Chiang Ching-kuo, son of Chiang Kai-shek (also a former president of the Republic of China, i.e., Taiwan, 1949–), was arguably the most influential political leader in Taiwan until his death in 1988. In a public opinion poll reported by Shijie Ribao (World Journal) in 2007, 65 percent of Taiwanese citizens surveyed ranked Chiang as the president who made the greatest contribution to Taiwan.
Chiang Ching-kuo was born in Fenghua, Zhejiang Province, in 1910. As a young man in 1926 he was sent by his father to the Soviet Union where he at first studied at Sun Yat-sen University for foreigners in Moscow as well as at USSR Military & Political Institute. After relations between Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and Chiang Kai-shek soured, the younger Chiang was sent to labor camps on the Soviet Union’s frontiers. He was allowed to return to China, with his Russian bride, in 1937.
During the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945, known in China as the War of Resistance against Japan), Chiang held a number of key administrative positions, including institutional administrative commander of southern Jiangsu Province from 1939 to 1945 and foreign affairs administrator for the northeast administration of the Republic of China during the Chinese Civil War (1945–1949). In 1948 he was sent by his father, who had become president of the Republic of China, to “clean up” political and economic corruption in Shanghai, which was rife with powerful mafia-like gangs.
When Chiang Kai-shek went into exile in Taiwan in 1949, Chiang Ching-kuo was at his father’s side and became a powerful force in Taiwanese politics.
Chiang Ching-kuo was chairman of Taiwan’s Guomindang (Kuomindang, Chinese Nationalist Party) provincial headquarters from 1949 to 1950 and director-general of the political department of Taiwan’s military from 1950 to 1954. He then rose in rank in the government over the years, becoming first vice premier (1969–1972), then premier (1972–1978), and finally president (1979–1988).
Priorities as President
Chiang made developing a modern economic infrastructure a priority, emphasizing power, transportation, communications, and irrigation systems. He also expanded the influx of foreign investments. In 1965 direct foreign investments amounted to only $10 million. By 1979 direct foreign investments showed a net balance of $121 million. Other inflows of long-term private capital amounted to more than $300 million in 1979.
In foreign relations Chiang tried to reverse the decline of his government’s international standing after the United States switched course and sought better relations with mainland China. When Richard Nixon announced in 1971 his intention to visit the People’s Republic of China, where he signed the Shanghai Communiqué on 27 February 1972, the negative impact on Taiwan was immediate. Taiwan was expelled from the U.N. in 1971 after the announcement of Nixon’s proposed trip, Japan switched its recognition from Taiwan to China in 1972, and twenty-five other nations followed suit between 1971 and 1972.
Then when U.S. president Jimmy Carter formally normalized relations with China and invited Deng Xiaoping, Vice Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, to visit on 1 January 1979, Chiang, who was now Premier, launched his most intensive public relations outreach in the United States ever and strengthened his pro-Taiwan lobby in the U.S. Congress. His campaign succeeded on 10 April 1979, when Congress passed the Taiwan Relations Act, which provided the legal basis for the defense of Taiwan by the United States for years to come, thus promising U.S. military intervention should mainland China try to “retake” Taiwan by force.
Chiang also liberalized Taiwan’s domestic political system, which helped lead to Taiwan’s eventual democratization. His initial domestic political policy was the same as his father’s, that is, authoritarianism under one-party (Kuomintang) rule. However, he eventually instituted U.S.-style “affirmative action” programs to bring Taiwanese-born administrators into the ruling Kuomintang and all levels of government.
In 1986 Chiang Ching-kuo repealed the “Emergency Provisions” law, that is the martial law that limited civil liberties that had been in effect since his father Chiang Kai-shek had become President of Taiwan in 1950. Thus, for the first time on the island it became legal to organize opposition parties whose candidates could run for elected office.
Chiang Ching-kuo, like his father, absolutely opposed any demand for Taiwan’s independence. But unlike his father, Chiang Ching-kuo took significant steps to relax tensions with the mainland government. In 1987 he permitted Taiwan residents for the first time since the 1950s to conduct indirect trade and to make personal visits to the mainland; he permitted scientists, professional experts, and athletes from Taiwan to participate in international competitions with their counterparts from the mainland. Then, on 26 July 1987, Chiang allowed Taiwan residents to travel to Hong Kong to meet their Chinese relatives from the mainland openly (although “direct” contact on mainland soil was still officially forbidden). Finally, on 15 October 1987, under his orders the Kuomintang’s Central Standing Committee lifted the thirty-seven-year ban barring Taiwan’s residents from visiting their relatives on the mainland.
Chiang’s new policy had a profound effect on the Chinese people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. The first week after the travel ban was lifted, some twenty thousand people in Taipei filed applications for permission to visit the mainland. As for indirect trade, Taiwanese businesses invested more than $50 million in fifty enterprises in Fujian Province alone during the first three months of 1988. China in 2008 was Taiwan’s largest trading partner; exports to China have accounted for one-third of Taiwan’s total exports since 2004; and more than 2 million Taiwanese maintain permanent residences in China.
Although Chiang’s reforms were substantial, historians believe Chiang was making plans for the reunification of Taiwan and the mainland just before his death. Chiang’s confidante and former student, Lee Huan, who was also the Kuomintang’s secretary-general, revealed after Chiang’s death that Chiang was prepared to begin negotiations with China’s Communist leaders to find a way to reunify the two governments and had sent envoys to “test the waters” for such negotiations in the years immediately preceding his death.
Hsiung, J. C. (Ed.). (1981). Contemporary Republic of China: The Taiwan experience 1950–1980. New York: The American Association for Chinese Studies.
Leng Shaochuan. (1993). Chiang Ching-kuo’s leadership in the development of the Republic of China on Taiwan. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.
Sih, P. K. T. (Ed.). (1998). Taiwan: A history. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe.
Source: Chai, Winberg. (2009). CHIANG Ching-kuo. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 318–319. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.
CHIANG Ching-kuo (Ji?ng J?ngguó ???)|Ji?ng J?ngguó ??? (CHIANG Ching-kuo)