[PROFILE] Charlie Soong His 3 Daughters - China's first westernised millionaire
- DUKE'S FIRST INTERNATIONAL STUDENT
The first international student for Duke was Charlie Soong who later
became the patriarch of the "Soong Dynasty" in the pre-communist era
of China. Also known as Yao-Ju Soong in Chinese, he enrolled in
Trinity College, then still in Randolph County, from 1880 to1881
under the sponsorship of Julian S. Carr, but later transferred to
Vanderbilt University and graduated from there.
Soong, wealthy Chinese family that played an influential role in the
government of the Republic of China. Charlie Soong (1866-1918), the
family father, was a Methodist missionary who became a successful
A friend and early supporter of Kuomintang (KMT) founder Sun Yat-sen,
he financed Sun's revolutionary activities that led to the overthrow
of the Qing dynasty. Charlie's eldest daughter, Soong Ai-ling (1890?-
1973), married Kung Hsiang-hsi, called H. H. Kung (1881-1967), a
Like Charlie, Kung was an early supporter of Sun Yat-sen, and also of
military leader Chiang Kai-shek, who gained control of the KMT after
Sun's death in 1925.
Kung long served in the KMT government as industry and finance
minister. Charlie's second daughter, Soong Ching-ling (1892-1981),
married Sun Yat-sen in 1914. She became an active critic of the KMT
after her husband's death, when the new KMT leader, Ching-ling's
brother-in-law Chiang Kai-shek, began purging members of the Chinese
Communist Party (CCP) from the KMT. Ching-ling believed the KMT had
abandoned Sun's original aims of cooperating with the CCP to rid
China of imperialists.
After the CCP won control of mainland China from the KMT in 1949,
Ching-ling remained in China and held high honorific office in the
Communist government. Charlie's eldest son, T. V. Soong (1894-1977),
founded the Central Bank of China in 1924 and helped finance the KMT
party. He served in the KMT government as minister of finance and
Charlie's youngest daughter, Soong Mei-ling (1897- ), married Chiang
Kai-shek. Mei-ling became a prominent figure on the international
scene during and after World War II (1939-1945), when she acted as
special emissary for her husband. Charlie Soong and all his children
attended colleges in the United States.
A Famous Hakka Family: Soong (2)
In 1886 Charlie Soong returned to China. He was twenty three years
old. He did not immediately return to his parents but went to
report for duty as a preacher to Dr Young J. Allan, who was in charge
all the Chinese mission of the Methodist Church in China.
Charlie asked permission to visit his parents in Hainan Island and
request was refused by Dr Allen on the ground that he could only
to travel there on the coming Chinese New Year and not before that.
Charlie was not happy with Dr Allen and he applied for a transfer to
Japan. His application was rejected and he had to work under the
supervision of Dr Allen.
Charlie was posted to a town called Wusong which was at the mouth
Huangpu River which emptied into Yangtze River. His job was to preach
small congregation of converted Methodist Chinese and to teach their
children at the denomination school. As the students in the school
not understand his Hakka dialect he had to teach them in English. One
his students later was to become a well known educationist and he was
Several months later after he had mastered the Shanghaiese dialect
was posted hinterland to Kunshan which was about 70 kilometers west of
Shanghai. He was total stranger in his own country as the people in
Kunshan disliked him. They called him a "Jia Yang Gui Ze" (fake
devil), without a pigtail. He was very unhappy working in Kunshan.
One day, while on leave and walking in the streets of Shanghai, he
his old friend Niu Shan-Zhou who was one of the two boys frequented
uncle's shop in Boston. Charlie told him about his miserable life in
China. Niu Shan-Zhou told him that he was lonely and needed a wife.
Niu introduced his 19 years old sister-in-law to Charlie.
In July 1887 Charlie Soong got married to Miss Ni Hui-Xian who was
christian and a descendant of Su Kuang-Ki who was one of the earlier
converted christian in China in the early 1600's. Su Kuang-Ki was a
of Jesuit Matteo Ricci who arrived in China at the end of the Ming
Dynasty (1368AD to 1644AD).
After their marriage they lived at Kunshan. Charlie's salary was
only $15 per month. However, he received a large dowry as his
father-in-law was very wealthy. Charlie and Mrs Soong had six
three boys and three girls; Zi-Wen (Paul T.V. Soong), Ai-Ling
(Madame H.H.Kung), Rosamonde Qing-Ling (Madame Sun Yat-Sen), Mei-Ling
(Madame Chiang Kai-Shik), Zi-Liang and Zi-An.
In 1892 Charlie Soong quit his job as a preacher. He became an
foreign machinery company in Shanghai. He learned how to install the
equipment for flour and cotton mills. He partnered with a Mr Sun and
estalished a flour mill. Later he founded a publishing house which
become the famous Shang Wu Publishing Company in
charlie soong (1866-1918)
Soong Yao-ju, also called Charles Jones Soong the family to father,
was the Methodist missionary who became successful merchant.
Charlie Soong left very new China to go for the United States of
America, where it studied and if it converted the religion catholic.
When returning to China it opens an publishing company, Sino-American
Press (Hua-Mei Shu) and starts to print bibles at low prices, was one
of the responsible ones for the democratization of the Biblical text.
It sent the three children, still very new, to study for the United
States of America, for, such as it, to receive an education catholic
occidental person. Later it sends also for the United States its
three children, T. V. , T. L. and T. A.Soong. Charlie Soong and Sun
Yat-sen become friends and in 1894 both start to conspire in Shangai
in favor of the revolution. Charlie Soong became in one of the
charter members of the clandestine movement of the Dr. Sun Yat-sen.
Soong family fortunes reveal hand of fate
By Rosanne Lin, Shanghai Star. 2002-08-08
Western philosophers are obsessed with the concept of "free will".
After all, if people's actions were exclusively controlled by some
unknown puppet master on high, how to meter out justice and blame?
How to explain dropping megatons of bombs on some desolate part of
the world to punish the evil and liberate the innocent - freeing them
up to work as employees of large American oil companies and other
multinational energy interests.
So to ensure justice for all, early Christian thinkers struggled to
reconcile the reality of a harsh world with their belief in an
omnipotent and loving God.
St. Augustine explained the contradiction by arguing that man had
free will but God allowed choice - man proposes, God disposes.
The Chinese language also addresses this issue with a similar saying -
mou shi zai ren, cheng shi zai tian - or the planning lies with man,
the outcome with Heaven.
Charlie Soong, the father of the three Soong sisters - Ai-ling who
loved money, Mei-ling who loved power and Ching-ling who loved China -
provides an interesting study in this subject.
Charlie Soong's life is unusual. His success was necessary to propel
his daughters to prominence in modern Chinese history, but at many
points in his life, Charlie Soong was either blessed or incredibly
Charlie's real name was Han Chiao-shun, and his family operated a
junk off Hainan Island, trading along the coast of China and
throughout Asia-Pacific. His roots were humble indeed.
In 1878, Charlie, while aboard a trading junk, met a relative from
Guangdong Province who convinced the boy to follow him to America.
