DUEL FOR THE MIDDLE KINGDOM: The Struggle Between Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Tse-tung for Control of China by William Morwood

DUEL FOR THE MIDDLE KINGDOM: The Struggle Between Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Tse-tung for Control of China

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More than any other epic event of this century, the Chinese Civil War seems to devolve into a confrontation between two leaders. Morwood takes advantage of this phenomenon by organizing the story of China's turbulent history into a dual biography, with the narrative alternately following now one, now the other protagonist; the result, however, is not illuminating. Morwood characterizes Chiang by his gentry background and Confucian ways, while Mao is classed by his peasant origins and Communist ideology, a typology that noticeably impoverishes the understanding of Mao, whose way of thinking was more influenced by Chinese tradition than Morwood allows. Of the two, Chiang rose to prominence first, becoming the heir to Sun Yat-sen's political movement and head of its army while Mao was an obscure Party organizer, and Morwood's dual focus thereby distorts the contemporary perception of events; it was only after World War II that the Mao-Chiang opposition crystallized in the public imagination. Drawn from published sources, Morwood's synthesis covers all the relevant events of the struggle, from the early days of Sun's activity to the Shanghai coup of 1927--in which Chiang seized power amid the slaughter of his Communist allies--to the Long March and similar high points; but he fails to shed new light on any of it. Morwood's picture of a stubborn, conservative Chiang is certainly recognizable; but by focusing on him alone, the general character of the Kuomingtang movement remains obscure. This is true, too, of his treatment of the Communists, but in that case other sources are available to fill in the gaps. Coupled with the lack of any new biographical material, the concentration on personalities fails to add anything to an already well-known story.

Pub Date: Oct. 31st, 1979
Publisher: Everest