[R.I.P.] Madame Chiang Kai-shek (Soong Mei-ling) - October 23, 2003
- Madame Chiang Kai-shek, 106, at center of China's tumult
By Mark Feeney, Globe Staff, 10/24/2003
Madame Chiang Kai-shek, the widow of China's leader during World War
II and the era's last surviving global figure, died yesterday in New
York. She was 106.
Madame Chiang had been treated for cancer and other ailments. She
lived in semiseclusion after the death of her husband, Chiang, in
1975, spending most of the time in her Manhattan apartment or at her
family's 36-acre estate in Lattingtown, an exclusive Long Island
suburb 35 miles east of New York City.
"One of the most famous and powerful women in history," as a
biographer described her, Madame Chiang loomed large in two of the
defining events of the 20th century, World War II and the Cold War.
During World War II, Madame Chiang was considered the great heroine
of the Allied side, personifying an embattled but defiant China. "A
modern Joan of Arc," the Associated Press called her. She said her
husband declared her presence worth 20 divisions to the Chinese
cause. It would be hard to exaggerate her role as intermediary to
the West. "All I knew [about Chiang Kai-shek] was what Madame Chiang
told me about her husband and what he thought," President Franklin
D. Roosevelt said in 1945.
During the Cold War, she played a similar but harsher role,
presenting herself as a kind of Mother Courage of anticommunism.
Some, however, who labeled Madame Chiang's US advocates "the China
Lobby" and noted the dictatorship her husband imposed on Taiwan
after he fled China in 1949, wondered whether her opposition to
communism extended to support for freedom. "She can talk beautifully
about democracy," Eleanor Roosevelt said, "but does not know how to
Madame Chiang's life spanned three centuries and both hemispheres.
She also spanned the broadest possible spectrum of responses. In
1942, the playwright Clare Boothe Luce (whose husband Henry Luce,
the publisher of Time and Life magazines, was instrumental in
creating the noble image of Madame Chiang and her husband)
pronounced her "the world's greatest living woman."
A year later, the Harvard scholar John King Fairbank wrote in his
diary about meeting with her: "An actress, with a lot of admirable
qualities, great charm, quick intuition, intelligence; but
underneath . . . a penchant for playing a part which produces
President Harry S. Truman detected more than falsity. "They're all
thieves, every damn one of them," he said of Madame Chiang and her
At their initial encounter, Eleanor Roosevelt said, "I had a desire
to help her and take care of her as if she had been my own
daughter." Yet, in her autobiography, she recalled a White House
dinner at which President Roosevelt described US labor troubles and
asked Madame Chiang what she would do. "She never said a word,"
Roosevelt wrote, "but the beautiful small hand came up very quietly
and slid across her throat -- a most expressive gesture."
Madame Chiang, who stood 5 feet 4 inches tall, seemed larger than
life, a central-casting combination of formidability and daintiness,
ambition and femininity. A graduate of Wellesley College who once
described herself as "Chinese only in looks," she both embodied and
transcended Western stereotypes about Asians. That capacity to seem
familiar as well as exotic made Madame Chiang especially alluring to
It's a measure of Madame Chiang's hold on the American imagination
that she not only appeared on the Gallup Organization's poll of the
world's most admired women 17 times but also helped inspire the
Dragonlady character in the comic strip "Terry and the Pirates."
The story of Madame Chiang's family, the Soongs, was, if anything,
even more remarkable than her own. "Few families since the Borgias
have played such a disturbing role in human destiny," Sterling
Seagrave wrote in "The Soong Dynasty."
T. V. Soong, Madame Chiang's brother, served Chiang Kai-shek as
finance minister, foreign minister, and premier. Ai-ling, her oldest
sister, married one of China's richest men, H. H. Kung. Ching-ling,
her older sister, married the founder of the Chinese republic, Sun
Yat-sen. After Sun's death, she supported the cause of Mao Tse-tung,
the Communist leader who overthrew Madame Chiang's husband. She
eventually became vice chairman of the People's Republic.