Eventually landing in Boston, Charlie went to work in his relative's
store. There he met two wealthy students from Shanghai who would have
a notable impact on the Soong family fortunes - introducing Charlie
to his wife, the daughter of a prominent Shanghai family, helping
Charlie build connections in Washington and raising funds for Sun Yat-
However, their immediate impact on Charlie's life in the winter of
1878-79, was to encourage him to seek further education. When
Charlie's relative refused to sponsor him, Charlie ran off and stowed
away on the "Albert Gallatin" in the Boston harbour.
Reflecting on the times, Charlie as a young Chinese boy was
remarkably lucky, the captain, Eric Gabrielson, was a devoted
Christian and an unusually decent man. He made Charlie the ship boy
and a paid crew member of the Revenue Service of the US Treasury
Department. An odd first contact, considering the Soong family's
later relationship with this branch of the American government and
the Treasury Department's beloved 1940s rhyme - "Sing a Song of Six
Gabrielson, concerned for the boy's education, introduced him to his
Methodist friends in Wilmington, North Carolina, in particular a
Reverend Thomas Page Ricaud who played an important role in helping
Charlie reach his educational goals. Interestingly, Ching-ling took
Ricaud's daughter's name as her English name - Rosamond.
This contact lead Charlie to the man who would have the greatest
impact on his life - Julian S Carr. Carr not only funded Charlie's
early education, but supported Charlie's business pursuits and Sun
Yat-sen's revolution. Bringing Dr Sun, Charlie and Charlies's
offspring - the three sisters - to heady heights of success and
notoriety. Can anyone be this lucky?
The Soong Dynasty
by Sterling Seagrave
Finally! A history of China which actually makes sense.
Too often 20th century Chinese history seems a set of facts and
figures which don't add up. The Chinese revolution of 1911 began on
October 10...when the leader of the revolution, Dr. Sun Yat-sen, was
in Denver, Colorado? Upon his return, Dr. Sun was proclaimed ruler of
a democratic China...for a month? How did Yuan Shi-kai seize power
away from him? Where did Chiang Kai-shek come from? What was the
Whampoa Military Academy about? And what about the alliance between
the Kuomintang (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in the
early 1920s - followed by a purge of CCP members in 1927?
The Soong Dynasty
By Sterling Seagrave
Perennial Library, Harper & Row
"When May-ling dined with the Roosevelts, the President asked how she
and the Generalissimo would deal with a wartime strike of coal
miners. Everyone at the table gasped when May-ling silently drew a
long lacaquered nail across her throat. Roosevelt laughed hollowly
and - catching Eleanor's attention - asked, 'Did you see that?'
Eleanor privately remarked, 'She can talk beautifully about
democracy, but she does not know how to live democracy.'"
Author Sterling Seagrave fills in the blanks. And he often fills them
in with this tid-bit: gangsters.
Gangsters helped fund the rise of Charlie Soong, an American-educated
missionary who became wealthy through a self-made publishing firm.
Gangsters helped along Sun Yat-sen, the spiritual leader of both
Chinas. And Chiang Kai-shek was a gangster.
The most gut-wrenching part of the book is the depths to which the
Soongs, and Chiang (who married a Soong), sank in their effort to
maintain power in the 1930s and '40s: who they killed and how, what
they stole, how they piled up millions, possibly billions of dollars
(U.S. aid, too), while the people of China withered and died. All of
this is written in a very easy-to-read, novelistic style, with well-
documented footnotes. One minor problem is that author Seagrave
obviously doesn't like the Soongs and lets us know at every
opportunity. Sometimes hideous events can just be described; we don't
have to be told that they're hideous.
Late in the book, the author writes of T.V., Charlie Soong's son, "As
in many of T.V.'s enterprises, only the dorsal fin was visible." This
seems an apt metaphor not only for Chinese culture in general
(where "face" is so important, and thus unpleasantness is often never
revealed), but Chinese history as well. Most of the time we just get
the facts: the dorsal fin. Author Seagrave lets us see the whole
--December 8, 1992
The Soong Sisters
The story that follows has been told over and over in Wesleyan
circles--embroidered in mystery, obscured in fiction and conflicting
news accounts, endowed with the golden hue of legend. But the story
is not as well known by the present generation, as the last of the
three Soong sisters has lived a quiet and private life in recent
years, much different from the days when she and her siblings became
China's most powerful women--making headlines around the world. So
here, we will tell the story again.
China's Soong Sisters at Wesleyan
By Barbara A. Brannon, Wesleyan Magazine, Fall 1997
The young girl seemed even smaller, standing next to the hulking
steamship at the Shanghai docks. She was only fourteen, and she had
just bid a brave farewell to her parents. Ai-ling Soong was off to
spend the next four years of her life at Wesleyan College in Macon,
Georgia. In an age when college was still a relatively rare
experience even for Western women, Ai-ling would be the first Chinese
woman to be educated in the United States.
The first "Soong" in America
A quarter of a century earlier, her father, Charlie Soong, had also
left China for America but under vastly different circumstances.
Then a Hainan merchant's son known as Han Chiao-shun, Charlie left an
apprenticeship in the East Indies to join his uncle on a voyage to
the West. During a few months in Boston, employed in his uncle's tea-
shop, Charlie set his sights on obtaining an education in America.
The shopkeeper's life did not appeal to Charlie, and in January 1879
he shipped aboard a Coast Guard cutter plying the Eastern seaboard.
The ship's captain, a staunch Methodist, took the boy under his
tutelage, and Charlie learned the precepts of Christianity. It was
also under Captain Gabrielson's influence, Sterling Seagrave
surmises, that "Chiao-shun" was transmuted to "Charles Sun."
In the Coast Guard's service, Charlie followed Gabrielson to
Wilmington, North Carolina. There, in November 1880, Charlie attended
revival services at the Fifth Street Methodist Church. It was a
fateful occasion for Charlie professed his faith in Christ as
savior. The Wilmington Star carried the unusual news: "This morning
the ordinance of Baptism will be administered... a Chinese convert
will be one of the subjects of the solemn right [sic], being probably
the first `Celestial' that has ever submitted to the ordinance of
Baptism in North Carolina" (quoted in Seagrave, 27).
Charlie found a new life and a new identity: upon baptism, his name
was anglicized to Charles Jones Soon (the "g" was added later). He
announced his wish to be trained in the Christian tradition so that
he could return to his native country as a missionary. Both Charlie
and the church could see the advantages: Charlie would get an
American education, and the Methodists would gain a powerful witness
among the Chinese people they were fervently seeking to convert.
The Wilmington Methodists helped Charlie gain admission to Trinity
College (later Duke University) and introduced him to tobacco and
textile magnate Julian S. Carr. "General" Carr underwrote Charlie's
education at Duke and Vanderbilt. He remained a lifelong friend and
supporter even after Charlie's return to China.
