The son of Chiang Kai-shek and his first wife Mao Fumei, Chiang Ching-kuo was born in Fenghua, Zhejiang, and had the of Jiànfēng . He had an adopted brother, Chiang Wei-kuo. Ching-kuo literally means meridian, while Wei-kuo means : in other words Chiang Kai-shek's sons were destined to govern the whole country.
Young Chiang Ching-kuo had a peaceful relationship with his mother and grandmother, who was Buddhist and very religious, and a problematic one with his strict father. Deeply involved in politics, Chiang Kai-shek appeared to his son as an authoritatian figure and sometimes indifferent to his problems. In letters, Chiang Kai-shek repeatedly asked Chiang Ching-kuo to keep improving his calligraphy, an important art in ancient China.
From 1916 til 1919, Chiang Ching-kuo attended the "Grammar School" in Wushan in Hsikou. Beginning in 1920 he was tutored by Ku Ch'ing-Lien, later substituted by Wang On-Sheng, who was hired by the father to teach Ching-kuo the four books, considered the base of Chinese culture. On June 4, 1921, Ching-kuo's grandmother died; an emotional loss compensated for by the father finally taking care of his sons.
That year, the Chiang family moved to Shanghai, together with Chiang Ching-Kuo's stepmother, the woman who has been historically known as "Shanghai mother". During this period, Chiang Kai-shek concluded that Chiang Ching-kuo was a son to be taught, while Chiang Wei-Kuo a son to be loved.
In 1925, Chiang Ching-Kuo went to Moscow to study communism on his own volition; his father agreed, since it seemed a sensible thing to do at the time because the Kuomintang and Communist Party of China were allied in the in preparation for the . Moreover, we remind that the father was an "alumnus" of Sun Yat-sen, father of the Republic of China, who had strongly believed in the principles of socialism.
In Moscow, he was given the Russian name Nikolai Vladimirovich Elizarov and put under the tutelage of Karl Radek at the Communist University of the Toilers of the East. He was noted for having an exceptional grasp of international politics. His classmates included other children of influential Chinese families, most notably the future Chinese Communist party leader, Deng Xiaoping. In Moscow, the younger Chiang became an enthusiastic student of Communist ideology, particularly Trotskyism. Following the Great Purge, Joseph Stalin privately met with Chiang and ordered him to denounce Trotskyism. Chiang even applied to be a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, although his request was denied.
In April 1927, however, Chiang Kai-shek purged the leftists and Communists from the and expelled his advisers. Following this event, Chiang Ching-kuo wrote an editorial, harshly criticizing his father's actions, though there is the clear possibility that he has been forced to write it. In fact, some years before many of his Trotskyist friends had been killed by the Russian secret police. It is possible in this context, that Chiang Ching-kuo has been left "alive" to be used later on by Stalin within the Sino-Soviet relationship. The Soviet government then sent Chiang Ching-kuo to work in the Ural Heavy Machinery Plant, a steel factory in the Urals, Yekaterinburg, where he met Faina Ipat'evna Vakhreva, a native . They married on March 15 1935, and she would later become known as Chiang Fang-liang. In December of that year, a son, was born. A daughter, , was born the next year.
Stalin allowed Chiang Ching-kuo to return to China with his Belarusian wife and two children in April 1937 after living in the USSR for 12 years. The Chinese Communists under Chairman Mao Zedong and the Nationalists still under Chiang's father had signed a ceasefire and formed a to counter the Japanese invasion of Manchuria. Stalin hoped the Chinese would keep Japan from invading of the Soviet Pacific coast, and he hoped to form an anti-Japanese alliance with the senior Chiang.
Chiang Ching-Kuo was appointed as a specialist in remote districts of Jiangxi where he was credited with training of cadres and fighting corruption, opium consumption, and illiteracy. During this time , he first met Wang Sheng, with whom he would remain close for the next 50 years.
Back in China, Chiang and his wife eventually had two more sons, , born in Chungking, and , born in Shanghai. Out of his affair with Chang Ya-juo, Chiang also had two twin sons in 1941: and .
During the Chinese Civil War, Chiang Ching-kuo briefly served as a liaison administrator in Shanghai and tried to crack down the corruption and hyperinflation that plagued the city. He was determined to do this because of the fears arising from the Nationalists' increasing lack of popularity during the Civil War. He was given the task to arrest dishonest businessmen who hoarded supplies for profit during the inflationary spiral. To assuage the business community, he explained that his team would only go after big war profiteers. His efforts were beginning to show results until he went after the family of his stepmother Soong Mei-ling. Soong told Ching-kuo's father Chiang Kai-shek to force Ching-kuo to back off. Although Ching-kuo backed off, Soong Mei-ling and Ching-kuo remained on so so terms perhaps for the rest of their lives.
Political career in Taiwan
Chiang Ching-kuo followed his father and the retreating Nationalist forces to Taiwan after the Nationalists lost control of mainland China to the Communists in the Chinese Civil War. On December 8, 1949, the capital was moved from Nanjing to Taipei. Early in the morning on December 10, 1949, Communist troops laid siege to Chengdu, the last controlled city on mainland China, where Chiang Kai-shek and his son Chiang Ching-kuo directed the defense at the Chengdu Central Military Academy. The aircraft ''May-ling'' evacuated them to Taiwan on the same day; they would never return to mainland China.
