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Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite
Father’s Gold Secret by Wu, Sing-yung is a factual account of the retreat of the Nationalists, under Chiang Kai-shek, to Taiwan, after the Communist takeover in China under Mao Zedong. The story explores how the massive stores of gold bullion in China’s central bank were secretly spirited away from the mainland and would play a vital role in the transformation of Taiwan into an industrial powerhouse in the latter part of the twentieth century. The author is the son of Chiang Kai-shek’s Military Finance Chief, General Song-qing Wu. It was the author’s father who was the architect of successfully managing to transfer such large quantities of bullion out from under the Communist’s noses and, in a circuitous route, ultimately to Taiwan. When Dr. Wu was given his father’s detailed diaries, following his father’s death, he immediately understood that many of the myths, stories, and even historical experts’ books on the subject of the gold transfers were mistaken, exaggerated, or outright false. Despite being a busy professional medical researcher, he was determined to set the record straight, using his father’s diaries, along with recently declassified documents and even eye-witness testimony from some who were there. He has painstakingly put together a story that involves deceit, double-dealing, and incompetence at some of the highest levels of both the Nationalist and Communist governments along with the story of how Taiwan managed to transform from an impoverished, agricultural-based economy to one of the richest industrial nations in Asia and indeed the world.
Father’s Gold Secret bears out the premise that “truth is stranger than fiction”. It was a fascinating first-person account (the diaries) of what truly happened in China in the middle decades of the twentieth century. Author Wu, Sing-yung was just an elementary schoolboy at the time and had little understanding of the political importance of his father’s job as Military Finance Chief nor indeed the risk and danger of the job and how fortunate the family was to have escaped to Taiwan when they did. Looking back after having read the diaries, researching the story of the gold, and interviewing many of the players still alive from that period, he now understands fully the role his father played in saving the idea of a “Free China” and the wonderful society that was eventually created in Taiwan by Chiang Kai-shek and other men like his father. This book is meticulously researched and well-annotated, giving it an air of absolute veracity.
One can feel the author’s hubris at many of the mistakes made by serious historical commentators in their previous study and works on this period of history in China. Clearly, the author was determined to set the record straight, particularly as it applied to the common fallacy that everyone in the Nationalist political power structure was corrupt and filled with incompetence and nepotism. His father’s efforts and humility in his handling of political power and vast quantities of wealth during the time of the Japanese occupation and the civil war with the Communists was clearly something he was immensely proud of and this shines through in the narrative. For anyone who does not understand the dynamic between mainland China (the Communists) and the island of Taiwan (Republic of China), this is an exceptional read as it clearly shows how we got to where we are now and offers some interesting thoughts for the future of China. I can highly recommend this read to anyone with a historical interest.