The most feared man in China, Dai Li, was chief of Chiang Kai-shek's secret service during World War II. This sweeping biography of "China's Himmler," based on recently opened intelligence archives, traces Dai's rise from obscurity as a rural hooligan and Green Gang blood-brother to commander of the paramilitary units of the Blue Shirts and of the dreaded Military Statistics Bureau: the world's largest spy and counterespionage organization of its time.
In addition to exposing the inner workings of the secret police, whose death squads, kidnappings, torture, and omnipresent surveillance terrorized critics of the Nationalist regime, Dai Li's personal story opens a unique window on the clandestine history of China's Republican period. This study uncovers the origins of the Cold War in the interactions of Chinese and American special services operatives who cooperated with Dai Li in the resistance to the Japanese invasion in the 1930s and who laid the groundwork for an ongoing alliance against the Communists during the revolution that followed in the 1940s. Frederic Wakeman Jr. illustrates how the anti-Communist activities Dai Li led altered the balance of power within the Chinese Communist Party, setting the stage for Mao Zedong's rise to supremacy. He reveals a complex and remarkable personality that masked a dark presence in modern China—one that still pervades the secret services on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.
Wakeman masterfully illuminates a previously little-understood world as he discloses the details of Chinese secret service trade-craft. Anyone interested in the development of modern espionage will be intrigued by Spymaster, which spells out in detail the ways in which the Chinese used their own traditional methods, in addition to adapting foreign ways, to create a modern intelligence service.
“Wakeman in this work is a master of narrative history.”—Marie-Claire Bergere China Quarterly
“Wakeman is an expert on the netherworld of Nationalist China. He has written less a biography of a man than an autopsy of Chiang’s China, where Dai li and his organization were akin to a vaccine that helps to destroy the body it is supposed to protect.”—Dow Jones Newswire
“...A major corrective to the black-and-white picture of the era that has prevailed since the communist victory of 1949.”—Jonathan Fenby Far Eastern Economic Review
“From his extraordinary range of sources, Wakeman has put together as clear a picture of Dai’s organisation as I can imagine anyone obtaining...One of the book’s most valuable contributions is the deeper understanding it provides of the pathologies of Chiang’s rule.”—Andrew Nathan London Review Of Books
“Wakeman is a wonderfully imaginative and erudite recorder of China’s past, and his account of Dai Li is crucial for understanding Nationalist and Communist power in China.”—Jonathan Spence New York Review Of Books
"This work is an important contribution to the political history of Republican China. This is the first serious biography of Dai Li in English, and it provides a wealth of information on the man and his world."—Brian G. Martin The China Journal
“[a] superbly readable biography...a real contribution to our understanding of the period.”—Hans van de Ven Times Higher Ed Supplement (Thes)
"A tour de force. Wakeman combines his vast knowledge of Chinese history, his own work on China's police, his skill as a storyteller, and his ten years of being entranced with Dai Li, Chiang Kaishek's Himmler, to bring to life one of China's most imaginative and horrible demons."—Ezra F. Vogel, author of One Step Ahead: Guangdong Under Reform
"Wakeman masterfully pieces together, in fascinating and extraordinary detail, the rise of Chiang Kai-shek’s top spymaster, Dai Li. Spymaster
captures Dai’s persona, explains the extraordinary personal trust Chiang placed in him, and reveals how Dai wielded power from the end of the 1920s to his death in 1946. This comprehensive and meticulous volume brings us into the core structures of Chiang’s power and sheds light on many previously dark corners of the Republican body politic. It deeply enriches our knowledge not only of Dai Li and of the Chinese secret service but also of this entire period in Republican China"—Kenneth Lieberthal, author of Governing China: From Revolution Through Reform
"If Sherlock Holmes had been an historian, the result might have been Frederic Wakeman’s astonishing and enthralling story of Dai Li, longtime master of a vast secret world of political intrigue, police terror, drug smuggling, and predatory sex, but also America’s collaborator in WWII, whose fingerprints are all over decades of China’s twentieth-century history. Thanks to the mountain of evidence uncovered by Wakeman, Dai Li is no longer ‘the mystery man of Asia.’"—Stephen F. Cohen, author of Failed Crusade: America and the Tragedy of Post-Communism Russia