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Introductory Essay

Enemy of the People: Visual Depictions of Chiang Kai-shek

Jeremy E. Taylor



Chiang Kai-shek was one of the most caricatured, satirised and lampooned leaders in twentieth-century Asia―if not the world. This is true not merely in terms of the number of depictions of Chiang produced across the decades, but also of the time-span over which animosity towards Chiang was manifest in various types of visual text. Many other leaders have, of course, been denigrated at particular moments, but Chiang has been the butt of satire and ridicule from his initial rise to political power in the 1920s to the early years of the twenty-first century.  Even today, artists continue to probe and play with Chiang's image in a consciously irreverent fashion, long after both Chiang's physical death and the dismantling of the regime(s) he headed.

What makes Chiang Kai-shek equally unique as a subject of scorn are the changes to and continuities in his significance which have occurred over the course of the twentieth century. Unlike many of his fellow dictators, Chiang is impossible to tie down to one particular event, moment or issue. The rulers to whom Chiang is sometimes compared―Francisco Franco, Ngo Dinh Diem, or the dictators who fell in the Arab Spring of 2011-2, for instance―are often associated with one particular regime, conflict or period. Chiang is far harder to place. He was an anti-imperialist revolutionary, a wartime leader, a defeated militarist, an anti-communist stalwart, an authoritarian despot, and many other things to many different people. How does one reconcile Chiang the 'swashbuckling revolutionary' (youxiashi gemingzhe) of the 1920s,[i] with the ageing Cold Warrior who devoted his entire energy to the destruction of communism, for instance? Chiang was denigrated for many different reasons and by many different groups, including those who ardently opposed one another. Which other leader can claim detractors drawn from as wide a pool as the Imperial Japanese Army, the Chinese Communist Party, pro-democracy and pro-independence activists in Taiwan and Western intellectuals of the Left, to say nothing of the much harder to label groups and individuals who saw in Chiang a figure to loathe or mock.[ii]

For such a diverse range of detractors there has been, however, a relatively limited number of visual markers employed in negative depictions of Chiang. Differences do, of course, exist, and many of these shall be explored in this project. Yet one is struck by the continuities in the images of Chiang that were created often decades apart. Regardless of media, artist, period or motive, Chiang is often instantly recognisable. He is the short, emaciated (almost skeletal) and moustachioed bald figure with the plaster on his head; he is dressed in an ill-fitting military uniform, cap and boots, or else in a cape and mafioso fedora; he is armed with a ceremonial sword or dagger, which either drips with blood or displays signs of decay; he is the small man overshadowed by a manipulative and coquettish wife.

There are also many common narratives woven around these visual images. Chiang is constantly 'on the run'. He escapes from the Japanese, the Communists, or anyone else who might pose a threat, fleeing on horseback or camel, by army jeep, steamship, rickshaw, bicycle or cart; in other instances he runs comically, his feet hardly touching the ground as he hops from Nanjing to Wuhan and on to Chongqing, or from the mainland to Taiwan. Here he is escaping with a sack of money or jewels slung over his shoulder; there he goes limping away from yet another lost battle, perhaps leaning on his wife's shoulder for support.

Chiang's relationship with foreigners is also one of the most recurrent themes in many depictions. During the early years of the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), Chiang was shown fawning to Stalin or the British (or to both)―begging them for supplies, offering them pieces of Chinese land or plying them with liquor and women―or else as a puppet of either or both. In the post-Pearl Harbor period he was the smallest but arguably the most loathed of Allied leaders, his shame multiplied by the fact that he was the only non-European amongst their ranks. During the Chinese Civil War (1945-49) very little changed. Chiang was constantly depicted as fighting in the name of American imperialism: a balloon inflated by the American ambassador to China, or a slave to American overlords. Indeed, even the term from which this project derives its name is evidence of the continuities across the 1945 divide, for Chiang was known both to the Japanese and to the Chinese communists, at different periods, as an 'enemy of the people' (renmin gongdi).[iii]

There were, of course, many other 'Chiangs' to emerge, and the choice of images in this collection has been made with the specific purpose of providing as wide a sample as possible. Allegory was an important device used by many of Chiang's detractors, both at times when direct visual references to Chiang were dangerous (e.g., during the Civil War years) and for added vitriolic effect. Conscious comparisons were made between Chiang and other hated dictators, his facial hair being made into a toothbrush moustache (which in reality it never was) to create an association with Hitler, and his pose taking on unmistakeably Napoleonic qualities in the work of post-war communist artists.[iv] Nonetheless, and in light of the length of Chiang's political career, the continuities which do exist in the visual record are remarkable in their number. Chiang never even seems to age under his enemies' pencils and paint brushes: it is possible to compare an early 1930s image from a propaganda poster in China with a 1970s cartoon printed in the Daily Mail and know, almost instantly, that one is looking at a depiction of the same man.

