11/01/2019 No. 147
 
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Foreign Policy of the United States and General Sun Li-jen
By Peter Chung Chieh
February 1, 2009


Sun Li-jen (1899 - 1990), the ever victorious General, is one of the most admired and respected figures in modern Chinese history. He was an engineer, a scholar, a soldier, and most important of all, an able general whose soldiers always won in battles. General Sun, having done no wrong, never suspected his countrymen to harm him. He did not realize that his government would forge excuse to purge him and his subordinates. To the dismay of most people in Taiwan in 1955, Chiang Ching-kuo and his father Chiang Kai-shek demolished this towering giant, his staff and his supporters. As a result, this talented General vanished from the public. He lived in isolation and endured pain for more than a third of his lifetime. Thus, he became a typical Chinese legend – a patriot who suffered from injustice. He shall live in the minds of Chinese along with Li Guang (李广), Yue Fei (岳飞), Yuan Chonghuan (袁崇焕), etc. These legends represent the spirit of Chinese. To me, a helpless, ignorant, and insignificant little soldier, he was a living legend and a God-sent Chinese fairy who extended his hand to lead and nurture me. What an honour to have him as my adopted father and what a privilege to be as close to him as his own son.

 

The General's happiest days were those when he led the Chinese expedition army fighting the Japanese invaders in Burma. The Japanese brutality against Chinese ignited the flame of revenge in his heart. He asked the Commander in Chief of the Army, Gen. He Yingqin (何应钦) to persuade Generalissimo Chiang to let him go to Burma. He brought his New 38th Division (N38D) into Burma and rescued more than 7000 British soldiers and international reporters in Yenangyaung as his first mission. This miraculous battle elevated the Chinese status in the international theatre. He fought side by side with the international forces and rubbed shoulders with internationally renowned military leaders. A life-time friendship developed between Chinese and Americans who fought the Japanese in the China, Burma and India (CBI) Theatre, but the governmental relationship was a different story.

 

The American government considered Sun, the American educated scholastic general, a friend. For its own interest, the US government wanted to support General Sun as leader of Taiwan when Chiang hopelessly lost the war against the communists. Sun, hoping for a united front against the communists, did not accept the offer, but the US move planted a threatening seed in the Chiangs' minds. Chiang Kai-shek knew that he needed Sun as a force to stabilise Taiwan. The armies under Sun, the commander in chief of the army, had strict discipline, and soldiers felt honour under his leadership. In addition to being powerful fighting forces, they had the trust of the people on Taiwan. Considering how little resistance Chiang's other forces faced when the People's Republic of China (PRC) took Hainan Island in 1950, I dare say that General Sun was the key figure to keep the communists off Taiwan during the shaky period around 1950.

 

However, the United States changed its foreign policy when the Korean War started in June 1950, especially when the PRC intervened. The US chose to cooperate with Chiang Kai-shek, and sent the 7th fleet into the Taiwan Strait. Despite the 1953 signing of the Armistice treaty between the two Koreas, the cold war heated up. In December 1954, the US and Chiang signed the Mutual Defense Treaty in order to encircle Russia and the PRC.  The Treaty became effective in January 1955, and the PRC intensified the situation by shelling the offshore islands controlled by Chiang. The US House authorized President Eisenhower to use force to defend Taiwan when necessary. Treaty in hand, Chiang felt secure on Taiwan. The Chiang regime started to capture and torture Sun's subordinates, terrorizing Sun's supporters. In August, Chiang placed Sun under house arrest. I was in grade school, more than half a century ago, when all this happened. I knew, then, that Dwight Eisenhower, Commander of the Allied Forces, invited Gen. Sun to inspect the European battleground following Hitler's surrender in 1945. During that trip, Sun and Ike talked about the threat of the Soviet Union. I was unable to comprehend why Chiang purged General Sun during Eisenhower's presidency. What happened to General Sun and his subordinates illustrates how international relationships evolve and how lives of public figures as well as those of ordinary citizens change as a result.

 

At the time of Sun's birth, the Chinese people, bullied by foreign forces, lived miserably and he decided to develop a military force to change Chinese lives for the better. Before he passed away, he asked for my view regarding the future of China. Twenty years since then, the world order has shifted to an extent that is beyond what I envisaged. His soul in heaven would be happy for the development. Yet, he had no regret that he played a key role in stabilizing Taiwan to allow many of us to have the opportunity to get a quality education, including getting advanced degrees in the US. Many of these scholars went back to Taiwan and made the Island one of the four dragons towards the end of the 20th century. Many in this group later also played key roles in the development of China under the name Taishang (台商) or Taiwan businessmen.

 

In Sun's mind, the terms Taiwanese (台湾人), Taibao (台胞,compatriots in Taiwan), and Taishang all meant Chinese. Yet, many who called themselves Taiwanese admire and respect the late General Sun Li-jen, perhaps for reasons given above. More importantly, however, Sun was a patriot. He loved Chinese wherever they live. On behalf of all Chinese, he loved his men and never abandoned them when he sent them to a mission in defense of Chinese interest. I once asked him in private why he looked after his soldiers so well. 'Who else would look after them? What is more precious than lives? Yet, they are ready to give their lives to the country," he replied. General Sun privately funded five of us child soldiers to go to regular school when the Chiang regime moved the children of the Youth Regiment to the institutes under the control of Chiang Ching-kuo. He had done so not because he wanted to extend his power, but because of his love for soldiers, especially those helpless ones. He made it clear to his cousin, Sun Ju-jen (孙菊人) who looked after us: 'Because of the suffering they endured, those kids will grow up to be useful people for the society if they receive the proper education." During those dark days when he had no freedom, his message to us was 'Do your best to learn in whatever field." We became his adopted son to get permission to visit him from those who were sent to guard him. Every time I went back to Taiwan to visit him from Canada, I felt comforted that we could talk about world trends and affairs of his concern. Once I asked him if he would like to come to North America to live with us and his other children. He would, but he cautioned me to be aware of people wanting to exploit the situation. Regretfully, that dream was never fulfilled. By the time he was free, he was too old to make the trip.

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Peter Chung Chieh is Professor Emeritus, University of Waterloo and President, Central Ontario Chinese Culture Centre. He was born in Guangdong, China. He went to Taiwan as a child soldier, and was adopted by the late General Sun Li-jen, who gave him a chance to attend school. Following his chemistry degree from Taida (National Taiwan University), he studied nuclear science in the graduate school of National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan. He then studied in the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, and went to University of Waterloo as a post doctoral fellow. A year later, he became assistant professor and went through all professorial ranks during his 34 years of teaching and research. He retired in 2004.
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