Their father, Charlie Soong, had been born Han Chao-shun. He
received his Westernized name at 9 when brought to Boston by an
uncle. Converted to Christianity, he returned to China after 15
years in the United States. He made a fortune publishing Bibles.
Soong Mei-ling was born on March 5, 1897, in Shanghai. Her mother
was Soong (Ni) Kwei-tseng. At 11, Madame Chiang joined her sisters
in the United States, where they were studying at Wesleyan College
for Women, in Macon, Ga. She spent five years there, learning to
speak English with a Southern accent.
Madame Chiang entered Wellesley in 1913, with a major in English and
minor in philosophy. She graduated in 1917 and returned to China,
where she became involved in charitable work.
Madame Chiang's father was among Sun Yat-sen's leading financial
backers. His family was thus in frequent contact with the leadership
of Sun's party, the Kuomintang. A rising Kuomintang star was a young
military officer named Chiang Kai-shek. Smitten with the youngest
Soong daughter, he proposed marriage -- this despite the fact he was
already married and not a Christian (the latter was considered an
even greater nuptial impediment in the devout Soong household). Her
mother dismissed the proposal.
After Sun's death, Chiang emerged as his successor. He again
proposed to Madame Chiang, this time successfully. (He had divorced
his previous wife and agreed to study Christianity, to which he
converted several years later.) They married on Dec. 1, 1927.
Madame Chiang busied herself promoting the Kuomintang's Strength
Through Joy movement, a public campaign promoting the traditional
virtues of courtesy, service, honesty, and honor. In 1936, Chiang
named her head of the aviation ministry. Further underscoring Madame
Chiang's importance was her decisive response when a rival warlord
kidnapped her husband later that year. Forbidding a Kuomintang
attack, she rushed to join him and was widely credited with helping
secure his release.
Madame Chiang, who had injured her back in a 1937 auto accident,
came to the United States for medical reasons at the end of 1942.
She remained for seven months, and the visit turned into a triumphal
Staying at the White House, she brought her own silk sheets and had
them changed four or five times daily. She addressed both houses of
Congress and held a joint press conference with FDR. "Some day they
may put [the actress] Helen Hayes in the part," Time magazine
said, "but she'll never do it any better than Madame Chiang."
Madame Chiang embarked on a nationwide series of speeches and public
appearances. At a Symphony Hall reception in Madame Chiang's honor,
Governor Leverett Saltonstall hailed her as "the most charming woman
in the world."
Attending her class reunion at Wellesley, she was seen wearing
trousers on a campus stroll. "Golly, what a break she gave us!" an
undergraduate remarked. "Now they'll stop razzing us about the way
we look in dungarees." "Anyone who can look as smart as Madame
Chiang in slacks may wear them," announced Wellesley's president,
Madame Chiang's self-assurance matched her sense of chic. Staying in
New York, she received an invitation from Winston Churchill, also
visiting the United States, to meet him in Washington. She "refused
with some hauteur," as Churchill later put it, proposing instead the
British prime minister come to New York to see her. Later that year,
attending the Cairo conference with Roosevelt, Churchill, and her
husband (who spoke no English), she was given to announcing, "If you
allow me, I shall put before you the Generalissimo's real thoughts."
The success of her US visit masked an increasing estrangement
between Madame Chiang and her husband.
Superseding the Chiangs' domestic difficulties were growing
political troubles. Years of corruption and authoritarian rule made
their Nationalist forces no match for Mao's Communists. When Madame
Chiang visited Washington in 1948 seeking aid, she received a far
different reception from the one she had enjoyed five years
before. "I wouldn't let her stay in the White House like Roosevelt
did," Truman later recalled. "I don't think she liked it very much."
With the Nationalists' removal to Taiwan in 1949, Madame Chiang
became less prominent on the world stage, although visits to the
United States in 1953 and 1965 were well publicized. She reportedly
hoped to succeed her husband as Kuomintang chairman when he died in
1975. The post went to Chiang's son by his first marriage, Chiang
Over the past three decades, Madame Chiang variously lived on Long
Island, Taiwan, and in Manhattan. She underwent two mastectomies,
suffered from skin ailments, and relied increasingly on a
wheelchair. Her last visit to Taiwan was in 1995, to visit an ailing
Madame Chiang painted traditional Chinese landscapes and still
lifes. In 2000, 10 of her paintings were exhibited at San
Francisco's Asian Art Museum. "It takes a marvelous spirit to live
through such tumultuous periods and become a painter," said the
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.