The aim of the 'Enemy of the People' Project is to catalogue the multiple ways in which this occurred. The project is thus concerned not with looking at a particular period in history, or at a single medium―poster art, murals, cartooning, theatre and various other forms of expression are all included. Rather, it is designed to examine how images of Chiang slid across decades and across different forms of art, and to consider how many of the markers that we have come to associate so closely with Chiang first developed. The aim of the collection is to help users explore and appreciate the etymology of the standard image(s) of Chiang Kai-shek that have emerged across the twentieth century. The collection will hopefully provide a site of interest for scholars, students and others who are interested in Chiang Kai-shek and his place in modern history, but will also provide useful insights for those with an interest in comparative studies of the representation of modern dictators, as well as propaganda art, satire and political communications more generally, for in the visual denigration of Chiang one sees much wider issues and debates reflected.

Moreover, and at a time when the public image of Chiang Kai-shek is undergoing a very obvious rehabilitation, especially in the People's Republic of China, this project serves to remind us of just how recent the Chinese embrace of Chiang in fact is. More importantly, it will help us to remember just what this current wave of rediscovery is being written against, while also highlighting the fact that the line between veneration and denigration is not always as clear-cut as we may imagine.


Chiang as 'aesthetic object'

To truly understand just how Chiang first became the object of visual satire, agitation and hatred, it is necessary to appreciate the extent to which the visual realm was always a major area of concern for Chiang himself, and for those who sought to prolong his reign. After all, Chiang Kai-shek's ascendancy to power in the 1920s coincided with the popular dissemination in China of the very same media technologies that have often been associated with modern personality cults in other contexts, particularly photojournalism, mass printing and cinematography. Indeed, it is striking that while other Chinese 'great men' who predated Chiang as self-proclaimed leaders of China―chief amongst them Sun Yat-sen and Yuan Shikai―had certainly attempted to build personality cults around themselves at various points in the 1910s and 1920s, the residua of media representations relating to such figures is limited in comparison to those created around Chiang Kai-shek from the 1920s onwards.[v]

Chiang was the first Chinese leader to make such a substantial use of photography, for instance, having the good fortune of rising to power at a time when, as Sarah E. Fraser puts it, 'colonial photography [introduced into China from abroad] enjoyed an afterlife in the nationalizing construction of the Chinese self...'.[vi] From his rise to power during the Northern Expedition of 1925-6,[vii] Chiang appreciated the importance of photography in the creation of a media image, and the use of this form in the maintenance of a public persona. Kuomintang publications from the mid-1920s invariably included photographic images of Marshall Chiang in a martial pose,[viii] and photographs of Chiang were disseminated widely throughout China in this early era.


Chiang also rose to prominence at a time of substantial experimentation in the visual arts in China. The Northern Expedition led to an outpouring of political artwork, for instance. Much of this drew on models of visual propaganda produced in the Soviet Union, and it was in this period that communist artists, working within the National Revolutionary Army (Guomin gemingjun) or 'NRA', first began to regularly caricature foreign imperialists and capitalists in a systematic fashion. The Northern Expedition, however, also nurtured a small band of visual artists who remained loyal to Chiang throughout his career, and who produced in this period laudatory portraits of Chiang for publication in NRA outlets such as the Geming huabao (Revolutionary Pictorial).[ix] Such imagery was instrumental in cementing Chiang's position in the pantheon of Republican heroes, and as heir to Sun Yat-sen, in this period.[x]

This was mirrored in a growing print and media industry in Shanghai and other coastal cities, which saw the emergence of new visual art forms in China, including that of the manhua, or cartoon, a form which is credited with introduction into China in the early 1900s but which expanded rapidly in the aftermath of the May 4th Movement of 1919. As one of a range of military and political leaders vying for power in the 1920s, Chiang was thus an object of amusement, as well as adoration, from the very birth of the modern political cartoon in China.

Chiang's very public marriage in December 1927 to Soong May-ling (sister-in-law of Sun Yat-sen) was illustrative of the ways in which media technologies and new advances in art were used to make Chiang's face and body a recognisable object in China. The 'social event of the year'[xi] was one in which the full array of new propaganda techniques were brought to bear: official wedding photography was circulated widely to both the Chinese and international press, while KMT propagandists wrote laudatory texts about the event for dissemination in the Chinese media. In a presage of things to come, sections of the Shanghai media ridiculed the public attention lavished upon Chiang and his new wife,[xii] and cartoonists used official portraits released by the KMT as the inspiration for far more nuanced depictions of the happy couple.[xiii]


The grinning Chiang in the morning suit was but one of a number of standard photographic images being disseminated in this period. Coinciding with Chiang's purge of communists from ranks of the NRA and the Nationalist Party in 1927 was the emergence of official photographic portraits which showed Chiang in full military regalia: Chiang saluting the camera on horseback, or Chiang posing in the uniform of a commander, a ceremonial sabre hanging at his side. These far more sombre images would form the basis, over the next decade, of the 'standard photographs' of Chiang that would come to be reproduced in the thousands, and hung in classrooms, government offices and military compounds throughout the Nationalist realm.[xiv]


Nineteen twenty-seven also marked the beginning of a period which has since been referred to as the Nanjing Decade. With the final victory of Chiang's armies over the Beiyang government in Beijing and the establishment of Republican China's new capital city in Nanjing, Chiang consolidated his power over the Nationalist Party, and set in place the framework for a personality cult which would see Chiang iconography spread all throughout eastern China. In Nanjing, partisan institutions, such as the Officers' Moral Endeavour Association (OMEA), or Lizhishe, were tasked with the production and dissemination of Chiang's image. As I have argued elsewhere,[xv] the OMEA and other groups became the home of artists, photographers and writers who were responsible for the creation of texts which presented Chiang in a positive light, and which promoted the myth of Chiang as the natural heir to Sun's Republican revolution. It was also in this period that regulations governing how, where and when images of Chiang and Sun were to be used, and even on how Chiang would be referred to in official correspondence and publications, were introduced.[xvi]

Internationally, too, Chiang's allies assisted in the creation of a uniform image of the 'Christian general' during the Nanjing Decade―the photographs of an equestrian Chiang that emerged from the Northern Expedition were brought to an American audience in December 1933, for example, with one such image being reproduced on the cover of Henry Luce's Time magazine in December that year.

