Chiang Kai-Shek

Read this article about Chiang Kai-Shek. Pay attention to his rise to power, his actions during World War II, and why he was ultimately forced to escape mainland China for Taiwan.

Personal life

On October 31, 1887, Chiang Kai-shek was born in the town of Xikou, Fenghua County, Ningbo Prefecture, Zhejiang. However, his ancestral home, a concept important in Chinese society, was the town of Heqiao in Jiangsu Province, not far from the shores of the famous Lake Taihu.

His parents were Chiang Zhaocong and Wang Caiyu, part of an upper-middle class family of farmers and salt merchants.

Youth and education

Chiang attended private school, where he learned the Chinese classics. Both his father and his grandfather died while he was young. He is said to have adored his mother even more for that, describing her as the "embodiment of Confucian virtues".

At that time in Chinese society, fatherless families were looked down upon and often taken advantage of. Tolerant of the hardships they faced following his father's death, the young Chiang developed an enthusiasm for learning. He continued his classical studies until the age of 17, when he enrolled in a modern school. Following that, he attended school at Ningbo, where he studied current affairs and western law.

During this time his attentions turned to Sun Yat-sen, a revolutionary and political leader of the time (today known as the "father of modern China"). This interest eventually led him towards his path of leadership.

Chiang grew up in an era in which military defeats and civil wars among warlords had left China destabilized and in debt, and he decided to pursue a military career to save his country. He began his military education at the Baoding Military Academy in 1906. He began attending a preparatory school for Chinese students, Rikugun Shikan Gakko in Japan 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 organization of the Kuomintang. Chiang served in the Imperial Japanese Army from 1909 to 1911. In 1923, he was dispatched to Moscow to study military techniques, returning as the first commandant of the Whampoa Military Academy in 1924, an institution that provided the most talented generals of both the Kuomintang and the Communist armies.

Early marriages

In a marriage arranged by their parents, Chiang was wed to fellow villager Mao Fumei (1882–1939). Chiang and Mao had a son Chiang Ching-Kuo and a daughter Chien-hua. Mao died in the Second Sino-Japanese War during a bombardment.

While married to Mao, Chiang adopted two concubines:

  • He married Yao Yecheng (1889-1972) in 1912. Yao raised the adopted Wei-kuo. She fled to Taiwan and died in Taipei.
  • He married Chen Jieru (1906-1971) in December 1921. Chen had a daughter in 1924, named Yaoguang, who later adopted her mother's surname. Chen's autobiography disclaims the idea that she was a concubine, claiming that by the time she married Chiang, he had already been divorced from Mao, making her his wife. Chen lived in Shanghai. She later moved to Hong Kong, where she lived until her death.

Madame Chiang Kai-shek (Mayling Soong)

In 1920, Chiang met Mayling Soong, who was American-educated and a devout Christian. A Buddhist, Chiang was eleven years her elder. Married, Chiang nonetheless proposed marriage to Mayling, much to her mother's objections. Determined to make Mayling his wife, he eventually provided proof of divorce and made a committed conversion to Christianity. He was baptized in 1929.

Madame Chiang Kai-shek was a crucial partner to her husband in his public affairs, acting as his English translator, secretary, adviser and an influential propagandist for the cause of nationalism. Understanding the Western mind and being a skilled negotiator, in February 1943, she became the first Chinese national, and the second woman, to ever address a joint session of the U.S. House and Senate, making the case for strong U.S. support of China in its war with Japan.

Following her husband's death in 1975, she returned to the United States, residing in Lattington, New York. Madame Chiang Kai-shek passed away on October 23, 2003, at the age of 105.