Madame Chiang Kai-shek dies
TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) -- Madame Chiang Kai-shek, the widow of the
Nationalist Chinese president who used her charm and fluent English
to lobby Washington and become a driving force in Taiwan's
Nationalist government, died Thursday in New York. She was 106.
She died in the evening at her apartment in Manhattan, according to
Andrew Hsia, director-general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural
Office in New York. Her niece, her niece's husband and a great-
grandson were with her at the time, he said.
"I was told by family members that she died very peacefully in her
sleep," Hsia said.
"Her niece, her niece's husband and her great-grandson were with her
at the time of her passing."
The cause of death was not immediately available, according to
Taiwan's Foreign Ministry spokesman Richard Shih.
Madame Chiang had been treated for cancer and other ailments. She
lived in semi-seclusion after her husband's death in 1975, spending
most of the time in her Manhattan apartment or at her family's 36-
acre estate in Lattingtown, an exclusive Long Island suburb 35 miles
east of New York City.
Madame Chiang and Chiang Kai-shek were one of the world's most
famous couples. They married in 1927, a year after Mr. Chiang, also
known as the Generalismo, took over China's ruling Nationalist
The Nationalists, or Kuomintang, overthrew China's last dynasty, the
Qing, but their pledges to bring democracy to China and modernize
the economy were frustrated by Japan's invasion during World War II
and corruption within the government. After the war, the
Nationalists lost a bloody civil war to Mao Tse-tung's Communist
Party and retreated to Taiwan in 1949.
Though born in the East, Madame Chiang was thoroughly Western in
thought and philosophy. Brought up in a Methodist family, she
studied in America from the age of 10 to 19 and graduated with
honors from Wellesley College in Massachusetts in 1917.
"The only thing Oriental about me is my face," she once said.
Her supporters said she was a powerful force for international
friendship, understanding and good. But her detractors called her an
arrogant dragon lady and propagandist for her husband's corrupt and
She was born Soong Mei-ling in 1898, on the southern Chinese island
of Hainan. Her family's background could stand as a brief history of
modern China as seen through revolution, efforts to unify and
modernize and the split between the communist People's Republic of
China and the Nationalists Republic of China.
Her father, Charles Soong, was educated as a Christian missionary at
Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. Soong worked closely with Dr.
Sun Yat-sen, leader of the Nationalist revolution that overthrew
China's last emperor in 1911.
Education was important to Soong, and Madame Chiang and her two
sisters were among the first Chinese women educated in the West at a
time when foreign education was considered important only for sons.
A scholar at heart, Madame Chiang once said her idea of happiness
would be a life of uninterrupted reading, studying and writing.
Eleanor Roosevelt and Madame Chiang during a 1943 visit.
Madame Chiang met her husband, a disciple of Sun Yat-sen, around
1920 and married him December 1, 1927. She later converted him to
Methodism, but their marriage was often stormy, in part because of
Madame Chiang's sisters also married prominent Chinese figures and
all three of her brothers held high posts in the Nationalist regime.
Ching-ling, the second of six Soong children, married Sun Yat-sen,
the father of modern China. She broke with the family's Nationalist
ideology and sided with the Communists after her husband's death in
She eventually was appointed to a high-ranking position in the
Communist government in Beijing, one roughly equivalent to vice
president. Madame Sun died in 1981.
Madame Chiang was a working wife, taking on tasks ranging from
interpreter and social worker to head of China's air force during
World War II, an ironic twist of fate since she suffered greatly
from air sickness.
She also was one of her husband's most prominent lobbyists in
Washington. The Generalismo could not speak English and disliked
dealing with foreigners, so his wife became his mouthpiece to the
outside world, creating an image of an attractive, young couple
trying to steer China out of war.