The collections of film archives around the world today (the UCLA Film and Television Archive holding a particularly rich collection of newsreels featuring Chiang from the 1930s) also attest to the extent to which the relatively new technology of film was also used by party bodies in the Nanjing years. By the mid-1930s, for instance, newsreels showing Chiang’s formal activities all over the country were being produced for local Chinese consumption and for international distribution. At the same time, artists were tasked with sculpting bronze busts or painting portraits of Chiang to adorn public offices.[xvii] 

By the early 1930s, Chiang had thus become what Stephen Gundle, writing of the Mussolini personality cult, has described as an ‘aesthetic object’: a figure whose ubiquity and close association with the state made him the inspiration for all kinds of artistic endeavour.[xix] In film, photography, painting, sculpture and various other fields, Chiang's face and body were becoming ubiquitous.

As had been the case with Mussolini, however, the production of a formal Chiang cult during the Nanjing Decade also had the effect of inspiring a whole body of artistic and creative work highly critical of Chiang. This occurred in two ways. Firstly, in removing political rivals on both the Left and the Right, Chiang created a substantial amount of animosity amongst various sections of the Chinese intelligentsia, many of whom would remain Chiang's enemies for years thereafter, and ultimately become responsible for sponsoring 'anti-Chiang' image-making. Indeed, one contemporary observer described Chiang as being 'the most hated man in China' by the mid-1930s.[xx] In Chiang's purge of the Communists in 1927, for instance, we see the first widespread production of visual and textual denigration of Chiang from the Left. This would continue throughout the 1930s, with events such as Chiang's crushing of the Fujian People's Government (Fujian renmin zhengfu) in 1933-4 and his continued harassment of Communist base areas in Jiangxi and elsewhere leading to the growth of anti-Chiang 'revolutionary art', which included everything from drama productions to the painting of anti-Chiang slogans on walls.[xxi] The hatred fomented in these early years would fuel visual vitriol until late into the twentieth century.

It was not only Communists who denigrated Chiang in image, however. Intellectuals in cities such as Shanghai were growing increasingly unhappy with the authoritarian proclivities displayed by their leader (lingxiu) in Nanjing, prompting many to vent their frustration in a growing body of newspapers, magazines and pictorials. A number of Shanghai-based cartoonists―people such as Zhang Guangyu, for instance―made a name for themselves in this period as satirists of Chiang. Similarly, those who had lost out through the conquest of the warlords during the Northern Expedition (such as members of the northern-based Beiyang Government) would continue to harbour resentment against Chiang, and this would manifest itself in public art in Beijing and elsewhere in the years thereafter, but would also give voice to anti-Chiang sentiment following the Japanese invasion of China in 1937.

The Nanjing Decade had yet another, and perhaps longer lasting legacy in the creation of anti-Chiang art, however. Pro-KMT artists, photographers and propagandists in Nanjing began to build a canon of Chiangiana based on specific symbols. While such symbols were designed to make Chiang's name, face and silhouette instantly recognisable, they could just as easily be 'turned on their head' to satirise him.

Hence, in the immediate aftermath of Chiang's purges of the Communists in July 1927, the visual propaganda that was created to counter Chiang bore very little resemblance to Chiang himself. Left-leaning artists within the NRA struggled to produce images of a figure that was clearly identifiable as Chiang. By the early 1930s, however, the same symbols that Nanjing partisans were using to present Chiang as a strong leader were being used by his enemies to insinuate quite different messages. Chiang's cape―an item of clothing he had adopted regularly in the 1930s―began to be used to signify thugery or a lack of transparency. This was certainly the case for many of the most notorious images to be produced in this period, such as Huang Wennong's cover for the 28 September 1929 issue of Shidai Manhua (Modern Sketch), in which Chiang's cape revealed an oversized fist. A decade later, the famed Japanese cartoonist Hidezo Kondo turned Chiang's cape into a pair of bat wings to transform Chiang into a vampire.[xxiii] As the only prominent Chinese leader to habitually wear such a garment, Chiang could be instantly made recognisable with the mere inclusion of a cape; this was certainly the case with Huang Yao's niu bizi (ox nose) character, for example, who morphed into various well-known figures in 1930s cartoons, and who could be turned into Chiang merely by having a cape slung over his shoulders.[xxiv]

The same was the case for Chiang's association with his wife Soong May-ling. The very public attempts by sections of the KMT to sustain the image of a modern 'first couple' in Nanjing were turned on their head by opponents. In anti-Chiang public art produced in Beijing at the start of the Nanjing Decade and captured on film by an American visitor to the city in 1928, Chiang is shown as a would-be emperor and his wife a concubine. Such imagery, often blatantly misogynist in nature, would follow Chiang for much of his career, and the generalissimo would find himself cast into that small but significant band of leaders―Ferdinand Marcos, Nicolae Ceausescu and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali amongst them―who would be attacked partly for their association with powerful or apparently corrupt first ladies.