In 1886, Charlie returned to China to begin missionary work, spending
some time in Shanghai and rural Kunshan under the direction of
pioneer Methodist missionary Dr. Young J. Allen. It was during
Charlie Soong's days of missionary service and teaching that he met
Ni Kwei-tseng, the daughter of a Chinese Episcopalian family. Miss Ni
herself was educated in the Western tradition in Shanghai. She was an
excellent counterpart to Charlie, whose Americanized speech and
mannerisms made him an anomaly in his native country. Her marriage to
Soong brought him status within the community and opened up to him
new possibilities for accomplishing his dreams for the "new China."
During the late 1880s, Charlie grew more influential in his
ministerial role as well as more prosperous in a business sideline he
had launched: the selling and printing of Bibles in Chinese. Charlie
devised ways of publishing Bibles, using local materials, at an even
lower cost than they could be supplied by the American Bible Society.
Before long, he was taking on job printing as well, and was amassing
a good profit.
And none too soon for Charlie and Kwei-tseng had started their
family. Their first child was born in 1890. They named her Ai-ling
("pleasant mood"), but she was also known by the Christian name
Nancy, after General Carr's wife. A second daughter, Ching-ling
("happy mood") was born in 1892 and was called Rosamond after the
daughter of the Wilmington minister.
Charlie's business ventures prospered as his family grew. Son Tse-ven
(styled T.V. in the Western form) was born in 1894; third daughter
May-ling ("beautiful mood") was born in 1897. Two more boys followed,
Tse-liang (T.L.) and Tse-an (T.A.). The daughters began their
education at Shanghai's exclusive McTyeire School for Girls, founded
in 1892 by Dr. Allen and an 1864 Wesleyan alumna, Laura Haygood. Ai-
ling started school at age five and Ching-ling at seven.
By the turn of the century, Charlie had become extremely wealthy. He
had also begun a surreptitious involvement with the revolutionary
movement spurred by Dr. Sun Yat-sen. Revolutionary sentiment was
growing against the old dynastic rule, and Charlie was right in the
midst of it.
A ten-thousand-mile journey to school
The political climate in China became increasingly dangerous
following the Boxer Rebellion of 1900. Charlie foresaw the need to
send his children to safety as well as to provide for their higher
education. He asked the advice of his missionary friend William Burke
for an appropriate college for Ai-ling. Burke, whose family had
connections to Macon's Mulberry Street United Methodist Church,
highly recommended Wesleyan College, where his friend Judge DuPont
Guerry was then president. Charlie arranged for Ai-ling to enroll as
a sub-freshman in 1904.
That summer, Ai-ling, for safety reasons traveling under a Portuguese
passport, undertook the long Pacific crossing under the protection of
William and Addie Burke. But Mrs. Burke became fatally ill with
typhoid, and the couple left Ai-ling in the care of another
missionary, Anna Lanius, to see her safely to America. When the ship
arrived in San Francisco, Ai-ling was detained for nineteen days
until she could obtain clearance to make the rest of the trip by
train to Georgia. (For more on this adventure, see Seagrave, pp. 104
Ai-ling was described as precocious, a serious and determined student
who was clever with finances and business. Ching-ling and May-ling
joined their older sister at Wesleyan in the fall of 1908 Ching-
ling because she was college-age, and May-ling because, the story has
it, she insisted she have her way and be allowed to accompany her
older sister, though she was only ten. (Mounting tension in China,
too, probably had a good deal to do with Charlie's decision to allow
her wish.) During the summer before their arrival at Wesleyan, Ching-
ling and May-ling spent time being tutored in missionary families in
Summit, New Jersey, and Demorest, Georgia (at Piedmont College).
Upon coming to Macon, May-ling was entrusted to the care of President
W. N. Ainsworth's household, while Ching-ling enrolled as a regular
college student. The 1908 school term marked the only year that all
three sisters were at Wesleyan at the same time. Their signatures
in Chinese and English appear together in the college's
Matriculation Book for 190809.
Margie Burks tutored the young May-ling at Wesleyan College.
May-ling was privately tutored by two older Wesleyan students: "Miss
Margie" Burks, daughter of Wesleyan's professor of English, and "Miss
Lucy" Lester. Whereas Ching-ling was quiet and profound, May-ling had
the reputation for being mischievous and sharp-witted.
May-ling's quick quips are often recounted, as in this Seagrave
"In a day when lipstick and rouge were regarded as shameful, [May-
ling] was once caught wearing Chinese flour makeup and lip rouge.
`Why, May-ling,' exclaimed an older student, `I believe your face is
`Yes,' snapped May-ling, `China painted.' '' (114).
On another occasion, one of May-ling's tutors asked her to recount a
history lesson on Sherman's march through Georgia. The teacher was
quite unprepared for her response: "Pardon me, I am a southerner, and
that subject is very painful to me. May I omit it?'"
May-ling's repartee was undimmed upon her visit to campus in 1943.
Miss Jennie Loyall, it is said, told Madame Chiang that the college
was keeping a Soong scrapbook.
"Oh, you must scrap it soon," she shot back (Wesleyan Alumnae
Magazine, November 1965).
Ching-ling, however, is remembered for her wholehearted devotion to
her country. When dynastic control of China was finally overthrown in
1911, Ching-ling tore down the old banner of the Chinese dragon from
her wall and vehemently replaced it with the new flag her father had
sent her. Ching-ling wrote several impassioned essays for the student
magazine on the subject of the Chinese Revolution.
Ai-ling received her A.B. in the Wesleyan class of 1909 and promptly
returned to Shanghai, where she secured a post as secretary to Sun
Yat-sen. Ching-ling graduated in 1913 and returned to China as well.
When Ai-ling resigned her position with Sun in 1914 to marry future
finance minister H. H. Kung, Ching-ling took over Ai-ling's
job. "Ching-ling believed as did no one else in [Sun's] revolution,"
wrote Seagrave (136). Defying her father's orders, Ching-ling eloped
with Sun in October 1915. Charlie Soong viewed the marriage between
his old friend and his young daughter as a betrayal, and the union
remained a source of contention in the Soong family.
May-ling's only remaining sibling in the United States after Ching-
ling's departure was her brother T.V. at Harvard. After spending her
freshman year, 191213, at Wesleyan, May-ling transferred to
Wellesley College, to be closer to T.V. She earned her bachelor's
degree from Wellesley in 1917.
Upon May-ling's return to China, she met Chiang Kai-shek, a rising
star in China's military. Though already married, Chiang proposed
marriage to May-ling. He persisted in his suit, eventually winning
Mrs. Soong's blessing for marriage to her daughter, on the conditions
that he divorce his present wife and that he convert to
One loved money, one loved power, and one loved China
Throughout the remainder of the twentieth century, the three Soong
sisters exerted increasing influence alongside their husbands or, in
Ching-ling's case, carrying on her late husband's work. Ai-ling and
May-ling supported the right-wing politics that emerged with the
leadership of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, while Ching-ling
continued to serve as the voice of the left. Their differing
political views kept them estranged throughout most of their lives.
Soong Ai-ling is best remembered for her shrewdness in financial
matters. Ching-ling was, and still is, revered as "the mother of
China"; Jay Chang writes that "she was the first consort of a
political leader anywhere in the world to act as `first lady'" (37).