As the Generalismo's health deteriorated, control of the Nationalist
government eventually passed in 1972 to one of his two sons by a
previous marriage, Chiang Ching-kuo. Madame Chiang and her husband
had no children of their own, and she had long been on bad terms
with Chiang Ching-kuo.
After her husband's death in 1975, Madame Chiang moved to the United
States, staying in the stucco Long Island mansion where a large
portrait of her late husband decked in full military regalia hung in
the living room. She moved out of the house in 1998 and spent most
of her time in her Manhattan apartment.
When President Jimmy Carter announced in 1978 that the United States
was breaking off diplomatic relations with Taiwan and establishing
formal ties with the People's Republic of China, Madame Chiang
remained in seclusion and did not comment.
The Nationalists eventually gave up the goal of "retaking the
mainland," and the party's ranks began to fill with native Taiwanese
as the influence of the mainlanders who retreated with Chiang Kai-
shek faded away.
In March 2000, the party lost its five-decade control of Taiwan's
presidency. Madame Chiang endorsed Nationalist candidate Lien Chan,
but few voters paid serious attention to her and Lien was battered
at the polls -- an example of her fading influence.
Madame Chiang Kai-shek
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 his life.
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
"You, as representatives of the American people, have before you the
glorious opportunity of carrying on the pioneer work of your
ancestors beyond the frontiers of physical and geographical
limitations." (U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C., February 18, 1943)
(listen to her audio file at this URL)
On February 18, 1943, Soong Mei-ling, the wife of Chinese
Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek, appealed to the U.S. Congress to
provide aid for the Nationalists in their struggle against Japan and
the Chinese Communists. Mei-ling, who in her youth was educated in
the United States, was the first Chinese and the second woman ever
to address a joint session of Congress. Although China had endured a
decade of civil war before the Japanese invasion in 1937, Chiang Kai-
shek and his wife became the international symbols of China during
World War II. Mei-ling, who spoke perfect English, wrote many
articles on China for U.S. journals, and her 1943 visit to the
United States secured greater U.S. aid for her husband's government.
Mei-ling herself so impressed the American public that throughout
the 1950s and most of the 1960s her name appeared annually on the
U.S. list of the ten most-admired women in the world. With the
triumph of Mao Zedong's Communist forces in 1949, she fled with her
husband to the island of Formosa, which later became the independent
Chinese republic of Taiwan. With the death of President Chiang Kai-
shek in 1975, Mei-ling retired to the United States.
Marriage of Chiang Kai-shek and Soong Mei-ling
Shanghai Star. 2001-06-14
THROUGHOUT Chinese history, the marriages of the prominent, famous
or notorious were often marriages of convenience - by marrying they
formed alliances that would benefit each other. So it was with
Chiang Kai-shek and Soong Mei-ling.
Chiang Kai-shek's marriage to Soong Meiling paved his way to supreme
power. Their wedding was celebrated in the old Majestic Hotel, where
a Russian orchestra played Mendelssohn and an American tenor
sang "Oh, Promise Me."
Chiang Kai-shek was inextricably linked to the Shanghai underworld.
He allied himself with Du Yuesheng, known as the Godfather of
However, Chiang was an ambitious schemer who would not confine
himself to underworld circles.
In order to whitewash his unsavoury origins, he decided to forge a
connection with someone of noble blood. The Soongs were one of the
city's most influential families.
Chiang's marriage to Soong Mei-ling, the younger sister of Sun Yat-
sen's widow, Soong Ching Ling, paved the way to realizing his wild
The wedding ceremony of these two famous characters of the past
century was a spectacular occasion.
On December 1, 1927, Soong and Chiang held a private religious
wedding ceremony in the Soong mansion, which was on Seymour Road
(now Shaanxi Beilu).
David Uii, then general secretary of the Chinese Young Men's
Christian Association, officiated at the ceremony.
Afterward, they moved to a four-leaf-clover-shaped ballroom in the
Majestic Hotel, which stood on today's Majestic Theatre, to hold a
Chinese-style wedding before the public.
