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Reviewed by:
  • Accidental State: Chiang Kai-shek, the United States, and the Making of Taiwan Hsiao-ting Lin
  • Syaru Shirley Lin (bio)
Hsiao-ting Lin. Accidental State: Chiang Kai-shek, the United States, and the Making of Taiwan. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2016. ix, 338 pp. Hardcover $39.95, isbn 978-0-674-65981-0.

Nearly seven decades after the end of the Chinese civil war, Taiwan and China continue to be governed separately, and Taiwan has emerged as an autonomous de facto state. Furthermore, as the recent Trump-Kim summits remind us, the legacy of the Korean war continues to be salient, part of which is the reintroduction of the United States into the conflict between Taiwan and China, replacing Truman's earlier policy of not providing military aid to safeguard Taiwan. Hsiao-ting Lin, a research fellow in the Hoover Institution's East Asian Collections, provides an account of Taiwan's history from the Cairo Declaration of November 1943 to the Nationalist government's 1952 Peace Treaty with Japan and its 1954 Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States. Accidental State provides an excellent analysis of the debates within two of the most important national stakeholders during this important historical period—Taiwan and the United States—even as it also suggests an even longer list of research topics that future students of Taiwanese history may choose to address.

Taiwan's emergence as a de facto state has often been viewed as the product of strategic calculations by the United States and the Nationalist government led by Chiang Kai-shek. But Lin's analysis, based on primary and secondary sources in both English and Chinese, challenges this conclusion. The book shows that Taiwan's history in these years was anything but that. Lin relies heavily on the newly declassified personal diaries of Chiang Kai-shek, as well as other material in the Hoover Institution's archives, including the accounts of Chen Cheng, the Nationalist governor of Taiwan, Admiral Charles M. Cooke, the commander of the U.S. Seventh Fleet and then of the U.S. naval forces in the Western Pacific from 1946 to 1948, and George H. Kerr, the assistant naval attache and then the American U.S. vice-Consul in Taipei, who was an eyewitness to the 228 tragedy of 1947. Lin also utilizes archival material, including Taiwan and U.S. government records, to verify key facts and to provide a fuller picture than many other accounts of this period.

Lin's thesis is that Taiwan's emergence as "an accidental state" was not the result of careful planning by Chiang that was then grudgingly accepted by Washington. Rather, it was the result of a complex series of interactions among different actors within both the Nationalist and the U.S. governments, who were constantly being surprised by the course of events. The book shows how Washington tried to keep all its options open in the confusion that characterized this period by supporting many different groups in Asia, including Taiwanese independentistas in Tokyo, anti-Communist and anti-Chiang "Third Force" Chinese in Hong Kong, and rivals for leadership [End Page 217] within the KMT on Taiwan, including Virginia Military Institute graduate General Sun Liren, the commander of Nationalist ground forces before being demoted, Princeton-educated Provincial Governor K. C. Wu, and prime minister Cheng Chen. Furthermore, the United States was undertaking covert initiatives through the CIA to undermine Communist authorities on the mainland, including supplying remnant Nationalist forces in Burma and Yunnan.

The book begins in 1943 as Chiang Kai-shek was preparing to attend the Cairo Conference with Roosevelt and Churchill. Lin argues that, initially, Chiang and his fellow KMT leaders were not focused on taking Taiwan back from Japan, as they were primarily concerned with the fate of Japanese-held territories on the Chinese mainland. It was only at the last minute that Chiang decided to include Taiwan in the list of territories to be reclaimed from Japan at the war's end. The United States and its allies also did not assume that the Nationalists would govern Taiwan exclusively and immediately after the Japanese surrender. The victory of allied forces in Okinawa in June 1945...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 217-220
Launched on MUSE
2019-08-15
Open Access
No
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