May-ling is best known as ambassador for China (and later, Taiwan) to
the Western world. May-ling, who celebrated her 100th birthday in
March 1997, is the only one of the Soong sisters still living.
Continuing ties with Wesleyan
Over the years, Wesleyan and its most famous alumnae have kept in
contact. The Soong sisters corresponded with many of their Wesleyan
friends, including Margie Burks, Jenny Daughtry, Jennie Loyall
(Manget), Mary Gray Munroe Cobey, and Freda Nadler. One letter from
Ching-ling to Professor of English Margaret Hall Hazard survives in
Wesleyan's archives because Hazard just happened to have the letter
in her purse at the time her Macon home burned!
Many Wesleyan alumnae have memories of their famous sisters. Wesleyan
assistant dean and registrar Pat Hardeman '68 is one of many to have
traveled to the Shanghai home of Madame Sun (now maintained as a
historic site). "I felt a thrill a chill down my spine to see the
photographs of old Wesleyan there in Ching-ling's Shanghai house,"
Ann Maria Domingos '39, a cousin of Margie Burks, has very special
memories of the Soong sisters including one she wears on
occasion. "May-ling gave Miss Margie two imperial jade rings,"
explained Domingos as she pointed out the one she inherited from her
cousin. "Margie [pronounced with a hard "g"] was a particular friend
of May-ling's, and they corresponded and visited often after Margie
went to teach Spanish at the University of Florida."
The college has hosted scores of visitors wishing to see the Soong
memorabilia in the Willet Library's Georgia Room. Wesleyan staff have
also provided background information, documents, and photos for such
projects as NHK (Japan Broadcasting Company)'s 1994 special The Soong
Sisters: The Glamorous Family that Dominated China and a 1996 TV
Ai-ling visited Wesleyan in 1932, and May-ling came back in 1943 and
1965. In 1995, Wesleyan hosted a traveling exhibition of artifacts
pertaining to the life of Soong Ching-ling, who died in 1981, having
never revisited her alma mater.
On June 26, 1943, close to the end of a three-month diplomatic tour
of the United States, May-ling visited Wesleyan after a long hiatus.
The college presented the honorary Doctor of Laws to Madame Chiang
and to her two absent sisters. On that exciting occasion, Linda
Anderson Lane, Annie Gantt Anderson, and Alice Burden Domingos all
assisted with arrangements; Octavia Burden Stewart handled the
flowers. Eugenia Rawls '34 was among the alumnae present.
In this 1965 photo, Madame Chiang is seated on a sofa at Wesleyan
beside her onetime tutor, Lucy Lester.
Madame Chiang had a rare opportunity to visit with her teachers
Margie Burks, Lucy Lester, Newell Mason, and Margaret Hall Hazard.
President Ainsworth was no longer living, but his widow had the honor
of bestowing the doctoral hood on Madame Chiang. Not least among May-
ling's activities on the visit, according to the Wesleyan Alumnae
Magazine of August 1943, was an impromptu trip to "the Pharm" on
The sisters have directly or indirectly been responsible for the
establishment of several scholarship funds at Wesleyan. The DuPont
Guerry Scholarship, which is still awarded by Wesleyan today, was
established by a gift from Ai-ling Soong herself. The May-ling Soong
Chiang Scholarship, to be awarded to Chinese students, was
established at Wesleyan in March 1944 by the Methodist Laymen of the
South Georgia Conference. This fund has continued to the present,
with scholarships being awarded to Chinese students from time to
time. At the time of Madame Chiang's 1943 visit, short-term
scholarships were also given in honor of the other two sisters, but
these funds do not survive to the present. And, most recently, an
anonymous $6 million gift to the college in honor and memory of the
sisters will be used largely for endowed scholarship support,
building a stronger future for the college as well as an enduring
memorial to the Soong family.
A neverending story
The three sisters have played influential roles in the politics,
economy, and history of modern China. Their education at Wesleyan
prepared each of them for an important destiny. The legacy of the
Soong sisters is still felt the world over--and the memories of this
trio of sisters live on, at Wesleyan and around the globe.
Wesleyan hosts the U.S. premiere of The Soong Sisters
The Chinese word for "movie" is dianying--literally, "electric
shadows." The shadows in Macon's historic Douglass Theatre were
electric with excitement the evening of November 11 as Wesleyan
College students and alumnae had the chance to see some of their most
famous sisters portrayed on the silver screen.
It was the first time in half a century that Macon had hosted a
motion picture premiere--and a first for Wesleyan. The college had
been invited by Golden Harvest Films to be the site of the first U.S.
showing of the Hong Kong-made movie, The Soong Sisters.
Director Mabel Cheung Yuen-ting and several other Hong Kong guests
joined President Bell and nearly five hundred audience members (at
two showings) for the gala event, which was scheduled as a part of
the annual Wesleyan Herstory Week.
The film, which depicts the lives of Soong E-ling (Madame H. H.
Kung), Soong Ching-ling (Madame Sun Yat-sen) and Soong May-ling
(Madame Chiang Kai-shek), opened in Asia in the summer of 1997.
After the house lights dimmed in the beautifully renovated theatre
(which was built in 1921 and reopened in January 1997), Vice
President for Institutional Advancement Gena Franklin and President
Nora Bell welcomed the audience and introduced special guests. Macon
Mayor Jim Marshall presented the key to the city to director Mabel
Cheung, who told the eager moviegoers a little about her experience
in making the film.
"I cannot think of a more appropriate place for this film to open,
than here, where the sisters all went to college," said Cheung to a
The orange silk ceremonial robe was given by Madame Chiang to Jenny
Loyall Manget and in turn donated to Wesleyan College.
Hong-Kong born Cheung had not learned the full history of the sisters
in school, but discovered their story later in books. Like Cheung
herself, the Soong sisters were part of a China in transition. After
being educated in the West, "[t]hey returned and tried to change the
fate of their country and the fate of women, only to find history a
force stronger than they were," said Cheung.
Cheung did a masterful job of bringing their complex lives to the
screen, concentrating on the human side--their love stories--rather
than attempting to present a documentary detailing every fact of
history. "From this end to that end there is a story," begins the
lyrical opening of The Soong Sisters. "From this story to that there
is no end . . . ." The haunting beauty of this imaginative passage
echoes visually and verbally through the film, which is nonetheless
spiced with power, wit, and humor as well.
The Soong Sisters, which took three years to research and three-and-a-
half months to film on locations in China and Japan, is one of the
most expensive ever made in Hong Kong. The People's Liberation Army
provided period tanks, vehicles and aircraft and over 2,000 extras
for the battle scenes.
The film stars as the sisters Michelle Yeoh, who has co-starred in
action films such as Supercop with Jackie Chan; Maggie Cheung, who
has won Best Actress at Taiwan's Golden Horse Awards, the Hong Kong
Film Awards, and the Turin Film Festival; and Vivian Wu, whose recent
credits include The Joy Luck Club, Heaven and Earth, and The Last
The Soong Sisters was co-produced by Cheung's partner Alex Law, who
also wrote the screenplay. Costumes were designed by Academy Award-
winning Emi Wada (whose credits include Kurosawa's Ran), and the
original score was composed by Golden Globe Award-winning composer
Kitaro and Randy Miller.
