chiang kai-shek and joseph stalin -- 4/14/20
Today's selection -- from Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister by Jung Chang. In the 1920s, Joseph Stalin took his junior ally Chiang Kai-shek's son as a hostage in order to better control Chiang. It was a strategy that Stalin used with other supposed allies as well:
"[In 1930, Chiang Kai-shek's wife and sister-in-law] May-ling and Ei-Iing [Soong] ... bought up a subject that was the closest to his heart: how to get his son Ching-kuo back from Russia. Ching-kuo, the Generalissimo's son with his first wife, had been held hostage by Stalin for the past five years.
|Chiang Ching-kuo in his youth|
"Born on 27 April 1910, Ching-kuo was fifteen when Chiang sent him to a school in Beijing. The young man's dream was to learn French and then study in France. But as his father's star rose among the Nationalists, the Russians were eager to get their hands on Ching-kuo, and diplomats in the embassy quickly befriended him. According to Ching-kuo's own account of his life (which at his request was made public after his death in 1988), they 'persuaded' him that he 'should go to Russia to study'. Stalin kept children of foreign revolutionary leaders in Russia as potential hostages, while giving them an education. The impressionable boy was keen to go. And Chiang, who was pretending to be pro-Russian at the time, could not object.
"Within only months of arriving in Beijing, Ching-kuo was taken to Moscow by a Red mole working inside the Nationalist party, Shao Li-tzu. Shao had been a founding member of the CCP in 1920, but had been told by Moscow to keep his identity secret and to operate as a Nationalist. He brought along his son, who was the same age as Ching-kuo. When Ching-kuo completed his studies at Sun Yat-sen University in Moscow in April 1927 and asked to return to China, he was not allowed to leave. His father had just broken with the Communists and Stalin was holding him hostage. Moscow told the world that the young man refused to go home, since his father had 'betrayed the revolution'.
"The seventeen-year-old was 'isolated completely from China', and was 'not even allowed to mail a letter'. He missed home day and night: 'I did not know how to stop thinking of my parents and my native country.' He felt he was 'in the mire of distress and homesickness'. Many times he asked to be allowed to go home, or just to send a letter, each time the request was turned down. Sometimes, he feverishly wrote letters to his father, only to destroy them later. He did keep one letter and managed to give it discreetly to a fellow Chinese to take to China (after he sold some belongings to help raise funds for the journey), but the man was arrested near the border.
"In captivity, and with no hope of breaking out, the young man developed a tough resolve and bided his time. He withdrew from a Trotskyist organisation which he had joined in his student days and volunteered to be a member of the Russian Communist Party. He enrolled into the Red Army and proved himself to be a brave soldier. As a result, he was allowed to live in Russian society rather than a prison cell, but Moscow decided where he should live and how.
"In October 1930, at the time May-ling and Ei-ling talked to his father about getting him back, Ching-kuo was sent to work in a power plant as a labourer, working from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. nonstop except an hour's break for lunch. As he was unaccustomed to heavy manual labour, his arms swelled, his back was so sore that he could not stand up straight, and he suffered from constant pain and exhaustion. Food was in great shortage and very expensive, his pay was not enough to feed himself, and he was permanently half starved. 'I often went to work on an empty stomach,' he recalled. He had to take on an extra job to earn more money, so his working day was extended to 11 p.m. He gritted his teeth and told himself that 'hard work would be a good way to discipline myself'.
"After the factory, he was sent to do 'labour reform' in a village outside Moscow. There he learned to plough the fields and slept in a hut that even a peasant found unfit for the night. The fields he was working in reminded him of the green rice paddies around his native town, and tears 'rolled down my cheeks'.
"Chiang Kai-shek missed his son acutely, particularly as he knew that life for his son in Stalin's hands must be hell. Over the years, in his diary, he described his yearning for Ching-kuo time and again. Ching-kuo was Chiang's only blood offspring. May-ling was unable to conceive after her miscarriage and, although Chiang adopted another son, Wei-go, Ching-kuo was his real son and heir. To have a male heir was the most important thing for a Chinese man. One of the worst curses in China was: 'May you have no heir!' 'Heirlessness' (jue-hou) was also deemed to be the greatest hurt one could inflict on one's parents and ancestors, and Chiang's obsessive love and mourning for his late mother made his agony about his son all the more intense."