The documents were first taken to Canada in 2004 by Chiang Ching-kuo’s daughter-in-law Chiang Fang Chi-yi, who loaned them to the Hoover Institution the following year for curation and scholarly research for 50 years.
Chiang Fang was left the documents by her late husband, Eddie Chiang Hsiao-yung – who inherited them from his father. She did not have the consent of the rest of the Chiang family to sign the custody agreement with the institution in 2005.
Some members, including Chiang Yo-mei, the granddaughter of Chiang Ching-kuo, argued that the diaries – which contain personal and private entries – should be kept within the family rather than shown to the public.
After receiving conflicting claims of ownership of the diaries, Stanford University filed an “interpleader action” in California in September 2013 to determine who had the legal rights to the documents.
“It was how the legal battle started as the university had to protect itself, given the ownership disputes by members of the Chiang family,” Huang Hsiu-fei, director of the Academia Historica secretariat, said in an interview.
Huang said Academia Historica was also targeted by the US court after Chiang Fang signed an agreement in 2013 to transfer her ownership to the Taiwanese government archive.
As it was troublesome and costly to have the case handled outside Taiwan, the government archive later sought to have it dealt with on the island, Huang said.
“We then filed a separate case in the US in 2015, asking to have the case dealt with in Taiwan instead, given that the diaries and other documents were created by the late presidents when they were still in office,” Huang said.
In April 2015, the US court ruled that the Taiwanese side should first launch its probe into who had ownership of the documents, she said, adding that the Taipei District Court started its legal inquiries seven months later.
Local news reports said Academia Historica first took the case to the District Court against 16 family members with the ownership claims, but reached compromises with nine of them after they agreed to transfer their ownership to the archive.
The ruling was finally upheld by the Taiwan High Court in 2022 despite an appeal made by a family member against the District Court’s decision in October 2020, Huang said, adding that in July this year the US also recognised the High Court’s verdict.
“The biggest concern we had in those years of legal twists and turns was the split of the documents as the courts in Taiwan and the US both ruled that the diaries written while the two Chiangs were in office belonged to the government and their personal files went to the family,” Huang said.
“Fortunately, other members who insisted on keeping the personal files eventually agreed to transfer their ownership to the Academia Historica,” Huang said, adding that Chiang Yo-mei – the last of the family to enter an agreement – signed up in May.
Chiang Kai-shek’s diaries are considered valuable historical material providing unique insights into an important period in modern Chinese history and critical global events of the last century.
They include Chiang’s rise to the KMT leadership, the Sino-Japanese War of 1937-1945, and the civil war on the mainland that ended with Chiang’s forces being defeated in 1949 by the Chinese communists and fleeing to Taiwan where he set up an interim government.
The diaries also cover the first Taiwan Strait Crisis in 1954-55 and the second in 1958 when the two sides exchanged fire through their offshore islets; the US-Taiwan military alliance of the 1950s-70s; and the ousting of Taiwan as the representative of China at the United Nations in 1971.
According to the Hoover Institution, Chiang Kai-shek’s diaries are the “most requested items” by researchers because they “contain decades of valuable political and foreign policy insights of these historic Taiwanese leaders”.
“Scholars using the diaries have revised and expanded the understanding of modern China, the Cold War and global history in ways that were not possible before they were available,” the institution said after returning 59 boxes of the items to Taiwan in September.
In a diary entry dated January 1, 1948, Chiang recorded his love-hate attitude towards the United States.
Watching an American movie after dinner, he admired “the progress” made in US film production, but burst into a fit of anger hours later upon learning that the US would only give his side 20 million rounds of bullets – far short of what Washington had promised.
The bullets were apparently for the use of KMT forces against the communists who controlled most of the mainland between 1948 and 1949.
“I urgently need a great number of the [bullets], but they only gave me a little. It is outrageous that they are still pulling my leg,” Chiang wrote, adding he could not help but admire Britain for being able to rein in the US, while he found them difficult to work with.
In another entry on December 4, 1948, Chiang criticised the commanders of his forces as being “feeble, lacking aspiration and initiative”, causing him to “feel regret and shame”.
Weeks later, the KMT faced one of its critical defeats in the Battle of Xubeng, which saw the destruction of its US-backed 12th army and the capture of one of its commanders – Huang Wei – as well as thousands of soldiers, after Huang failed to break the siege by the communist forces in Xuzhou.
Chen Yi-shen, president of Academia Historica, urged readers to approach the diaries of Chiang Kai-shek – who remains a highly controversial figure in Taiwan – in an historical context instead of just seeing him in black and white terms.
“Honestly, I would say if he had done something good, we should give him credit and if he had done something wrong, we should fault him,” Chen said in a seminar on Tuesday to launch the publication of the first seven-volume collection of Chiang’s diaries dating from 1948 to 1954.
Chiang Ching-kuo’s diaries are expected to be published this year and the rest of his father’s are slated for publication next year, according to the archive.
Chen said the publication was intended as “a form of social reconciliation and progress”, referring to the historical wounds of a 1947 massacre in Taiwan, when Chiang was blamed for sending troops from the mainland to kill hundreds of locals following an uprising. Chiang was also faulted for the arrest or execution of hundreds of dissidents during the height of the “White Terror” period from the 1950s to the 1960s.
Chiang Fang, who spoke at the launch of the books, also called for context to be considered when judging the late leader.
Chiang Kai-shek was not perfect, she said, but called on critics of the late president to consider the circumstances he faced both before and after the KMT retreated to the island.
Taiwanese enjoying the benefits of their endeavours today should think of those who came before them, she said.