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Cultural tour of Chiang Kai-shek's Shilin residence

As has become tradition, to coincide with the Chinese Lunar New Year, the ECCT arranged a special cultural excursion for ECCT members. This year, the outing was to the residence of Chiang Kai-shek in Shilin, which has been converted to a museum. Guests enjoyed a guided English tour of the main house after which they were transported to the National Palace Museum's Silk's Palace restaurant for lunch.

Chiang Kai-shek led the Republic of China (ROC) between 1928 and 1975. Educated in Japan and a close ally of Kuomintang (KMT) founder and leader Sun Yat-sen, Chiang became the commandant of the KMT's Whampoa Military Academy and took Sun's place as leader of the KMT in early 1926.

Under Chiang's leadership Chiang and his American-educated wife, Soong Mei-ling, held the support of the United States' China lobby and China became part of allied powers during World War II.

As an ardent anti-communist, Chiang devoted a great deal of effort while in power to opposing communist forces. In between and sometimes overlapping with battles against Japanese forces in China, he engaged in an ongoing battle against communist forces led by Mao Ze-dong, punctuated by two phases of a civil from 1931-1936 and again after the World War II from 1946-1949.

Following defeat, he led KMT forces in a retreat to Taiwan in 1950, where he remained in power until his death in 1975.

Chiang is regarded as a controversial figure: supporters credit him with playing a major part in the Allied victory of the Second World War while detractors and critics denounce him as a dictator who suppressed and purged opponents. A more sympathetic view is that he was a man simply overwhelmed by the events in China, having to fight simultaneously the communists, Japanese, and provincial warlords while having to reconstruct and unify the country.

However, in Taiwan he leaves a lasting legacy in the form of five pillars that remain largely intact 43 years after his passing: 1) The ROC constitution; 2) The institutions of government (the Executive, Legislative, Judicial and Control Yuans); 3) The ROC armed forces; 4) The National Palace Museum and 5) The Academia Sinica.

The Chiang Kai-Shek Shilin residence was originally built during the Japanese colonial era but has had several renovations over the years. It comprises four historic monuments; the main building, guest house, Ciyun Pavilion and the Victory Chapel. In addition, there are also several gardens and a fish pond.

Chiang Kai-shek lived in his Shilin residence for 25 years from 1950 until his death in 1975. When Chiang Kai-shek first arrived in Taiwan he lived in another house on Yangmingshan but moved to the residence because of its convenient location (closer to the city) and because it was not difficult to arrange security for the location given its situation on the side of a hill.

While Chiang lived in the residence it was visited by many foreign dignitaries. This included the Shah of Iran, the king of Saudi Arabia, US president Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon, who stayed in the house for two nights together with his wife when he was vice president in 1953.

During the tour, visitors were able to view the rooms and some of the original furniture and personal effects of Chiang and his wife, including her personal studio. Soong painted a number of original paintings, mostly of landscapes, birds and flowers. Copies of many of the paintings and some of her calligraphy are on display in several of the rooms.

Many of the couple's clothes are also on display along with their books and journals. Chiang also kept a diary.

Guests were able to view snippets of old film footage of the couple and listen to a recording of Soong's famous speech to the United States congress in 1943.

At the lunch after the tour, former ROC President Ma Ying-jeou and renowned historian Dr Lin Man-houng participated as informal guests.

While they did not make any formal speeches or presentations, they shared some anecdotes related to Chiang Kai-shek. While Dr Ma said that he was too young to remember much about Chiang Kai-shek, he worked for over six years for Chiang's son and successor Chiang Ching-kuo.

Dr Lin, who was formerly president of the prestigious Academia Historica, is currently a research fellow at Academia Sinica. Among other subjects, she is an expert on the history of treaty ports and trade, modern China, opium in the late Qing dynasty and the role of Taiwanese merchants in East Asian overseas economic networks. At the lunch she remarked that Taiwan has a unique history that has been influenced by many cultures including China, Japan, Spain and The Netherlands.

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