Physically, Chiang also proved to be something of a gift for satirists, for many of the same attributes that were cultivated so carefully as part of his personality cult could just as easily be turned into sources of derision. Chiang's lack of hair was one example. Far from hiding this feature, Chiang had long cultivated a cropped, military haircut, even employing an army hairdresser over many years to keep his hair suitably trimmed.[xxv] Such a hair style―which later became known as the 'Chiang Kai-shek head' (Zhongzheng tou) in Taiwan―fitted well with the sort of austerity that Chiang himself extolled through the New Life Movement and other campaigns from the 1930s onwards. In the hands of Chiang's enemies, however, short hair was transformed into baldness, and subsequently used to suggest all manner of negative attributes. Many representations of Chiang removed visual references to hair altogether, the resulting skull-like quality of his head associating Chiang with death and decay, or at the very least, a lack of vigour.[xxvi]

Unsurprisingly, Chiang and his followers did not take kindly to such attacks. Censorship of the media was a key method through which artistic expression that was critical of Chiang could be managed in the 1930s. During the Civil War, artists who had 'satirised the leader' (fengci lingxiu) in the 1930s were prosecuted for work produced a decade earlier,[xxvii] while the Nationalist Government sought to stamp out new attempts at derision, even going so far as to demand that British colonial authorities outlaw the exhibition of anti-Chiang cartoons being displayed in Hong Kong in 1947.[xxviii]

None of these measures did anything other than present Chiang as a leader who brooked no criticism, and with the loss of the mainland in 1949, efforts were made in Taiwan to nip any such artistic expressions 'in the bud'. In post-war Taiwan, even anti-Chiang graffiti was considered an offence, and unofficial uses of Chiang's image were outlawed, even when these were laudatory―the unlicensed application of Chiang's portrait to pieces of commercial porcelain sold in Taiwan in the 1950s, for instance, attracted the attention of the municipal police.[xxix] Those in Taiwan who did dare to defile Chiang's name or image, or criticise the personality cult itself, were imprisoned. The much documented case of the writer Bo Yang and his apparently allegorical derision of Chiang and his son through the medium of a Popeye comic in 1967 was only one example. [xxx]


Chiang's body

The Japanese invasion of China sparked an unprecedented wave of anti-Chiang imagery. Between 1937 and 1940, hundreds―perhaps thousands―of propaganda images denigrating Chiang were produced either directly by the Japanese military or by the 'puppet' governments that they had established in northern and eastern China. Despite the quantity of these images, however, there existed very little variation in such depictions. As one American observer in Beiping (now Beijing) put it at the time: '...caricatures of Chiang Kai-shek…usually depicted [him] in one of two extremes, either in the depths of difficulty and failure or as achieving his own selfish purposes by sacrificing the people and the troops'.[xxxi]

Chiang Kai-shek was not a tall man. He was also of sleight build, a result not simply of genes but also of an austere lifestyle which included a strict dietary regime.[xxxii] In the throes of the New Life Movement in the mid 1930s, all of this had been celebrated.[xxxiii] Come the Japanese invasion, however, Chiang's lack of height and weight were used against him, as Chiang was transformed on countless propaganda leaflets into the 'sick man of Asia', spindly and stunted. Chiang's military standing was commensurate with his physical stature.

An explicit juxtaposition was made between the decrepit Chiang and the burly Japanese soldiers who smashed him in the face, or the poorly Chiang and the healthy Chinese 'masses' in whose name the Japanese were apparently fighting. Indeed, Chiang was even contrasted to other figures that the Japanese painted as 'villains'. In the propaganda publications in which communist leaders such as Mao Zedong and Zhu De appeared, for instance, it was always Chiang who looked the sorriest. At times, the manipulation of Chiang's physique by unnamed artists went even further. The size of Chiang's head was enlarged in proportion to his body so that his cranium had the effect of looking very much like a skull. Chiang's jaw bone was also accentuated for the same purpose.

Elsewhere, grotesque imagery was employed in picturing Chiang as a skeleton―either lying motionless in death, or being seared into bones via a Japanese bomb (or by the brilliant radiance of the 'new China' emanating out of Occupied Beijing or Nanjing)―with such images produced in tandem with war rumours, themselves spread through the Japanese-sponsored Occupation press, that Chiang had been killed during any number of Japanese bombing raids, or had taken his own life.[xxxiv] In death, Chiang was a nondescript pile of bones, perhaps being consumed by fire or picked at by carrion crows. In many more instances, however, Chiang's skeletal remains included a skull endowed with facial hair, stubble and an archetypal elongated Chiang jaw, lest there be any confusion about the identity of this figure. In its most extreme form, and especially in the propaganda art of the 1950s (though also, occasionally, during the war), Chiang was killed off physically, appearing instead as some ghostly apparition without a human body at all.