In 1950, Chiang's father appointed him director of the secret police, which he remained until 1965. Chiang orchestrated the controversial court-martial and arrest of General Sun Li-jen, in August 1955, for allegedly plotting a coup d'état against his father. General Sun was a popular Chinese war hero from the Burma Campaign against the Japanese and remained under house arrest until Chiang Ching-kuo's death in 1988. Chiang Ching-kuo's activities as director of the secret police have been widely criticized as heralding an era of human rights abuses in Taiwan even to this date.
From 1955 to 1960, Chiang administered the construction and completion of Taiwan's highway system. Chiang's father elevated him to high office when he was appointed as the ROC Defense Minister in 1965, where he remained until 1969. He was the nation's Vice Premier between 1969 and 1972, during which he survived an assassination attempt while visiting the U.S. in 1970. Afterwards, he was the nation's Premier between 1972 and 1978. In Chiang Kai-shek's final years, he gradually gave more responsibilities to his son. Chiang Kai-shek died in April 1975, and was succeeded to the presidency by Yen Chia-kan while Chiang Ching-kuo succeeded to the leadership of the Kuomintang .
Chiang was officially elected President of the Republic of China by the after the end of the term of President Yen Chia-kan on May 20, 1978. He was reelected to another term in 1984. At that time, the National Assembly consisted mostly of "thousand year" legislators who had been elected in 1947-48 before the fall of the mainland.
Chiang maintained many of his father's autocratic policies during the early years of his term in office. He continued to rule Taiwan as a military state under martial law, as it had been since the Nationalists re-established its capital on Taiwan, in anticipation of an imminent invasion by the People's Republic of China.
Chiang launched the "Fourteen Major Construction Projects" and "Ten Major Construction Projects and the Twelve New Development Projects" contributing to the "Taiwan miracle." Among his accomplishments were accelerating the process of modernization to give Taiwan a 13% growth rate, $4,600 per capita income, and the world's second largest foreign exchange reserves.
However, in December 1978, U.S. President, Jimmy Carter made the shocking announcement that the United States would no longer recognize the ROC as the legitimate government of China. Under the Taiwan Relations Act, the United States would continue to sell weapons to Taiwan. However, the TRA was purposely vague in any promise of defending Taiwan in the event of an invasion. But the United States would now end all official contact with the Chiang's government and withdraw its troops from the island. Carter was so eager to make the announcement that the American ambassador had to wake Chiang up in the middle of the night to inform him of the decision.
In 1987, Chiang ended martial law and allowed family visits to the Mainland China. His administration saw a gradual loosening of political controls and opponents of the Nationalists were no longer forbidden to hold meetings or publish papers. Opposition political parties, though still illegal, were allowed to form. When the Democratic Progressive Party was established in 1986, President Chiang decided against dissolving the group or persecuting its leaders, but its candidates officially ran in elections as independents in the Tangwai movement.
In an effort of bringing more Taiwan-born citizens into government services, Chiang Ching-kuo hand-picked Lee Teng-hui as vice-president of the Republic of China, first-in-the-line of succession to the presidency.
Death and legacy
Chiang died of heart failure and hemorrhage in Taipei at the age of 78. Like his father, he was interred "temporarily" in Daxi Township, Taoyuan County, but in a separate mausoleum in Touliao, a mile down the road from his father's burial place. The hope was to have both buried at their birthplace in Fenghua once the mainland was recovered. In January 2004, Chiang Fang-liang asked that both father and son be buried at Wuchih Mountain Military Cemetery in Hsichih, Taipei County. The state funeral ceremony was initially planned for Spring 2005, but was eventually delayed to winter 2005. It may be further delayed due to the recent death of Chiang Ching-kuo's oldest daughter-in-law, who had served as the de-facto head of the household since Chiang Fang-liang's death in 2004. Chiang Fang-liang and Soong May-ling had agreed in 1997 that the former leaders be first buried, but still be moved to mainland China.
Unlike his father Chiang Kai-shek, Chiang Ching-kuo built himself a folksy reputation and remains a generally popular figure especially among many of the Taiwanese electorate. His memory and image is frequently invoked by the Kuomintang, which is unable to base their electoral campaign on Chiang's successor as President and Chairman Lee Teng-hui because of Lee's ironic support of Taiwan for Taiwanese. Chiang Ching-kuo admitted he was a "Taiwanese" after fleeing from mainland.
Among the Tangwai and later the Pan-Green Coalition, opinions toward Chiang Ching-kuo are more reserved. While long-time supporters of political liberalization do give Chiang Ching-kuo credit for relaxing authoritarian rule, they point out that Taiwan was still quite authoritarian in the early years of his rule. Nonetheless, as with Pan-Blue followers, many still think rather highly of him for his efforts and openness in domestic developments.
Under President Chen Shui-bian, pictures of Chiang Ching-kuo and his father have gradually disappeared from public buildings. The AIDC, the ROC's air defense company, has nicknamed its AIDC F-CK Indigenous Defense Fighter the ''Ching Kuo'' in his memory.
All of his legitimate children studied abroad and two of his children married in the United States. Only two remain living: is a prominent politician and Chiang Hsiao-chang and her children and grandchildren reside in the United States.