Chiang Kai-Shek’s Revision of Chinese Culture in Taiwan

In 1949, the communists took over Mainland China, forcing the leader of the Republic of China, Chiang Kai-Shek (October 31, 1887 – April 5, 1975), also known as Chiang Chung-Cheng, to lead 600,000 military officers and civilians to Taiwan. (Image: via  Wikipedia /  CC0 1.0)
In 1949, the communists took over Mainland China, forcing the leader of the Republic of China, Chiang Kai-Shek (October 31, 1887 – April 5, 1975), also known as Chiang Chung-Cheng, to lead 600,000 military officers and civilians to Taiwan. (Image: via Wikipedia / CC0 1.0)

In 1949, the communists took over Mainland China, forcing the leader of the Republic of China, Chiang Kai-Shek (October 31, 1887 – April 5, 1975), also known as Chiang Chung-Cheng, to lead 600,000 military officers and civilians to Taiwan. Chiang spent 26 years of his life turning Taiwan into a stronghold for traditional Chinese culture and civilization.

Chiang’s adopted son, General Chiang Wei-Guo (October 6, 1916 – September 22, 1997), wrote a book called My Father: Chiang Chung-Cheng. In it, he says that Chiang gave to Taiwan:

  • the Constitution of the Republic of China
  • 80 tons of gold and 120 tons of silver
  • 6,800 elites and professionals in culture, technology, politics, and economics
  • 600,000 people — military officers, engineers, merchants, and citizens
  • 600,000 pieces of national treasure

Recently, people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait have been debating about what it was that Chiang had brought to Taiwan. Nowadays, most people focus on the material things like gold and silver, and no one talks much about the preservation of culture. But the elite professionals who arrived from the mainland had also been the ones to revive the traditional culture of Taiwan.

Unlike Hong Kong, Taiwan is a successfully developed nation that has established its own autonomy, democracy, and independence. The National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. (Image: AngMoKio via flickr CC BY-SA 3.0)

The National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei, Taiwan. (Image: AngMoKio via flickr CC BY-SA 3.0)

Chiang insisted that students study both nationalism and morality. In his addendum to the People’s Education and Recreation, he said that since the Zhou Dynasty (1122-256 B.C.), Chinese students had been required to master “the six arts” (“liù yì”) — morals, music, archery, calligraphy, and mathematics. The goal? To achieve health, morality, wisdom, and strength. One also had to live by the traditional “six virtues,” which taught parents to be loving; children to be filial; older siblings to be caring; and the younger to be respectful; a husband, righteous; and a wife, considerate.

Chiang encouraged students of primary and high schools to recite ancient poems and rhymes from the Tang (A.D. 618-907) and Song dynasties (A.D. 960–1279) so that the youth could be nurtured by traditional culture. He also asked schools to integrate “Propriety, Righteousness, Integrity, and Shame” into their teachings on morals, so that traditional culture could take root and blossom in Taiwan.

A scene suggestive of one of the most famous stanzas of Yan Shu’s poem “Huan Xi Sha:” “Helplessly, the flowers wither away. The swallows, once seen, return again. On a scented path in a small garden I loiter alone.” The style of expression is delicate and vivid, and renderings of the scene have been featured on Song Dynasty poetry-themed stamps ever since. (Image courtesy of Taste of Life Magazine )

A scene suggestive of one of the most famous stanzas of Yan Shu’s poem ‘Huan Xi Sha.’ The style of expression is delicate and vivid, and renderings of the scene have been featured on Song Dynasty poetry-themed stamps in Taiwan ever since. (Image courtesy of Taste of Life Magazine)

Chiang also encouraged everyone to enjoy music. He proposed all schools — from primary to university level — to offer music lessons. He also required every major county across Taiwan to have its own well-equipped concert hall or opera house. As a result, music proficiency, along with ethical and aesthetic education, thrived.

Today, most Taiwanese have a certain degree of music literacy, and every city has an opera house. The quality of creativity and traditional culture that Taiwanese residents now enjoy should be ascribed in part to Chiang Kai-shek.

Translated by Jean Chen and edited by Emiko Kingswell

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