It was Chiang the ‘weakling’, however, that would arguably become the dominant figure in almost all subsequent artwork during the war. After the transformation of the 'China Incident' into the 'Greater East Asia War' in 1941, for instance, Chiang would re-appear with renewed frequency in Japanese war propaganda, almost always alongside Churchill and Roosevelt. In such imagery he was always the smallest of the Allied Leaders, however, still looking emaciated or close to death (though this was now due to his life in the musty bomb shelters of Chongqing).[xxxv] Indeed, even in wartime propaganda which presented Chiang as a monster, the sort who perched himself on a pile of corpses and feasted on his own people, Chiang would often be presented, in seemingly contradictory fashion, with a skull-like head atop an emaciated body.[xxxvi]

The representation of Chiang as a living skeleton would remain an important one for the propaganda produced after 1945, too. Prior to 1937, artists of the Left in China had often presented Chiang as a robust figure, accentuating his boots and fists to suggest a leader who was strong in an uncompromising fashion. However, with the resumption of hostilities between the Nationalists and Communists in the latter stages of the war against Japan, and throughout the years of the Chinese Civil War, the far weaker image of Chiang prevailed. Communist and other Left-wing artists of the 1940s who came to be closely associated with visual depictions of Chiang (such as Hua Junwu, Zhong Ling, Zhang Ding and Liao Bingxiong) returned not to Chiang the muscular dictator of earlier years but to the spindly figure that had been such a feature of Japanese propaganda. In the Jiefang Ribao (Liberation Daily) and Renmin Ribao (People's Daily), or in specialised publications such as Dongbei Manhua (Northeast Cartoons)―as well as in Soviet propaganda which attempted to bring events in China into a broader Cold-War context―Chiang remained an emaciated figure with an oversized head and tattered uniform.

Chinese artists were also given extra inspiration for their grotesque images of Chiang by the Soviet advisors who came to China in the wake of the CCP victory in 1949. Soviet caricatures of Chiang by the three highly prolific and veteran artists known collectively as the Kukrynisksy[xxxvii]―who had come to fame via wartime cartoons of Hitler and Mussolini―were exhibited in China in the summer of 1951. Such events also introduced Chinese artists, for the first time, to the cartoons and propaganda art of the poet Vladimir Mayakovsky and other propagandists, with his Russian-Civil War era depictions of the White General Baron Von Wrangel (referred to, tellingly, in Chinese texts as the Soviet Union's renmin gongdi) 'displayed to the amazement of some Chinese spectators'.[xxxviii] Soviet artists brought to China an even sharper take on the grotesque than the Japanese wartime propagandists had used, drawing Chiang as a completely mutilated figure―in some cases little more than a head attached to a Frankensteinesque assortment of prostheses and mechanical parts. Such Soviet influence is palpable in 1950s poster art in China, in which Chiang is depicted in a fashion that would have made any Soviet critic of Hitler proud―as a rotting scarecrow, or a bloodied figure assailed by an assortment of implements.[xxxix]

While communist artists continued to portray Chiang as physically weak, they also went further, 'dehumanising' Chiang by transforming him into an animal. Drawing on Soviet lessons in the portrayal of foreign enemies,[xl] Chiang was transformed in the 1950s into a rat, dog, fly and various other creatures traditionally associated with contempt in China. Artists also consciously employed animal anatomy without delving into allegory: the image of Chiang in Hua Junwu's much celebrated cartoon Mohao dao zai sha (Sharpen the knife and kill) (1947), was attributed with murine eyes (shumu), for example, without actually being transformed into a rat.[xli]

Perhaps the most obvious Communist innovation in post-1949 propaganda art, however, was the application of what Victoria Bonnell has noted as a common tool of Soviet posters―'perspectival distortion'.[xlii] Chiang was almost always presented in CCP poster art and textbooks as being far smaller than his detractors, and was contrasted not to Communist leaders, but to the towering, 'oversized' figures representing the Chinese masses, or specific groups therein, such as soldiers or peasants. Chiang cowered on a deserted Taiwan (signified most often by the inclusion of a palm tree),[xliii] or waded through the waves to exile or a watery death. He appeared on the edge of such images, as if by being pushed off a poster he was also being expelled from history itself. Chiang's stick-like physique remained a constant, but now he was tiny, too―small enough to be stuffed, like Xavier Cugat's chihuahua, into General Macarthur's pocket, or squashed by a People's Liberation Army boot.

Significantly, the emaciated and shrunken Chiang was not regularly emulated by satirists outside of Asia, although Chiang did indeed became a favourite topic of ridicule throughout the 1950s and 1960s. American artists such as Herb Block and British cartoonists like David Low certainly derided Chiang, but they did so by presenting a wily and manipulative Chiang who stood on par with the likes of Stalin and Macarthur. In the eyes of many Western critics, Chiang was not to be trusted, but neither was he to be belittled.