The Macon audience had the privilege of seeing the long version of
the subtitled film, which included scenes not shown in Asia. Several
viewers commented that the movie was so beautiful and compelling,
they quickly forgot they were watching a foreign film. They had the
chance to express their appreciation and admiration to the director
at a reception--with Chinese foods, of course--following the premiere.
The following evening, Cheung led a special convocation lecture and
discussion on the making of the film and on her experiences--
including dealing with Chinese censors--as a filmmaker in Hong Kong.
A number of the Wesleyan alumnae who were present had met Madame
Chiang Kai-shek or recalled family stories about the three women. But
for the present generation of Wesleyan students, the film was the
first time they had encountered more than a passing mention of the
famous Soong sisters.
It was an occasion they--and Macon--will not soon forget. For those
who did not have the chance to take part in this historic occasion,
the film should soon make its theatrical debut throughout the
country, including plans for its return for a longer run in Macon.
In addition to information from Wesleyan's own archives, much of this
detail is taken from Sterling Seagrave's The Soong Dynasty (Harper &
Row, 1985). Though Seagrave's book has been highly controversial,
especially in its analysis of later activities of the Soong family,
it is generally regarded as the most thoroughgoing source for
background information. Readers may also want to consult Emily Hahn's
classic, The Soong Sisters (Doubleday, 1942), Elmer T. Clark's The
Chiangs of China (Abingdon-Cokesbury, 1943), Jung Chang's Mme Sun Yat-
sen (Penguin, 1986), and Cornelia Spencer's Three Sisters (John Day,
1939)--though these are but a few of the many works, fanciful and
factual, about the Soongs.
A Selected Bibliography of Sources on the Soong Family
Epstein, Israel. Woman in World History: Soong Ching-Ling
(Continental Enterprises, 1993).
Chang, Jung, with Jon Halliday. Mme Sun Yat-sen (Harmondsworth,
England: Penguin, 1986). Lives of Modern Women series. Biography for
the general reader; good photographs.
Seagrave, Sterling. The Soong Dynasty. New York: Harper & Row, 1985.
The most comprehensive biography yet undertaken of Charlie Soong and
his descendants. Thorough in documentation, though often critical and
sensationalist; written partly as corrective to Emily Hahn's 1942
"Soong Family." In Biographical Dictionary of Republican China (New
York and London: Columbia University Press, 1970).
"A Scholar Comes Home." Wesleyan Alumnae Magazine, Nov. 1965, pp. 5-
12. A full account of Madame Chiang's visit to Wesleyan in the fall
of 1965. Madame Chiang spoke at Convocation, attended by Senator
Richard B. Russell.
Clark, Elmer T. The Chiangs of China (Nashville: Abingdon-Cokesbury,
1943). A very laudatory biography written by a Methodist minister.
But probably the most accurate historical record of the Soongs' early
years. Contains many photos not reproduced elsewhere.
The Wesleyan Alumnae 19:3 (August 1943). Special edition of quarterly
alumnae magazine devoted to feature articles on Madame Chiang's June
1943 visit to Wesleyan. Also contains transcriptions of portions of
the ceremony, many photos, and reprints of news accounts from the
Atlanta Journal & Constitution, the Christian Index, the Macon
Telegraph, and the Winder News.
Hahn, Emily. The Soong Sisters (Garden City, NJ: Doubleday, 1942).
For almost half a century, the standard Western biography of the
Soong family. Hahn was a friend of the family and tells the story
from a partisan perspective; the book was also written at a time when
American advocacy of the Soongs was at its height.
"The Chinese Sisters Soong Came to Wesleyan." Wesleyan Alumnae
Magazine, Feb. 1941. A four-page article full of historical detail
The American educated children of Charlie Soong, who rose from cabin
boy to financier through the generosity of a North Carolina couple
who "adopted" him in the late 19th century, became the most powerful
members of the KMT government. Eldest daughter Ching-ling married
Sun Yat-sen, youngest daughter May-ling married Chiang Kai-shek, son
T.V. became KMT Finance Minister and was succeeded in that position
by H.H. Kung, husband of Ai-ling, Charlie Soong's middle daughter
(and considered by many the brains of the family).
Author: Ralph Zuljan
Contributor(s): Jennifer Wilding
Published on: April 1, 2002
Related Subject(s): Presidents' spouses -- China -- Biography ,
Chiang, May-ling Soong, 1897-
Once upon a time there were three sisters. One loved money, one loved
China, and one loved power...
The eldest Soong sister, Ai-ling, loved money, she became the wife of
the banker H.H. Kung. The second Soong sister, Ching-ling, loved
China, she became the wife of Dr. Sun Yat-sen. The third Soong
sister, Mei-ling, loved power. She was Madame Chiang, media darling
and the power behind the Nationalist leader, Chiang Kai-shek.
The Soong family played an enormous role in the Chinese revolt
against the Manchu dynasty and in subsequent events. The father,
Charlie Soong was an American educated Methodist minister who
acquired a huge fortune in China publishing Bibles and then in
commercial publishing. His fortune was instrumental in financing the
Nationalist revolution. This participation was the reason his
children were educated in the United States, he knew dangerous times
were coming and he wanted them as far away as possible.
Mei-ling was born in 1897, fourth of six children. As a very little
girl she was chubby, spoiled and ruled her family with a reign of
terror. She always got her own way. At eight years of age she was
sent to America to begin formal schooling. She was young, but her
elder sisters and one brother were already there, and it seemed to
Charlie Soong to be the safest thing to do. Mei-ling was very well
liked by her schoolmates throughout her academic career. She returned
to China in 1917 with a degree in English Literature, ten years later
she married Chiang Kai-shek.
It is difficult to know the truth of the Chaings marriage. Some
biographers describe it as one of the great love matches of all time,
others describe it as a marriage of convenience. It is certain that
Chiang was not as faithful as one might expect a professed Christian
to be (he fathered at least one illegitimate son during his marriage)
and it is equally certain that Mei-ling became immensely powerful.
The Chiangs never had children.
Throughout the Second World War Madame Chiang acted as her husband's
translator and secretary. She prepared daily précis of the English
language news for him and interpreted social nuances of Western
behavior that often baffled and infuriated the Chinese who were
thrown into close contact with Allied military and diplomats. Her
husband benefited greatly from her linguistic skills and political
Madame Chiang traveled extensively, with her husband and on her own,
working to unify China. She was popular at home, having a vast
knowledge of Chinese languages, literature and traditions, but her
greatest admirers were the foreigners with whom she came into
contact. She was a consummate politician, but never hesitated to play
both ends against the middle to reach her goals. One such admirer was
General Stilwell. He and Chiang Kai-shek loathed each other, but he
found Madame Chiang sweet, reasonable, and sympathetic. She worked
hard to foster this impression (although she cordially disliked him),
her goal was to have China recognized as a great power and her
husband a war leader on a level with Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin.