More than 1,300 guests were invited to the ceremony. Thousands
crowded the streets trying to catch a glimpse of the famous couple.
The bride was led down the red carpet by her brother, T.V. Soong,
who later became finance minister in the Kuomintang government.
Chiang's best man was his chief secretary, Liu Chiwen.
According to W. Smith, band leader at the wedding, the most
important part of the ceremony was the procedure of bowing.
A life-sized portrait of Sun Yat-sen hung over the platform in the
centre of the ballroom, flanked by Kuomintang flags. The bride and
groom bowed three times toward the picture.
Then David Uii read aloud the marriage certificate and sealed it in
an envelope. In succession, the bride and groom bowed to each other
once, once to the witnesses and once to the guests.
According to the band leader, Chiang appeared uncomfortable in his
western-style suit. Soong, however, was beautiful in her western-
style bridal gown made of white satin and lace.
After the wedding, they left the Majestic ballroom for the hometown
(By Zou Huilin)
Censors And Sensibility
No By-line in original
(Making of the "Soong Sisters"
When Hong Kong movie director Cheung Yuen-ting finished her latest
film, a historical tale of three Chinese women, she was amazed to
find China's government censors firmly waving shiny scissors under
"They cut two major scenes that did a lot of harm to the balance of
the picture," Cheung fretted in a recent interview from behind blue-
Her film, a Hong Kong production made in China, tackles the lives
and loves of three sisters from China's prominent Soong family, set
against the tumult of a bloody civil war and Japan's invasion of
China during the first half of the 20th century.
"I tried to look at history from a human perspective," Cheung said,
adding she wanted to show the sadness of a close family breaking
apart when the two younger sisters married men of opposing
The middle sister, Soong Ching-ling, married Sun Yat-sen, revered as
the father of modern China. Youngest sister Mei-ling wedded Chiang
Kai-shek, the nationalist leader whose government was driven from
the mainland to Taiwan by communist forces. The eldest sister, Ai-
ling, married wealthy financier H.H. Kung.
Any movie made in China about famous Chinese personalities needs
approval for the script and the released version from an official
film bureau. This bureau ordered the cuts.
"The Soong Sisters," filmed in lush, poetic frames, comes across to
audiences as a story about little girls who grow up to face immense
In researching her film, Cheung scoured New York library archives
for clues to Mei-ling, who wrote long, flowing letters in perfect
English to her American friends about the general she loved.
"She said he has the power and the charisma of a military man but
the charm and tenderness of a poet," Cheung related.
Mei-ling told her friends about how Chiang picked delicate plum
blossoms from the mountains and hid them until dinner time to
present to her as a surprise in a reed basket.
Much to her chagrin, Cheung discovered that China is terribly
particular about how its national enemies are depicted.
"The censors did not like me to make Chiang Kai-shek too much of a
human with thoughts and feelings and a personal life, so by trying
to make Chiang Kai-shek and Soong Mei-ling three-dimensional they
already found it difficult to accept," she said.
As depicted by Cheung, Mei-ling played a central role in Chiang's
policy shift in the Chinese city of Xian during the chilly winter of
1936, when he finally formed a pact with the communists to fight the
That scene, showing Mei-ling in a bright red cheongsam facing dour
warlords dressed in black and arguing passionately for a nationalist-
communist alliance, was snipped out. "Vivian Wu gave the best
performance in the entire movie in that scene," Cheung said
In all, Chinese government censors sliced about 18 minutes from the
film, mainly parts showing Chiang Kai-shek and Mei-ling. The censors
slashed 10 crucial minutes off the ending, the most painful cut for
In it, sisters Mei-ling and Ching-ling visit an army camp to present
a united front, symbolic of the nationalist-communist pact against
In a sweeping chase, the sisters are attacked by strafing Japanese
bombers. They escape, their plane catches fire and they jump
together from the aircraft with the last available parachute,
clinging to each other accompanied by a lilting musical score by
"I've been trying to think what was wrong with this ending. Some
said that it's not true, it never happened, but many of the things
in my film never happened," says Cheung.
