Above: Hoover deputy director Eric Wakin (right) moderated the discussion.
The Hoover Library & Archives hosted a special event on December 17, 2019, to discuss the life and legacy of Chiang Ching-kuo and to announce the opening of his diaries at Hoover in February 2020. Chiang Ching-kuo was the son of Chiang Kai-shek and his political heir as leader of the Republic of China (Taiwan). Born in 1910, as China was disintegrating into anarchy, Chiang as a young man spent 12 years in the Soviet Union as a student and Soviet party functionary. Returning in 1937 to a China in chaos, he endeavored to prove himself a capable administrator amid the otherwise corrupt Chinese Nationalists. In exile in Taiwan after 1949, he gained immense power under the blessing of his father. As head of numerous secret agencies in the 1950s, Chiang Ching-kuo helped keep Taiwan a brutal dictatorship for thirty years. Yet he was prescient enough to draw into the government skilled personnel who laid the groundwork for the island’s spectacular economic development, and pragmatic enough in the years before his death, in 1988, to see that a transition to democracy was necessary and inevitable, allowing Taiwan to not only survive but prosper.
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The event featured Steven M. Goldstein, director of the Taiwan Studies Workshop at Harvard University, who expressed his interest in learning what insights might be found in Chiang Ching-kuo’s diaries regarding the most important foreign-policy challenge facing Taiwan after 1949—its relationship with the United States. This was a relationship vital to the survival of the Republic of China on Taiwan, and yet, from 1949 until 1988, when Chiang died, it was characterized more by conflicting objectives than by common goals. However, as Goldstein argued, when we seek these insights we must remember that by their very nature diaries are more subjective reflections than they are objective reporting. They will likely be less the “inside story” of events during Chiang Ching-kuo’s lifetime and more a selective chronicle describing how Chiang perceived events and how he sought to shape them to suit his preferences. Yet, given his positions during these years, one can expect unusual insights into contemporaneous events that, in combination with other sources, will enrich our understanding of Chiang Ching-kuo and his place in history.
Above: An original volume and selected duplicates from the Chiang Ching-kuo diaries were displayed.
John F. Copper, the Stanley J. Buckman Distinguished Professor of International Studies at Rhodes College, recalled his time in Taiwan beginning in 1963 and his extraordinary encounters with Chiang Ching-kuo and some of his aides. Copper argued that Chiang had the vision for the future of Taiwan. In the 1980s, when the economy was working for the majority of people on the island who had become middle class, he realized it was time for Taiwan to become democratized.
Thomas B. Gold, professor of sociology at the University of California–Berkeley, argued that Chiang Ching-kuo’s death, in January 1988, occurred during an upswing in the “third wave of democracy” in Asia that also swept over the Philippines and South Korea. Gold traced his own years spent in Taiwan in the early 1970s, during Chiang’s rise through the party and state, when Taiwan suffered several international setbacks as well as an internal period of martial law, featuring crackdowns on incipient moves toward a more open system. Gold returned to Taipei in 1977 as popular movements in the political and cultural fields presented new challenges to the Nationalist regime. Taiwan’s democratic breakthrough in 1987, Gold argued, needs to be seen as a dialectic between demands from below and Chiang’s decision to open space to accommodate these demands, leading to the institutionalization and taking for granted of democratic processes. While much of the world is witnessing a reversal of democracy, it is heartening that this does not appear to be happening in Taiwan. Chiang’s diaries will hopefully provide new insights into the leader’s analysis of Taiwan’s social and political systems that convinced him of the wisdom and necessity of opening up and into his expectations about Taiwan’s future.
The event was chaired by Eric Wakin, deputy director of the Hoover Institution and the Robert H. Malott Director of the Library and Archives, and attended by more than one hundred special guests and leading experts both internal and external to the Stanford community. An original volume and selected color duplicates from Chiang’s personal diaries were displayed at the event, drawing mass-media attention from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the local Bay Area.
Hsiao-ting Lin is a research fellow and curator of the Modern China collection at the Hoover Institution, for which he collects material on China and Taiwan, as well as China-related materials in other East Asian countries.