Ironically, it was only after Chiang's physical death in April 1975 that his body was restored to robustness in artistic depictions created by his critics. Indeed, this trend represents something of a twist on the usual trajectory, for Chiang's death also led to an upsurge in the official commissioning of imposing bronze sculptures of Chiang by Taiwanese artists to fill the new sites of posthumous commemoration constructed by Chiang son, Chiang Ching-kuo, all over Taiwan. While KMT-trained sculptors such as Lin Mu-chuan were filling Taiwan with imposing Lincoln Memorial-inspired edifices of a seated Chiang, pro-democracy artists were beginning to experiment with scale to hint at the brutality of Chiang's rule on the island.


In the late 1980s, Wu Tien-chang, an artist who had long been affiliated with the pro-democracy opposition movement in Taiwan, began to create massive canvasses of Chiang which mirrored the new monolithic style of the posthumous Chiang cult.[xliv] In a series of works by Wu unveiled to the public in 1990, Chiang sat alongside Mao, Deng Xiaoping and Chiang Ching-kuo in a chamber of massive and uncompromising Chinese autocrats.[xlv] Ironically, such depictions marked a return to the critical images produced in 1930s Shanghai, when cartoonists such as Huang Wennong and Zhang Guangyu had critiqued the brutality of Chiang's rule by producing physically imposing depictions of the lingxiu which drew on official portraiture and statuary, but which interpreted the very idea of the 'strong man' in a particularly unpleasant fashion.


Mutilation and humiliation

As we saw above, a common strategy of Japanese propagandists in the early months of the Second Sino-Japanese War was to spread rumours via the Occupation press about the supposed death of Chiang. This was accompanied by an association in the visual realm between Chiang and death more generally, often by depicting him in a skeletal fashion.

Yet such rumours also led to a marked increase in the depiction of this skeletal Chiang as carrying serious injuries. If Chiang could never quite be killed off by Japanese mortars, he could at least be permanently disfigured. Chiang was invariably pictured as bearing (often blood-soaked) bandages on his outer extremities, or with a plaster on his head. He hobbled along on a crutch, sometimes with little more than a bloody nose or a scar on his face, but often with a missing limb. Another favourite method in Japanese propaganda leaflets was to have Chiang lying in a sick bed, attended by his wife or by Stalin, as he watched from bloodied bedclothes the disintegration of his own regime.

The pictorial mutilation of Chiang by the Japanese and their allies was mirrored in the ritual scolding, beating or shooting of Chiang effigies, both in Occupied China and in Japan. Villagers in northern China were encouraged to pepper with bullets a larger than life effigy of Chiang that had been erected on top of a wheelbarrow.[xlvi] Papier mache costumes of Chiang and his wife were made in the city of Jinan in Shandong and paraded through the streets of that city in July 1938 in a kind of ritual humiliation of the couple. And Japanese victories over Chiang's armies were celebrated by marching life-size puppets or people dressed in satirical, mascot-like costumes depicting Chiang through shrines and other public spaces for the purposes of public humiliation. In other cases, children and others would be encouraged to berate or beat effigies of Chiang that were hung alongside those of other Allied leaders.[xlvii]

While effigies were not the preferred tool of the Chinese Communists, ritual humiliation and theatrical beatings of Chiang in absentia continued well into the post-1945 era. In the Soviet form of drama known as the zhivaya gazeta (lit. 'living newspapers'; rendered as huobaoju in China)―introduced into China in the 1930s―actors dressed as Chiang (or other enemies) would be led through the streets while audiences hurled abuse (and sometimes objects) at them. Chiang would continue to feature as a frequent fixture of 'living newspaper' plays penned throughout the 1950s and 1960s, both in China and in other parts of the socialist world,[xlviii] and it is perhaps more than coincidence that a number of cartoonists who had become so closely associated with visual depictions of Chiang, such as Hua Junwu, were also served as directors to such plays.

Like much else in the history of Chiang-bating, the ritual humiliation of Chiang in the People's Republic in the 1950s anticipated events in post-martial law Taiwan, where some pro-democracy activists took to defiling statues of Chiang in retribution for past atrocities. Such instances do, of course, point to a much wider trend in the 1990s towards sculpture-focused iconoclasm of the sort already examined by Dario Gamboni with regards to the former Soviet bloc and Florian Göttke vis-à-vis post-Ba'ath Iraq.[xlix] Yet they also suggest continuities across the decades with regards to the ways in which physical representations of Chiang have been consciously defiled. As was the case with the Soviet and Arab leaders whose statues were literally overthrown in the 1990s and 2010s, respectively, official Chiang sculptures of the type which started in the 1920s have often been seen as proxies for Chiang's physical self, and their defilement or removal an act of symbolic vengeance.[l] One of the least publicised acts which accompanied the Japanese invasion of Nanjing in August 1937, for instance, had been the bizarre removal of a bronze bust of Chiang with a bullet hole in its temple by the Imperial Japanese Army: the trophy was shipped back to Japan, and put on display for visitors at the China Incident Exposition (Shina Jihen Seisen Hakurankai) as an insult to Chiang.[li] It is perhaps no surprise that even seven decades later, the decision on the part of a pro-independence administration in Taipei to remove official statues and busts of Chiang from public spaces around Taiwan and consign them to an ambiguously designed 'sculpture park', were seen by Chiang's supporters on the island as an act of disrespect.[lii]


The same is true of official portraiture, which has always enjoyed a special place in the Chiang personality cult, and which came to be protected by special legislation during the war against Japan to ensure that proper respect was afforded to such objects.[liii] It is perhaps for this reason that the use and/or defilement of images originating in official portraiture are so common a source of inspiration for those wishing to undermine Chiang's rule, ridicule his pomposity or express a lack of reverence. After the war, Communist artists incorporated images derived from Chiang portraiture in their artwork, one frequent method being the addition of a Chiang portrait to images of designated class enemies. In more recent years, Taiwanese pro-democracy activists have habitually altered official portraiture to express their dissatisfaction with the Chiang legacy of authoritarianism.