During the parachute jump, the film flashes back to the past and
leaps forward into the future, showing in a brief documentary what
happened to China and Taiwan.
"I used computer graphics to generate Chiang Kai-shek with the
crowds retreating to Taiwan," Cheung explained.
She noted with regret the trouble she went to and the money she
spent to perfect the special effects.
"It's all gone." She lets out her breath in a low, incredulous
The cuts in her film puzzled Cheung because her original script had
been approved in 1993. By the time the film was completed in 1995,
the personnel at the film bureau had changed.
"The new head of the film bureau came and they already were quite
shocked to find this film has been made and they asked why such a
film was approved in the first place," Cheung said.
Oddly enough, after numerous trips to Beijing to appeal the
decisions on the cuts, Cheung befriended the censors.
"They told me they thought they were the best scenes in the entire
picture, but they had to do it because it was their policy," Cheung
MADAME CHIANG KAI-SHEK Politician
Name at birth: Soong Mei-ling
Born in China and educated in the United States, Soong Mei-ling
married Chiang Kai-shek in 1927 and went on to become an
internationally famous advocate for her husband's Chinese
Nationalist government. Fluent in English and a student of Chinese
culture, she was a goodwill ambassador and the popular partner of
Generalissimo Chiang during the 1930s. During World War II she went
on an international tour and spoke before the United States congress
(1943) to drum up support for China's fight against Japan.
Articulate and charismatic, her celebrity status was considered a
key element in winning funds and weapons from the Allies (including
airplanes -- Madame Chiang was key player in the Chinese air force).
While exiled in Taiwan (1949-75), she was still considered one of
the most politically important women in the world and continued her
crusade for aid to China. After the generalissimo's death, Madame
Chiang moved to New York City.
Extra credit: Her sister, Soong Ch'ing-ling, was married to Sun Yat-
sen... When Madame Chiang was 103 years old, she had an exhibition
of her paintings in New York.
Author: Ralph Zuljan
Contributor(s): Jennifer Wilding
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
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 America.
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 Art of War
Every year about election time, the talk in the Taiwan Straits keeps
turning to tanks and invasion schemes. Even on the other side of the
Pacific, an exhibit of paintings got caught up in the political
posturing, as old animosities outweighed the gentle skill of laying
brush on silk
By Ron Gluckman /San Francisco
THEY ARRIVED IN WHEELCHAIRS and leaning on walkers - some of the
world's most respected and venerable Chinese artists and collectors,
coming together in San Francisco's Asian Art Museum for an uncommon
moment. Among the pieces on show were calligraphy and paintings by
the 100-year-old master Chen Li-fu and by nonagenarians Chang Long-
yien and Fu Chuan-fu, two living greats of the Chinese art scene.
However, the focus was not on them but on works by an even more
elderly person - and one who, in all charity, could only be
considered an ambitious dabbler before abandoning art altogether a
quarter of a century ago.
For all that, over 10,000 people were expected to file through the
gallery by the time the show closed last week. Their purpose: To get
a glimpse of 10 previously unseen works by 103-year-old Soong Mei-
ling, the reclusive widow of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, the last
man to rule both China and Taiwan. Never mind that the pieces were
nondescript, without any memorable style. For many of the mainly
Chinese people who gazed upon them, the paintings were less works of
art than an emotional link with history and with their own troubled
The highlight? Lotus: A Gentleman Among Flowers, a spare, gray ink
sketch of a lotus among water lilies - a work that looks just like
any of the silk paintings on sale outside temples and tourist traps
across China. What makes it special is a hand-sketched inscription
with a red seal at the top - "In a pure wind, I smell fragrance from
afar. Sitting across from my wife, I forget the heat of summer."
Those are the words of her husband - and they provide a tantalizing
glimpse into the private life of a man whose public demeanor was
that of an unbending, ruthless soldier.