Stilwell had the ear of the Big Three at events such as the Cairo
Conference of 1943. Perhaps if Madame Chiang had been less
disinterested in the defeat of Germany as the first priority she may
have succeeded. As is was, China's troubles in the war and with the
Communists at home continued to be a distant second to the troubles
of the Western Allies.
Madame's behavior at the Conference seriously jeopardized her case.
She was personally popular, but her habit of rewriting speeches and
retranslating the official interpretation made her a liability rather
than as asset. This was a source of irritation to all Westerners who
dealt with Madame Chiang in the war arena. And deal they did. She was
so prominent in the war effort that Stilwell recommended, only half
jokingly, that she be appointed Minister of Defense.
It was in America, however, that Madame Chiang really shone. She was
so popular during her wartime tours of the US that she became a folk
hero. Everywhere she went she was wildly acclaimed, her public
speeches were attended by crowds of up to 30,000 people and the media
adored her. She was so well regarded that she made the cover of Time
magazine for the second time (the first had been with her husband
as "Man and Wife of the Year"), was the model for "Dragon Lady", a
sort of Air Force fairy godmother in a popular comic strip, and
appears in a stained glass window in a Massena, New York church
as "the First Lady of Christendom".
The tours of the United States were not all popular acclaim and radio
broadcasts. Madame Chiang was on the fund-and-sympathy raising
circuit, she worked hard and did well. Her good looks and Western
demeanor emphasized similarities rather than differences between two
cultures. To fail to admire Madame Chiang was almost an admission of
being a Communist sympathizer.
One of her triumphs was squeezing a number airplanes out of
Roosevelt. The other was her address to Congress on February 18,
1943, only the second woman and the first Chinese to do so. Madame
Chiang's appeal for help against the Japanese was so moving she
received a four minute standing ovation. The emotional tidal wave was
a concern to senior politicians, it was rumored that the bestowal of
the airplanes was an effort to persuade her to end her trip to
Madame Chiang also wrote a great number of books and articles,
primarily for the American market. She remained in the forefront of
the fight against Communism until the Nationalist retreat to Taiwan.
In 1965 she returned to the United States to plead for war materiel
with which to retake Mainland China, but received no aid.
When Chiang Kai-shek died Mei-ling again returned to the United
States. She lives in New York, where she observed her hundredth
birthday by opening an exhibit of her own paintings
The Represented History: Discursiveness and Authenticity
Mable Cheung Yuen-Ting's historical epic The Soong Sisters attempts
to offer the audience a panoramic view of modern Chinese history from
1900 to 1949 through the recreation of the lives of the legendary
In depicting the childhood lives of the Soong sisters, the film
includes a scene in which the Soong sisters, led by the equally
legendary father Charlie Soong, are singing and dancing in a snowy
This happy moment between father and three daughters can be seen as a
metaphor applicable to both the Soong sisters and the director
herself. On the one hand, the snow-covered labyrinth resembles the
historical stage on which the three sisters will perform. On the
other hand, woman director Mable Cheung's effort to overcome the
obstacle of time and to reconstruct the past through moving images
may be read as a brave intrusion into the labyrinth of history.
Much to this reviewer's regret, however, Mable Cheung's journey fails
to demonstrate certain necessary suspicion of the possibility of re-
embracing the "real" picture of the past. The film's narrative is
built upon the optimistic belief that visual representation could re-
picture the complete landscape of the past, which makes the film
falls short of post-Foucaultian reflexivity on history's discursive
As a matter of fact, there are certain elements in the film that
might lead to the acknowledgement of history as a particular kind of
discourse. The film's points of view shift back and forth between
personal voices and omniscient voice, making it possible for the film
to re-present history from multi-perspectives.
The changes of time and space and the shifts of scenes as well as
narrative emphasis are often achieved through the switches of points
of view. The marriage between Soong Ailing and Kong Xiangxi, a
descendant of the Confucius family, is introduced through Soong
Ailing's voice-over of the letter to her two younger sisters, then
students of the Wesleyan Female College of the United States.
Similarly, Soong Qingling's marriage with Sun Yat-Sen is also
initiated by her voice-over of the letter to Soong Meiling, the
youngest among the three sisters, which adds a subjective layer to
the succeeding scenes. Soong Qingling's unusual romance with the
father of modern Chinese revolutions seems to inspire Soong Meiling,
who in the letter to Soong Qingling vows to marry a great hero.
The scenes immediately after this swear show the progress of the
relationship between Soong Meiling and Chiang Kai-Shek, which
eventually leads to the marriage between the two in December 1927.
Although the whole story appears to be told in an "objective" tone,
the intrusion of Soong Meiling's personal voice partially weakens its
The relative blurring of time and space and the building of
melodramatic scenes also point to the fact that history is by and
large a constructed discourse. Except for a few captions that
indicate the names of some cities and countries, the film seems to be
intentionally vague about the locale of the represented events.
The repeated scene of the Soong sisters playing at the Echoing Wall
downplays the fact that the Soong family since Charlie Soong had
built a strong political and economic base in the foreign settlements
In visualizing the changing scenes of modern Chinese history,
director Mable Cheung uses few long shot or full shot to indicate the
locales. Instead, close shots and shots of interior scenes dominate
the whole film, which weakens the principle of "realness" the
audience usually expects for a historical epic.
China's transition from the Qing Dynasty to the Republic as well as
the birth of the Chiang Kai-Shek era are represented by two highly
constructed scenes of people holding Sun Yat-Sen's and Chiang Kai-
Shek's head portraits and marching down the steps. Similar to the
famous "Odessa Steps" sequence of Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin,
the contrast between the emotionless mass and the sea of the head
portraits points not to a realistic representation of history, but to
a subjective reflection on the past.
The key issue does not lie in the film's weakening of the "authentic"
representation of history. As a matter of fact, history writing, no
matter how it is mediated, either through the verbal or through the
visual, cannot escape from its "meta-ness."
It is a particular kind of discourse carefully woven by human
subjects and carries what Stuart Hall calls the characteristics
of "encoding." The post-Foucaultian subversive reading of history
writing does not try to hide the fact that discourse intrudes into
the reconstruction of history.
Instead, it is meant to unravel the complicated relationship between
power and knowledge behind discourse. In other words, historical
consciousness of the fin-de-ciecle does not pursue the "authenticity"
of representation. Instead, it tries to build a dialogic relation
between the past and the present.
With necessary suspicion of any truth claim, it also tries to
deconstruct the "objectiveness" of history writing. Although The
Soong Sisters is punctuated by personal voices in its attempt to
reconstruct the past, which might have enabled the director to
challenge the logic of "Grand History," the film appears to be more
interested in re-iterating the textbook-based version of modern
In indulging itself in the false consciousness of "objectively"
representing history, the film seems to accord with the narrative
confidence prevalent in mainland China's "Main Melody" films.
The Soong Sisters gives little room to building a dialogic and
reflexive relationship with history. Instead of unraveling the
discursive nature of history writing, the film seems to be certain
about the possibility of re-embracing the authentic and the absolute.
