Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Yang Tianshi's talk about CKS's diaries

Prof. Yang Tianshi, who was visiting Taiwan for a conference at Tunghai that took place over the weekend, gave a talk today about Chiang Kai-shek's diaries, which are currently deposited in the archives of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. Prof. Yang and the moderator of today's talk, Lu Fang-shang, discussed quite a few topics related to the use of Chiang's diaries in historical research. I'm going to try to read my hen-scratchy notes and see what I can make out of their talk. (By the way, Yang and Lu were interviewed recently for an article in Yazhou Zhoukan.)

Prof. Yang described the diaries, mentioning that CKS rather consistently kept a diary between 1915 and 1972 (3 years before his death). He said that at first, CKS's entries were brief (about 30 characters in length), but got longer around the time of the war with Japan. He noted that CKS also engaged in weekly, monthly, and yearly summaries/reflections.
A screen shot of two pages from one of Chiang's diaries.
(There's a short article about Chiang's diaries here.)

Prof. Yang argued that Chiang's diaries were written mainly for himself rather than being written with an eye to future publication. He said that two key pieces of evidence for this are how much CKS cursed (罵) people close to him, and how much private, even confessional, material is in the diaries. (CKS used to give himself demerits for looking lustily at women.) Prof. Yang argued that CKS would not have wanted this kind of material to be made public. (BTW, as Prof. Lu mentioned, the confessions and self-criticism in CKS's diaries didn't necessarily turn him into a saint...) One result of the private nature of Chiang's diaries, according to Prof. Yang, is that we can learn a lot more about what was really going on in CKS's head at certain important historical moments, such as the 1926 Zhongshan Warship Incident and the 1936 Xi'an Incident.

One thing I wondered about is the role of CKS's diaries in subject formation, and the models that CKS had for his diaries. Prof. Yang mentioned the long history of figures in China who used diaries as tools for self-cultivation. He also discussed how well-read CKS was (particularly, he said, for a military man). Evidently CKS's diaries record his readings in the Confucian classics (particularly the Yijing), Christian works, and Eastern and Western philosophy. I found myself wondering what someone in writing studies or rhetorical studies would do with these diaries--perhaps analyze how the diaries constructed CKS as a reading and writing subject.

One last thing that Prof. Yang mentioned--he said that Chiang's status has risen in China from that of a devil (鬼) to a human (人), while in Taiwan, coincidentally, it seems his status has gone from god to human. (No one commented on the immediate political conditions that might be responsible for that coincidence.)

All in all, Professor Yang's speech was quite engaging--the room was packed, too (though I had the feeling a lot of students were there because they had to be. Ahem...)


Alan Baumler said...


Did Yang say anything about the history of the diaries? I remember someone (I'm almost certain it was Lloyd Eastman) pointing out that CKS had caused parts of his diaries (mostly about the Xian incident) to be published at various points and that the entries seems to have been edited after the fact

Lucky you getting to go to cool talks like this. It's snowing here

Jonathan Benda said...

I'll have to take another listen to my recording of Yang's talk and get back to you on that, Alan. The thing I remember him focusing more on was the "materiality" of the diaries (though that wasn't his word).

I could kick myself for missing the conference on Modern China that took place here the weekend before Yang's talk. I was just too busy to go to that. Oh well...

Grace Huang said...

Dear Jonathan,
Thank you for the notes. Are you able to recall the long history of figures in China who used diaries as tools for self-cultivation?

Jonathan Benda said...

Hi Grace,
I'd have to check out the audio of Prof. Yang's speech. Unfortunately, I'm having problems with the computer where I saved the file. Hopefully I can check it out when (if) I get the computer back in working shape.