Chiang Kai-shek (; 31 October 1887 – 5 April 1975), also known as Chiang Chung-cheng and romanized via Mandarin as Chiang Chieh-shih and Jiang Jieshi, was a Chinese nationalist politician, revolutionary and military leader who served as the leader of the Republic of China between 1928 and 1975, first in mainland China until 1949 and then in Taiwan until his death.
Born in Chekiang Province, Chiang was a member of the Kuomintang and a lieutenant of Sun Yat-sen in the revolution to overthrow the Beiyang government and reunify China. With Soviet and communist (CCP) help, Chiang organized the military for Sun’s Canton Nationalist Government and headed the Whampoa Military Academy. Commander in chief of the National Revolutionary Army (from which he came to be known as Generalissimo), he led the Northern Expedition from 1926 to 1928, before defeating a coalition of warlords and nominally reunifying China under a new Nationalist government. Midway through the campaign, the KMT–CPC alliance broke down and Chiang purged the communists inside the party, triggering a civil war with the CCP, which he eventually lost in 1949.
As leader of the Republic of China in the Nanjing decade, Chiang sought to strike a difficult balance between the modernizing China while also devoting resources to defending the nation against the impending Japanese threat. Trying to avoid a war with Japan while hostilities with CCP continued, he was kidnapped in the Xi’an Incident and obliged to form an Anti-Japanese United Front with the CCP. Following the Marco Polo Bridge Incident in 1937, he mobilized China for the Second Sino-Japanese War. For eight years he led the war of resistance against a vastly superior enemy, mostly from the wartime capital Chongqing. As the leader of a major Allied power, Chiang met with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the Cairo Conference to discuss terms for Japanese surrender. No sooner had the Second World War ended than the Civil War with the communists, by then led by Mao Zedong, resumed. Under Chiang’s command, the nationalists were mostly defeated in a few decisive battles in 1948.
In 1949 Chiang’s government and army retreated to Taiwan, where Chiang imposed martial law and persecuted critics during the White Terror. Presiding over a period of social reforms and economic prosperity, Chiang won five elections to six-year terms as President of the Republic of China and was Director-General of the Kuomintang until his death in 1975, three years into his fifth term as President and just one year before Mao’s death.
One of the longest-serving non-royal head of states in the 20th century, Chiang was the longest-serving non-royal ruler of China having held the post for 46 years. Like Mao, he is regarded as a controversial figure. Supporters credit him with playing a major part in unifying the nation and leading the Chinese resistance against Japan, as well as with countering Soviet-communist encroachment. Detractors and critics denounce him as a dictator at the front of an authoritarian regime who suppressed opponents.