On the one hand, because of its constant switches of perspectives,
the film would have suggested a multiple interpretation of history.
On the other hand, the certainty about an "authentic" representation
points to the singularity of history writing. This basic
contradiction explains why the film fails to deliver convincing
messages on both aspects.
Whereas the complexity of modern Chinese history is to a large extent
simplified because of the film's concern for individuals, the
exploration of the inner world of the three sisters remains
inadequate due to the film's eagerness to present an "authentic"
picture of modern Chinese history.
The Soong Family:
The Soongs were a parvenu Shanghai family. Charlie Jones Soong/Soong
Yau Ju was born, in 1875, to impoverished parents on South China's
Haninan Island. Yau Ju Soong was adopted by an "uncle" and taken to
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A., to labor in a tea and silk shop. Yau
Ju ran away to seek an education.
First, he was ship's boy under a Captain Gabrialson, the master of
the Bostonian ship on which Soong had stowed away. It was Gabrialson
who introduced "Charlie" to evangelical religion. He was later
baptized Charles James Soong. Charles Jones Soong died May 3, 1918
(see below). Soong Yau Ju was the father of am important family.
He was been educated, in the United States, in the American
fundamentalist Bible culture. He returned to Shanghai as a Southern
Methodist. He was to be a missionary, but made more money printing
He became a multi-millionaire as a merchant, aided, in part, by his
adoptive American father, tobacco magnate, Julian S. Carr, of Durham,
North Carolina. Back in Shanghai, Charles married the daughter of one
of China's most powerful Tongs. He fathered six children, the most
famous were his three daughters--Ai-ling, Ching-ling and Mei-ling. He
had a sons: T.V., T.L., and T.A.
The girls attended Methodist Mctyeire School in Yuyuan Lu, and
studied at Wesleyan College for Women in the United States. T.V.,
their brother, went to Harvard and Columbia. Using Anglicized
initials, for the boys, rather than one's Chinese name was considered
fashionable in Shanghai.
A frequent visitor to the Soong family's home was Sun Yat-sen. Sun
Yat-sen wanted to marry Ching-ling Soong, even though he was close to
the same age as her father, and was already married to another woman
(see photo above).
Sun Yat-sen was the man who brought the Qing Dynasty (or Manchus) to
an end. Sun was born to a peasant family near Macau. He studied
medicine in Guangzhou and Hong Kong. Between 1918 and 1924 he lived
at 7 Xiangshan Lu, in Shanghai, with his wife Ching-ling Soong. He
died in 1924 in Beijing. His widow then lived at 1843 Huanihai Zhong
Lu. Madame Soong died in 1981. She is buried next to her parents in
their plot in the Wanguo Cemetary.
Wife of Chiang Kai-shek
Ai-Ling married Dr. H. H. Kung, a member of a Shanghai banking family
and a descendant of Confucious. Dr. King became the Minister of
Finance in the Guomindang government. Their extended family became a
major financial force in New York, San Francisco, and Dallas, Texas.
The Soongs were a upwardly mobile family. Eventually Mei-Ling would
be "first Lady" of China, when she married Chaing Kai-shek 1927. Her
husband-to-be was 13 years older than her. He divorced his first
wife, and agreed to convert to Methodism to win Mei-Ling Soong's
hand. Chiang Kai-shek's son by his first wife, Chiang Ching-kuo, was
later made leader of Taiwan.
It was said that Mei-Ling Soong was a greedy woman, and she amassed a
huge fortune by manipulating government bonds, speculating in silver
and currency, and siphoning American aid to China, whenever possible
(Johnson, Nancy.Shanghai Hong Kong: Odyssey Publications, Ltd.1999).
By the time the Communists took power they had millions of dollars in
United States banks.
A saying goes:
"Ai-ling loved money, Mei-ling loved power, and Ching-ling loved
This was because Ching-Ling was the only sister to remain in China. A
photograph of the wedding of Chiang Kai-shek and Mei-ling Soong
follow in this account (part 2).
Charles Soong's three biological sons were among the richest people
in the world. T.V. Soong, was not only prime minister of nationalist
China, but later became a millionaire by taking advantage of an
artificially controlled government currency exchange rate. Before,
during, and after World War II, T.V. Soong converted U.S. foreign aid
money and Christian missionary, charitable contributions, primarily
from the United States, into millions of dollars on the Chinese
foreign currency market--at a profit as high as 2000:1.
Charlie Soong's other two sons, T.L. and T.A. Soong began family
finance dynasties in New York and San Francisco, respectively.
It was rumored that Charlie Soong was murdered by a slow poison.
(Bengtson, David. Past Lives of Famous People: Journeys of the Soul.
Woodside, CA.:Bluestar Communications, 1997).
THE SOONG DYNASTY. By Sterling Seagrave. Copyright 1985 by Harper
and Row. 532 pages.
The Soong dynasty is barely more than a century old. Yet its
legends, scope, power, and influence are (the legends) and were (the
rest) so broad that it can be hard to believe how far they rose and
how, essentially, they blew much of everything they had by sheer
greed and corruption that grossly infected the second generation.
They truly were, as I will say, the Platinum Celestials. But
thinking they could have the world and more, they overreached and
didn't cover themselves properly in case the whole scheme unraveled
like a bad sweater.
It all started with their father, Charlie Soong. A runaway, who came
to America at the age of nine, he was able to go to college through a
sponsorship by Julian Carr, a Southern businessman. Charlie
graduated and began selling Bibles. He also became a revolutionary
who was dedicated to overthrowing the corrupt, venal and evil Manchu
(Ching) Dynasty that still ruled China, albeit by a thread. By 1887
he was back in China; he also married Ni Kwei-Tseng that year. Not
only did her dowry help them get started but her mind and drive
rivaled his. Their children were doubly gifted and were able to use
their twin benefits to maximum use.
Six children were born to Charlie and "Mammy" Soong. In order, three
girls and then three boys, they are Ai-Ling, Ching-Ling, May-ling,
T.V., T.L., and T.A. While all figured prominently in the rise of
the Soong dynasty, the sisters and T.V. occupied the most visible and
obvious roles. Ai-Ling married H.H. Kung, Finance Minister under Sun
Yat-Sen; her children, especially Jeannette, were in finance also but
wore the hats of goodwill ambassadors for China.
Ching-Ling married Sun Yat-Sen himself and later broke with the rest
of her family over their greed and distortion of her late husband's
ideals. May-Ling became the First Lady of Nationalist China; she
married Chiang Kai-Shek, the infamous "Peanut" who let his own
delusions and falsehoods lead, eventually, to the banishment of the
KMT to Taiwan by Mao Zedong and the CCP.
T.V. married a Shanghai debutante named Lo-Yi Chang; as Prime
Minister and the controller of nationalist China's purse strings he
may have held the greatest degree of influence. T.L. and T.A. were
both financiers who married into Chinese American banker families.