The defilement of official Chiang portraits remains, to this day, one of the most powerful methods of denigration. The Taiwanese-American artist Tzeng Yi-hsin, for example, who grew up on an island in which Chiang’s face was once seen in almost all public spaces (and whose work can be found in this database), has experimented in recent years with physically defacing official portraits of Chiang using substances ranging from foam to chewing gum, ostensibly as a reaction against the sorts of Chiang reverence that were forced upon Tzeng's parents' generation. In doing so, however, Tzeng is also contributing to a practice that can be dated at least back to the 1930s. While Tzeng is thus making a comment on the self-importance of leaders such as Chiang (and the cults constructed around them), she is also raising questions about the very act of humiliation and defilement that have long exercised Chiang's critics.


A man of colour

One of the justifications for Japan's invasion of China in 1937 had been the idea of 'pan-Asianism': China's incompetent rulers were allowing the Asian mainland to be exploited by Europeans, and Japanese intervention was necessary in order to save the non-white races of the continent―thus went the logic of the Imperial Japanese Army. Issues of colour lay at the heart of such rhetoric, with Japanese propaganda calling on Asia's 'people of colour' (youse ren zhong) to rise up against Western imperialism, and visual images stressed the 'pinkness' of Europeans as they were drawn lording over clearly yellow or brown Asians in Far Eastern colonies.

This posed problems for Japanese and Occupation war artists who sought to denigrate ethnically Chinese enemies, especially at a time when ink and other printing materials (which would have made choices over colour far easier) were not necessarily easy to acquire. Could colour be used to mark a difference between a figure such as Chiang Kai-shek, and those Chinese who were considered 'loyal' by the Japanese, such as the collaborationist leader Wang Jingwei, for example?

In Japanese propaganda, this conundrum was overcome in a number of different ways. Firstly, and in keeping with the rhetoric of pan-Asianism, Chiang remained a healthy 'Asian' yellow in many images, while it was his wife, Soong May-ling, whose face was presented in a pure, though often ghostly, white.[liv] Indeed, in a substantial number of propaganda images in which the two were pictured next to each other, it was Madame Chiang who was transformed into a European (a visual nod, perhaps, to her very well publicised connections with the United States and her fluency in English).

In other instances, however, Chiang's pigmentation depended on context. One of the most intriguing set of anti-Chiang images ever produced were the dozens of pamphlets printed by pro-Japanese groups in colonial India, and disseminated both in India itself and amongst British Indian troops in Southeast Asia. The anonymous artists who produced such images under the rubric of the 'Indian Independence League' suggested in their propaganda that Chiang was little more than a lackey of the British, often depicting the Chinese leader with an identical pigmentation to that of British figures―John Bull or Winston Churchill―next to which he stood, and in contrast to the colour of the Indian people against whom he worked.[lv]

It was in the period after 1949, however, that Chiang became a true man of colour―usually green or grey. In mainland Chinese poster art of the 1950s, Chiang was frequently painted in a vivid, wicked-witch-of-the-West green,  as were many foreign and internal enemies. In other instances, his face was deliberately drained of colour, or painted a pale grey, suggesting ill health or death. This 'verdigrisation' of enemies was linked to traditional colour schemes used in Chinese demonology but, in the post-1949 era, also reflected a common feature of Maoist rhetoric, and in particular a major part of what Michael Schoenhals has referred to as ‘bio-political purity’―i.e., the belief that class enemies were biologically different from 'the masses', and that such differences manifested themselves through physical traits.[lvi] The use of green was also used to contrast individuals such as Chiang to leaders like Mao, the latter being habitually painted in ruddy red hues to suggest warmth and radiance.[lvii]



Sartorially, Chiang Kai-shek always made things simple for his detractors. He was seldom seen in public in anything other than very small number of costumes. During the Northern Expedition this was either a Pershing uniform or a zhongshan tunic, though both outfits were often embellished with a cape and/or a fedora; in the Nanjing Decade and throughout the war against Japan, Chiang was photographed and painted in a highly intricate ceremonial uniform befitting a head of state; on Taiwan, Chiang would appear increasingly in 'beige and light brown Sun Yat-sen suits, accessorised with a velour fedora and walking cane',[lviii] although in old age he was frequently photographed (and presented in sculptures) in a traditional Chinese scholar’s gown.[lix]

As we saw above, items of clothing (such as the black cape) were turned into visual markers under the pen of Chiang's detractors. However, Chiang's costumes were often drawn in ways that had little to do with his actual dress habits. One of the guises in which Chiang would be represented by both his Japanese and communist enemies, for instance, was that of the Shanghai hoodlum, complete with loose hanging trousers, a silk jacket, cloth shoes and either a Chinese skull cap or flat cap. Indeed, in a bizarre twist, the Communist cartoonist Hua Junwu even claimed that he had attached a medicinal plaster to his depictions of Chiang's head as a visual reference to 'old Shanghai': medicinal plasters applied to the temple were apparently a favoured accoutrement of the Shanghai gangster, and so their application to 'anti-Chiang' images created an instant connection to the underworld.[lx] The visual association with organised crime also harked back to Chiang's connections with the Green Gang and its participation in the purging of Communists in 1927. It is noticeable, however, that even the Japanese and their collaborators made frequent use of this image: in both image and text, Chiang was depicted as hording China's wealth or engaging in some other form of activity usually associated with criminal gangs.

