Obituary: General Wego Chiang

Wego Chiang, soldier: born Fenghua County, Zhejiang Province, China 6 October 1916; married (one son); died Taipei, Taiwan 22 September 1997.

General Wego Chiang was an adopted son of the late Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek who spent much of his career preparing to fight mainland China's Communists but ended his days uncertain of his loyalty to the government his foster-father established.

Chiang died at the age of 80 at the Veterans Hospital in Taipei, embittered by what he saw as Taiwan's drift towards independence. He was Chiang Kai- shek's most senior male heir. Although his career undoubtedly benefited from his association with the once all-powerful Chiang clan, he professed in his latter years that the Chiang name did not really mean much to him. "Physically the Chiangs may disappear," he said in 1995, "but the spirit will remain. And this spirit is [that of] the Chinese philosophy . . . of harmony."

Wego Chiang was born five years after the collapse of China's last imperial dynasty. He revealed in an autobiography last year that he was actually the son of a friend of Chiang Kai-shek's and a Japanese nurse. Chiang Kai-shek adopted him to preserve his friend's honour.

At about the age of 20, in the city of Nanking, Chiang joined the Kuomintang or Nationalist Party headed by his foster- father. At the time, north-east China was under Japanese occupation and the Kuomintang was fighting against a Communist insurgency led by Mao Tse-tung. In 1937 full-scale war with Japan erupted. During the first few months of the conflict, Wego Chiang trained in Germany with the Nazis' 98th Jaeger Regiment.

After the defeat of Japan, Chiang commanded a tank regiment in the escalating war against the Communists. On 22 May 1949 he flew from Shanghai to Taiwan to get his foster-father's signature for the dispatch of civilian aircraft to Hawaii to pick up a supply of tank shells. He found on his arrival, however, that all transport back to Shanghai had been suspended because of the fighting. Wego Chiang never returned to the mainland.

Chiang's career remained with the military. In 1958 he was appointed Chief of Armour of the Taiwan armed forces. From 1968 until 1980 he worked at the Armed Forces University, rising to the position of college president. After his retirement from the military in 1986 he was appointed secretary general of Taiwan's National Security Council.

Two years later, Chiang Kai-shek's son Chiang Ching-kuo, who had succeeded his father as Taiwan's leader when the generalissimo died in 1975, himself died in Taipei. Chiang Ching-kuo's successor was Lee Teng-hui, whose appointment marked the start of a new era of political liberalisation on the island.

Wego Chiang looked on aghast at some of President Lee's reforms. The forced retirement of old mainland members of the National Assembly in the early 1990s was one of his most galling moves. Lee replaced them with members elected in Taiwan, a move that conservatives like Wego Chiang saw as undermining the Taiwan government's claim to represent the whole of China.

Chiang said that politics was not his "cup of tea", but in 1990, with support from old-guard members of the Kuomintang, he put his name forward as a possible candidate for the post of Vice-President. Reform-minded party leaders, however, named a top aide to Lee to be his running mate. Thus was extinguished the glimmer of hope the old guard nurtured for a revival of the Chiang dynasty.

Despite his reservations, Chiang accepted an appointment in 1993 as a senior adviser to President Lee. He kept that job until the eve of Taiwan's first ever direct presidential elections in 1996. The election campaign widened the rift between Lee and the ruling party's conservative wing. Wego Chiang backed two senior party members who deserted Lee to run against him. They and the other presidential hopefuls were roundly defeated in the March polls.

Chiang said the biggest mistake made by Chiang Kai-shek and Chiang Ching- kuo had been to die too early. Despite the endemic corruption, economic chaos and dictatorial brutality of Chiang Kai-shek's rule on the mainland, Wego Chiang said he could not think of any big mistakes the Chiangs had made. But in a reference to Chiang Ching-kuo's grooming of Lee Teng-hiu as his successor, Wego Chiang acknowledged that his clan maybe had "misused a few people and put them in important jobs".

Chiang believed that President Lee had betrayed the principles of the Nationalist leader Dr Sun Yat-sen and of Chiang Kai-shek, which he said were an extension of the ancient doctrine of Confucius. Wego Chiang told reporters in 1995 that, in respect of wanting a unified China, the mainland's Communist government more represented the ideals of his foster-father than did President Lee.

Wego Chiang went as far as speculating that, were the Communists to invade because of a move towards independence by Taiwan, Taiwanese soldiers would not want to fight to protect their island's government. "Many people believe they are running into an unnecessary war," he said. "Under any party, China should be unified and given a chance to work for the good of the whole world."

Chiang said confidently two years ago that Taiwan would be reunified with China in his lifetime. He died with no sign of progress towards that goal. His other dream - of moving the remains of Chiang Kai-shek and Chiang Ching-kuo from Taiwan to the Communist mainland - remained unfulfilled too. The government said this would be impossible before reunification. But the ruling party has said it would have no objections to Wego Chiang's remains being taken to China should his family wish it.

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