Revisionist Chiang Kai-shek history fools no one

By James Wang 王景弘  / 

Thu, Apr 07, 2011 - Page 8

The diaries of dictator Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) have recently been made public. At a time when the Chinese government is intensifying its efforts to unify Taiwan with China, Chinese academics have used the diaries to paint a new, prettier, image of Chiang.

In doing so, they have changed the image of him as a bandit during the rule of Mao Zedong (毛澤東) into that of a saint, using random comments from the diaries to show, for example, that Chiang opposed the idea of the US using atom bombs against China.

These developments are in stark contrast to an incident just three years ago when the head of the history department at China’s Tsinghua University did not recognize the name “Chiang Kai-shek” referred to and translated it into Chang Kaishen (常凱申) in Mandarin.


Some Chinese academics who have read Chiang’s diaries have used fragments of entries from before 1954 in an attempt to prove that Chiang opposed the US using nuclear weapons to help him reclaim China. However, these entries are just random thoughts, a form of self-dialogue, and not an official record of him opposing or refusing the use of nuclear weapons.

During former US president Dwight Eisenhower’s administration, the US did have a contingency plan to use atomic bombs to respond to a Chinese attack, as the brinkmanship strategy emphasized the use of all military power available to stop attacks by other nations. While this hints at the possible use of atomic bombs, it was only part of a deterrence strategy.

In reality, the US went to great lengths to avoid using atomic bombs. At the end of 1953, a policy approved by Eisenhower stated that unless the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) made further attacks, it would be unacceptable to use US military force to overthrow the CCP government or help the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government do so, because such a policy would involve atomic bombs.

nuclear option

In 1958, Chiang talked with then-US secretary of state John Foster Dulles. Their conversation included a piece of counter-evidence: Dulles said nobody in the US Army believed traditional weaponry was enough to keep the CCP’s People’s Liberation Army from attacking Kinmen and that nuclear weapons were the only feasible option. Dulles also asked Chiang if he was willing for the US to use nuclear weapons.

Chiang said that he “did not think it was necessary” to use nuclear weapons, but he also said “strategic nuclear weapons could be used.”

Dulles said the US did not have nuclear weapons less destructive than the ones used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and then explained how destructive the radioactive rays of nuclear weapons were. All Chiang could do was admit that he was not an artillery man or an expert on nuclear weapons and that further discussion was necessary.

In principle, if the use of nuclear weapons would bring on a world war or involve the US in large-scale hostilities, Chiang did not want them used.

This was Chiang’s position in 1958. His earlier diary entries are even more difficult to believe. From the Korean War onward, the US wanted the Taiwan Strait to remain neutral and did not allow Chiang to attack China.

How could there have been any talk about “lending” him atomic bombs to do so?

It is truly absurd to try and make a former dictator look almost godlike after all these years.

James Wang is a commentator based in Taipei.

Translated by Drew Cameron