972 he was appointed premier.

As premier, Chiang implemented two major programs of lasting importance. He initiated the appointments of native Taiwanese as governor of the Taiwan provincial government, the vice-premier, and cabinet ministers. During 1972 and 1973 he also undertook the construction of ten major economic projects, including a freeway, harbors, a nuclear power station, and a large ship yard, thus laying a solid foundation for Taiwan's further economic growth.


Party Chairman and President

In 1975 President Chiang Kai-shek died. As the political strong-man in Taiwan, Chiang Ching-kuo succeeded his father as KMT party chairman, and, following the presidency of C. K. Yen (who had been Chiang Kai-shek's vice-president and became his immediate successor upon his death), was elected in his own right to be president of the Republic of China in 1978. During his presidential terms, he once again initiated the appointments of native Taiwanese as vice-presidents. The appointment of Cornell-educated Li Teng-hui as vice-president in 1984 received wide acclaim and was said to have won universal approval from Washington's political circle.

But political challenges remained. He had to find ways to fend off Communist China's aggressive "re-unification" campaign and to survive the nation's growing diplomatic isolation. Domestically, he faced growing Taiwanese demands for more democracy and better protections for civil rights. As more aging KMT leaders of mainland origins faded away, political succession, regime legitimacy, and continuing economic growth underscored what needed to be done in Chiang's remaining years. He succeeded admirably in the tasks that faced him. He retained the authoritarian regime that he inherited, but maintained a reputation for benevolence which took him far. Throughout his administration he was able to pacify persistent demands of the Democratic Progressive Party to lift the martial law (imposed since 1949) without sacrifice to his personal popularity. As for the economy, by 1986 Taiwan had achieved a trade surplus of $12 billion. When Chiang Ching-kuo died of a heart attack early in January of 1988 it was reported in The Economist that "the opposition has lost its most effective supporter." Before Chang's passing he designated Lee Teng-hui to be the next president.

President Chiang's Russian wife remained with him in Taipei. They had four children. The only daughter, Hsiaochiang, married and lived in California. His eldest son Hsiao-wen was seriously ill and inactive. Hsiao-wu and Hsiao-yung, two other sons, held important posts in the party-run communication and industrial enterprises. The president's only brother, Wego, was also active and held several important military posts.


Further Reading on Chiang Ching-kuo

There is no English-language publication on Chiang. The most reliable Chinese publication is Chiang Nan, Chiang Ching-kuo chuan (A Biography of Chiang Ching-kuo) (1985).

Additional Biography Sources

Newsweek, January 25, 1988.

The Economist, January 16, 1988.

Time, June 1, 1987; July 27, 1987.

Forbes, August 11, 1986.