However, it was an iconic and widely circulated series of official portraits of Chiang (including one in which Chiang was seen standing alongside Soong May-ling) which proved to be one of the longest lasting sources of derision. While Chiang had certainly appeared in public in more austere uniforms, the pomp and ceremony that surrounded his assumption of the presidency in 1943 was captured by Chiang's court photographer, Hu Chongxian. These images, which were circulated via stamps, official artwork and books, showed Chiang in a highly ornate ceremonial military uniform, complete with large epaulettes, a sash and white gloves. Chiang's breast was covered in military medals, while he held either a ceremonial hat (or a sheathed ceremonial sword. Depending on one's view of Chiang, such an appearance could be construed as either presidential (perhaps even royal) or pompous.


Many subsequent artistic depictions of Chiang drew on this series of photographs. Like the title figure in Sacha Baron Cohen's film The Dictator (2012), the Chiang that emerged in a good deal of wartime and postwar propaganda was endowed with a ridiculously ostentatious uniform, complete with oversized epaulettes, and an excess of medals. His uniform itself was emphasised to stress the smallness of Chiang's stature or to suggest a misplaced sense of self-importance. In other cases, its ceremonial cleanliness was undermined by stains or tears in the fabric. In the hands of Japanese and communist artists, the purity of white gloves could be juxtaposed to one of Chiang's many acts of bloody violence.

Perhaps one of the most enduring of implements from this period, however, was the sword. In the hands of cartoonists and propaganda artists, the blade of this sword was enlarged to the point of a scimitar which, in the hands of Chiang, was used to murder rank-and-file soldiers and ordinary Chinese people. Just as often, however, the sword was drawn as a cracked, blunt or bent length of tin metal―a weapon crafted from the flimsiest of materials―and one that reflected Chiang's own military ineptitude, or the emptiness of the threat that Chiang posed. The weapon that Chiang had chosen to be photographed with in the official portraiture in his heyday, perhaps in emulation of Japanese or Prussian royalty, would follow him for the rest of his life, becoming as powerful a signifier and source of derision as his head, cape and military uniform were.


The collection

The images provided on this web site are drawn from a range of sources. They do not, however, represent an exhaustive collection. Chiang was hated by so many for so long that it will perhaps never be possible to show, in one database, every image ever designed to undermine his rule or defile his legacy. It should also be noted that negative visual depictions of Chiang peaked at certain times and disappeared at others―an entire database could perhaps be dedicated to the images that appeared almost daily in the communist press in China in 1947, for example.

It should also be noted that not all the images in this collection are necessarily 'negative', or, more accurately, that the delineation between negative and 'non negative' depictions are not always easy to make. While the collection has been deliberately designed to omit images that were created in veneration of Chiang by the regimes he headed―a topic for perhaps some other database in the future―it does include images that are neither hagiographical nor satirical, but which nonetheless provide interesting points of reference for many of the issues discussed above. Users will find such examples in particular in the work of European and American artists and illustrators, whose depictions nonetheless also had an impact on depictions as they emerged in Asia.

To be sure, there are many omissions. Users will note an almost complete lack of images from film and television, for instance, despite this being one important realm, particularly in the People's Republic, in which the satirisation of Chiang continued well into the 1980s. This is the result of a lack of access and issues of copyright more than anything else, though it is acknowledged that such a gap will need to be remedied in the future. Another, perhaps less obvious, exclusion is that of irreverent photography, that in which the context of photographic images of Chiang were manipulated so as to insinuate certain (often subliminal) messages, or simply to paint Chiang and those close to him in a negative light. Such images are difficult to reproduce in a collection such as this, as they lose meaning without the wider context in which they were published―their place on the page, the captions and articles that accompanied them and various other factors. Suffice it to say that this is a conscious omission, though also one which detracts from the whole.

Nonetheless, I have sought to choose a representative collection of images for ‘Enemy of the People’ that I hope will help to 'join the dots' between different eras, artists, movements and media, and also illuminate continuities, connections and influences which are perhaps not, at first, obvious. If, as I argued above, Chiang Kai-shek's longevity, together with his remarkable abilities to inspire hatred in so vast an audience, make him a difficult figure to place, then it is my hope that this collection will mark a first step in plotting just where Chiang and his image belong in the complicated web of stories, conflicts and debates that constitute the twentieth-century history of Asia and the place of figures such as Chiang Kai-shek therein.


(Image Credits: Images used in the above essay were kindly provided by the Visualising China Project, and the Granger Collection. The images may not be reproduced without permission)