In a brief afterword, Frederic Wakeman asks himself why he devoted “so much effort to fathoming such a morally monstruous” figure as Dai Li, the chief of Chiang Kai-shek's secret service and he confessed that he was motivated by “a real fascination” for “cobra-like Dai Li” (p. 367). A biographer needs a minimal empathy with his hero. In the present case, however, it was an unwilling empathy for which the author felt that he had to justify himself. How to dissociate understanding and exonerating? Trying to avoid any revisionism, Wakeman opted for an implicit compromise: understanding and condemnation.
This book illuminates the dread world of secret police, spy and counterespionage organizations in Nationalist China. Wakeman has turned every stone and used every kind of source: Chinese, American and Old Shanghai municipal archives, memoirs of agents and observers, contemporary newspapers and magazines, as well as all available secondary literature, including some novels. Notes take up 152 pages, representing about 40% of the text's 365 pages. An exhaustive bibliography takes 38 more pages and readers will find the detailed and well-organized glossary-index very useful in navigating an enormous number of personal names and administrative and political labels.