This morning's Sunday Morning Post (Hong Kong) featured a review about the diaries of Chiang Kai-shek, that were published in Beijing earlier this year. For the first time since 1949, mainlanders are now able to read the diaries of this Chinese leader whom, one can say with some confidence, was a significant personality on the Chinese stage during the 20th Century. It is noteworthy that the Chinese are beginning to view this anti-communist, and his contributions with tampered and deliberate scrutiny. He is not merely viewed as a ‘tool for the imperialists’ but his credentials of patriotism extended to fighting the invading Japanese. Before and after the Sino-Japanese war, he combatted the Communists. But in a dramatic turn of history, he was forced to join forces with the communists against a common invading enemy. This was in 1936.
How different life would have been for the Nationalists, if in 1936, General Chiang was not arrested by a rebel General, Zhang Xueliang in Xian. Had this arrest not happened, Chiang Kai-shek would have conducted a campaign against the Communist first, followed by another war against the Japanese. In 1936, Chiang had the communists surrounded in Shaanxi province (in Yenan). With their supply of food and armaments cut off, the communists would have surrendered in another 6 months. The arrest of Chiang by Zhang in Xian, put paid to these plans. As a result, the communists survived (and seized power 13 years later), and Chiang was forced into a military alliance with the Communists to do battle with the Japanese. His diaries showed that during his initial incarceration by Zhang, he fully expected death. The alliance was a deal that was done between Zhang and Zhou Enlai. General Chiang was placed under arrest until he agreed to this alliance (with the communists). In return, Zhang turned himself in, and remained under arrest and incarceration for a substantial part of his adult life. The strong anti-Japanese sentiment amongst the population in China meant ensured Zhang would always be remembered as a patriot of China. The Communists must have been grateful to Zhang as well, because the Xian incident gave them a new lease of life, and the noose which General Chiang was tightening in early 1936, was loosened. In the ensuing Sino-Japanese war, Chiang lost further influence and standing because the Nationalists lost 3.2 million men, against the Communists’ losses of 500,000. This was an outcome that Chiang had anticipated. After a hard fought war that lasted 8 years, the Nationalists were left with a diminished and no longer significant army. Chiang had lost his best officers and generals. The war ended, and a few years later, the Communists seized power. Had the Xian incident not occurred, Chiang could have gone on to defeat the Communists first in Yenan, and then battling the Japanese with stronger personal standing amongst his soldiers. The Nationalists could have gone on to govern China after the war. His third wife, Soong May-ling was not only formidable, she was a diplomat and emissary par excellence, and managed to secure American armaments and planes in the early ‘40s which was of assistance to China.
This turn of history did much for modern Communist China. Is it not telling that when relations normalised between China and Japan in the early 70s, Mao did not even ask for war reparations from the then Japanese Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka. But for the invasion by the Japanese, the Communists may never have come into power.