By Diana Lary – lary [at] mail.ubc.ca
One of the most famous modern Chinese writers, Pai Hsien-yung (Bai Xianyong 白先勇), has just brought out a photo-biography of his father, Pai Chung-hsi (Bai Chongxi 白崇禧). The book, Father and the Republic, was published in spring, 2012 simultaneously in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China – a breakthrough, a transcendence of political barriers.
The book marks a new turn in the discussion of China’s Republic, away from partisanship and towards historical objectivity. It restores the reputation of the greatest military strategist of the Republic, General Pai Chung-hsi. Despite his service to the nation, he has been almost written out of history on both sides of the Taiwan Straits.
Pai’s career paralleled the history of the Republic. In 1911, the 18 year old military cadet from remote Guangxi went to Wuhan for the Xinhai Revolution. In 1928, at 35, he commanded the forces in the last stage of the Northern Expedition. In the Resistance War against Japan, he was in command at two of China’s victories. In the Civil War he came close to defeating the Communists in 1946. In 1949 he retreated with the defeated Guomindang forces to Taiwan where he lived until his death in 1966.
Pai was immensely popular in wartime China, the hero of resistance, known as “Little Zhuge” (a reference to the legendary strategist Zhuge Liang). But neither the Guomindang nor the Communists gave him historical recognition. Chiang Kai-shek resented his military brilliance; he even saw him as a threat, and kept him under constant surveillance in Taiwan. On the Mainland, the Communists did not forgive him for his tough anti-communist actions. The official Communists line was, until now, to dismiss him as a “warlord.”
That this book now appears in both Taiwan and China is a tacit reminder of how distorted the history of China’s Republic has been and a harbinger that a serious reconsideration of China’s history of revolution can be discussed in public. A century after its foundation, Pai Hsien-yung is showing the way to a clearer understanding of modern Chinese history.
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- Region and Nation: The Kwangsi Clique in Chinese Politics 1925-1937, 1975. (Book by Diana Lary on the history of the Kwangsi Clique of which Pai Chung-hsi was one of the leaders).
- Center Stage, China Daily, June 1, 2012.
白先勇口述白崇禧晚年, Nandu zhoubao, June 20, 2012.