Interestingly, none of the daughters were their husbands' first
Behind all of them was Big-Eared Tu, the boss of the Green Gang and
the children's godfather. He was a major force that helped both
establish and maintain both Chiang Kai-Shek and the Soongs in their
positions of influence. But being influential was one thing. Being
corrupt and selfish was another.
Granted, China had always been a nation of tremendous wealth
concentrated in relatively few hands with the masses of peasants
stuck in grinding, ceaseless poverty. But in the late 19th and 20th
centuries more people were being educated and exposed to more of the
world than ever before in the Middle Kingdom's history (and a very
old history it is).
The abuses and amassing of wealth were so gross that many were driven
over the years into the arms of the Communists and their propaganda.
This would have been avoided by responsible governing and lack of
hubris by Chiang and the Nationalists. Ha Ha.
I will not go into the KMT government and its incompetence from the
late 1920's until it lost the Civil War in 1949. That is too
exhaustive and long. I will conclude with the lesson that having the
opportunities to alter circumstances is only half of the battle.
Working for the right results is the other half. And here the Soong
second generation was lacking.
When people chose Mao the alternative had to be seen as worse. And
everyone knew Mao was bad news from the beginning. So much for
choices; Chiang and our delusional China Lobby (the Luces, the
Chennaults, etc.) are still hurting us today by their incompetent
legacy from 55 years ago. Lying and falsifications got us into this
predicament. We are still trying to extricate ourselves with Beijing
and many of its citizens.
Sterling Seagrave knows his subjects and their nation well. This
book is an interesting read for its family subject and its national
one. Though it was published nearly twenty years ago it is still
relevant in regard to learning about the past and looking toward the
future. It is the type of book I will read a second time. Enjoy it!
Madame Chiang Kai-shek
Week of August 14, 2000
Mayling Soong, who became Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, is the Wellesley
Person of the Week.
One of the most influential women of the twentieth century, Mayling
Soong was born in March, 1897, in Shanghai. Her father
Yaoju "Charlie" Soong, was a Methodist minister and businessman, who
spent some 15 years during the latter part of the 19th century in the
United States, where he earned a certificate in theology at
Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN. Her mother, Kwei Twang Nyi,
was a devout Christian and strict disciplinarian.
The fourth of six children, Soong came to the United States in 1908,
living near the campus of the Wesleyan College for Women, in Macon,
GA, where her sister was a student. She was tutored by Wesleyan
students, and attended school in Demorest, GA. She was an excellent
student, who picked up English, which she spoke with a Georgia
In 1913, Mayling entered Wellesley College, where she majored in
English Literature and minored in philosophy. In her senior year, she
was named a Durant Scholar, Wellesley's highest academic distinction.
She was a member of the Tau Zeta Epsilon society and was a casual
tennis player and swimmer during her Wellesley years. She boarded
with a Wellesley family her first year, and lived in the Wood Cottage
and Tower Court, on campus, from her sophomore year through her
senior year. She was outgoing and popular, and according to a
friend, "There always seemed to be some nice Chinese boy or other on
the doorstep of Wood."
Following her graduation from Wellesley College in 1917, she returned
to China, where she honed her fluency in spoken Chinese, and studied
the classics and literature of China. She did social work for the
Y.W.C.A. in Shanghai and was appointed to be a member of Shanghai's
Child Labor Commission.
Mayling met Chiang Kai-shek in 1920. He was eleven years her elder,
and a Buddhist. Although he was already married, Chiang proposed
marriage to Mayling, much to the objection of Mayling's mother. He
eventually won Mrs. Soong's blessing for marriage to her daughter by
providing proof of his divorce, and after committing to convert to
Christianity. He told his future mother-in-law that he couldn't
convert immediately, because religion needed to be gradually
absorbed, not swallowed like a pill. He was baptised in 1929. A
rising star in the Chinese military, he became Generalissimo Chiang
Kai-shek, the leader of the Nationalist Party, and engaged in a
struggle with communist factions which would continue for the rest of
Madame Chiang initiated China's New Life Movement in 1934, with the
goal of the "physical, eduacational and moral rebirth of the Chinese
nation", based on traditional Chinese values. In 1936, she assumed
the role of Secretary General of the Chinese Commission on
Aeronautical Affairs. She said, " Of all of the inventions that have
helped to unify China, perhaps the airplane is the most outstanding.
Its ability to annihilate distance has been in direct proportion to
its achievements in assisting to annihilate suspicion and
Madame Chiang Kai-shek was her husband's English translator,
secretary, advisor and an influential propogandist for the
Nationalist cause. She distinguished herself as a skilled negotiator
during the "Xi'an Incident". Following the refusal of Nationalist
forces in Sian, China, to engage communist forces in December, 1936,
Chiang Kai-shek went to Sian, where he was "arrested" by military
subordinates. Madame Chiang Kai-shek flew to Sian and successfully
negotiated the Generalissimo's release, on Christmas Day.
In February, 1943, Madame Chiang became the first Chinese national,
and the second woman, to ever address a joint session of the U.S.
House and Senate, making the case for strong U.S. support of China in
its war with Japan. She came to Wellesley College the next month, her
first visit to her alma mater following her graduation in 1917. In a
nationally broadcast speech, Madame Chiang addressed assembled
students and faculty in Alumnae Hall.
In 1949, when communist forces gained control of China's major
cities, Chiang Kai-shek fled the mainland, and declared Taipei,
Taiwan to be the temporary capital of China, where he was elected
president. Madame Chiang continued to play a prominent international
role. She was the honorary chair of the American Bureau for Medical
Aid to China, a Patron of the International Red Cross Committee,
honorary chair of the British United Aid to China Fund, and First
Honorary Member of the Bill of Rights Commemorative Society. Through
the late 1960's she was included among America's 10 most admired
President Chiang Kai-shek died during his fifth term, in 1975.
Following her husband's death, Madame Chiang returned to the U.S.,
residing in Lattington, NY.
Her many published works include This Is Our China (1940), Sian: a
coup d'Etat (1941) and The Sure Victory (1955). Among the
institutions to grant Madame Chiang honorary degrees are Boston
University, Hahnemann Medical College, Loyola University, University
of Michigan, and Wellesley College.
Madame Chiang Kai-shek is 103 years old and lives in New York City.
Written by Mur Wolf
Soong also spelled SUNG, Pinyin SONG, influential Chinese family that
was heavily involved in the political fortunes of China during the
20th century. Among its best-known members were Charlie, the founder
of the family, and his children T.V. Soong, financier and politician;
Soong Mei-ling, who became Madame Chiang Kai-shek; and Soong Ch'ing-
ling (qq.v.), who married Sun Yat-sen.
Charlie Soong (1866-1918), also called Charles Jones Soon, was born
Han Chiao-shun and was reared until he was nine in Wen-ch'ang, a port
on the eastern coast of the island of Hainan. After a three-year
apprenticeship in the East Indies, he spent eight years in the United
States. He was educated and trained by the Methodists for missionary
work among the Chinese. In 1886 he returned to China. He married in
1887; the following year he joined a secret society dedicated to the<br/><br/>(Message over 64 KB, truncated)