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Date Posted: 10:34 10/27/2003

Madame Chiang Kai-Shek (1897-2003)

'De mortuis nil nisi bonum'? Nah.

DESPITE A number of foreign reports, it isn't actually true that the official mainland Chinese press ignored the death of Madame Chiang Kai-shek, also known as Song Meiling, last Thursday. Foreign Ministry officials quickly emerged to emphasize how the vicious old tart had – like most Nationalists forced to decamp to the island of Taiwan after the civil war – supported the One China Policy, and how – through dogged longevity at least – she had somehow managed to span three centuries of turmoil while keeping her self-righteousness intact.

Many foreign observers took the opportunity to intimate that had her husband, Chiang Kai-shek, not been defeated in 1949 by the rampant Reds, China would have become a democratic utopia in which millions of Christianized peasants would chew luscious peaches from their chaise longues while the fields were being tilled by robot ploughs specially designed by a factory in Kansas. They usually managed to admit that, well, Chiang's regime in Taiwan wasn't exactly ideal, but at least he didn’t manage to kill as many people as Chairman Mao. Monstrousness is, of course, relative.

The problem with counterfactual arguments is that they are all equally true, because they are based on a false premise. Maybe Lenin would have purged Stalin and pushed through his democratic reforms, maybe JFK would have pulled out of Vietnam, and maybe Chiang Kai-shek could have united China behind his unique vision of crony capitalism and unhindered self-aggrandizement. An equally plausible case could be made to suggest that Chiang would have been China's Suharto (complete with bulging foreign bank accounts), and would have been responsible for as many deaths as Mao.

Following the premature death of Sun Yatsen, the founder of the Chinese republic, Chiang Kai-shek actually proposed to Sun Yatsen's widow, Song Qingling, the elder sister of Chiang's eventual wife. Both Song Qingling and Song Meiling were the daughters of a famous multimillionaire and former missionary who had made his money selling bibles in Shanghai. Sun Yatsen was also converted to Christianity in his early career. It is astonishing to think that the founder of modern China, Sun Yatsen, had adopted the religion of his nation's oppressors, and that Chiang wasn't far behind.

The religious right in the US were devastated by the 'loss' of China in 1949, and their anger was one of the reasons for the success of MacCarthyism during the following decade. For them, it was a conflict between the Christian Chiang Kai-Shek (with his devout wife) and the godless Mao Zedong. In China, Chiang probably had no chance.

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