chiang kai-shek was surrounded by yes men -- 6/14/17

Today's selection -- from Chiang Kai-Shek by Jonathan Fenby. Imperial China had been overthrown in the Revolution of 1911, which was most closely associated with Dr. Sun Yat-sen. But this revolution led to years of internal wars among Sun's successors, especially Chiang Kai-Shek, and a number of regional warlords. Chiang eventually emerged as China's new leader, but led his poorly prepared army to disastrous results against Japan in the Sino-Japanese War of 1937. Chiang's leadership was characterized by gross mismanagement and corruption, and by 1949 the Communist Party under Mao Zedong had taken over the country:

"After the outbreak of [the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937], Chiang had been given dictatorial 'emergency powers'. He was free to act as he wished in military, party and political matters, and to issue decrees as he chose. Chronically incapable of delegating or of letting any organisation escape from his grasp, he amassed jobs on a ridiculous and inefficient scale -- at one point he was said to hold eighty-two posts ranging from chief of the government, the army and the party to the presidencies of the Boy Scouts, the National Glider Association and the School for Descendants of Revolutionary Martyrs. But his position was much weaker than it appeared, and he was anxious to rebuild his armies rather than fight fresh battles. ...

Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek in Chunking

"By the end of 1938, the Central Army had all but ceased to exist as an effective fighting force'. Most divisions had lost at least one third of their manpower. As Chiang acknowledged, the general staff was weak and badly trained. ... Redevelopment of the army was slow, equipment poor, desertion rates high. ... To meet quotas, officials would press-gang peasants from the fields or grab passing travellers. For fear that they would desert, recruits were often marched to camps hundreds of miles away tied together with ropes round their necks, and stripped naked at night to prevent them running away. Many died on the way. Those who escaped the draft might be rounded up with their wives and children for forced labour. ...

"The Generalissimo did not help military cohesion by his habit of issuing far-off armies with orders that ignored battlefield realities -- on one occasion, the able Cantonese commander, Xue Yue, remarked that he had taken his troops to a distant area of Jiangxi to ensure he was out of telephone contact. Explaining how he handled his generals, Chiang said: 'I have to lie awake at night, thinking what fool things they may do. Then I write and tell them not to do these things. But they are so dumb, they will do a lot of foolishness unless you anticipate them. This is the secret of handling them -- you must imagine everything that they can do that would be wrong, and warn them against it. That is why I have to write so many letters.'

"He bypassed the military structure to deal directly with regimental commanders and frequently changed his mind. He kept troops out of battle so that they could be used for other purposes at a later date, or stationed them to check potential domestic rivals. He was surrounded by yes-men. His generals did not dare to stand up to him, knowing, in the words of Li Zongren of Guangxi, that he put obedience above ability. 'What Chiang liked,' said the hostile Li, 'were men ... who would obey absolutely but who had no talents of their own.' When Meiling mentioned to him that one particularly incompetent general did not seem able to exercise his command, Chiang was said to have replied: 'But where do you find a man who is so obedient?' All of which heightened his belief in his own infallibility, and his unwillingness to engage in discussion, pursuing divide-and-rule tactics that were reflected in the factions below him."



Jonathan Fenby


Chiang Kai-Shek: China's Generalissimo and the Nation He Lost


Carroll & Graf Publishers


Copyright 2003 by Jonathan Fenby


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