Soong, better known as Madame Chiang Kai-shek, studied under masters
Huang Chun-pi and Cheng Mang-ch'ing. However, she set aside her
palette when she moved to New York in 1975, following the death of
her husband. Now living in a Manhattan apartment, she rarely
ventures out in public. Showings of her art are rarer still. The
prominent display in the museum clearly indicates her immense
importance, in historical, if not strictly artistic terms. Mme.
Chiang is one of three remarkable sisters who helped shape
contemporary China. The two others were Ching-ling, wife of Sun Yat-
sen, modern China's founding father, and Ai-ling, who married
mainland finance minister H.H. Kung.
When Chiang was deposed as ruler of China in 1949, his wife fled
with him to Taiwan. With them they took much of their nation's
imperial art treasures. And therein lies one of the intriguing
undercurrents of the San Francisco exhibition. In the ongoing battle
for world attention and prominence that has pitted China and Taiwan
against each other for over a half-century, even art is a combatant.
Staged just before Taiwan's presidential elections - a time of such
increased tension between Taipei and Beijing that China raised the
specter of war - the exhibition took on an almost nationalistic
Billed as "New Millennium Painting and Calligraphy By Madame Chiang
Kai-shek and the Masters of Chinese Painting and Calligraphy," the
show might have better been dubbed a tribute to Taiwan's old guard.
Au Ho-nien, who resides in a San Francisco suburb, was the youngest
artist on exhibit - by over two decades. "I'm the baby," chuckled
the sprightly 65-year-old painter.
The opening drew a tux-and-gown crowd, including an array of
cheongsams (traditional Chinese dresses) from San Francisco's
sizable Chinese community. Like the artists, nearly all claimed
strong Taiwan connections. Likewise the money behind the exhibit,
which - according to museum staff - was put together in an
exceptional rush. Traditionally, shows of this stature involve at
least a year's planning, but not this one. The ceramics normally on
display at the Asian Art Museum were swiftly shunted off to the
basement, and two chambers were readied in a month, involving lots
of costly overtime work - bankrolled not by the museum, but by the
World Journal newspaper.
The overseas arm of Taiwan's United Daily, World Journal claims to
be the largest international Chinese paper. It hosted the show in
its New York offices in January and plans to take it to its Los
Angeles premises later this month. Arthur Ku, deputy general manager
of the group's operations in the Bay Area, declined to say how much
the exhibition had cost. "This isn't meant to be a promotion for the
paper," he said. "It's really meant to give people a rare chance to
see the works of Mme. Chiang Kai-shek, and of five other masters.
But Mme. Chiang is of course the main interest for everyone - not
just for Taiwanese, but for all Chinese."
The star draw was not present. Mme. Chiang is too frail to travel
these days, but she did attend the opening of the exhibit in New
York, which was viewed by more than 13,000 people. The turnout was
no surprise, given that near-riots erupted in 1998 at the auction of
800 items from her longtime rural New York estate (now sold). Police
were called in to control the thousands of Chinese-Americans eager
to simply tour the home of the legendary matron who played such a
pivotal role in almost a century of Chinese history.
The San Francisco exhibit featured a strong emphasis on
calligraphy. "These are the top talents from Taiwan. All of them are
very important," noted Terese Tse Bartholomew, the museum's curator
of Himalayan and Chinese decorative art. She praised in particular
the bold strokes of Wang Chi-chien, one of the first Chinese artists
to emigrate to the U.S., where his style eventually became noticed
in the West. Born in Suzhou, near Shanghai, Wang arrived in America
in 1949. The 93-year-old artist served in the 1960s as chairman of
the Art Department at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Bartholomew, who hails from Hong Kong and is a niece of Macau casino
baron Stanley Ho, describes Mme. Chiang's work as "strong and
competent." She is particularly struck by that intimate inscription
accompanying Lotus: A Gentleman Among Flowers. She says: "For me,
it's shocking. The Chinese never say anything like this. It's so
personal." Mme. Chiang Kai-shek - more than a century old and still
getting tongues wagging.
Ron Gluckman is an American reporter who is based in Hong Kong, but
who roams around Asia for a number of publications, such as
Asiaweek, which sent him to the USA for this story that ran in March
Chiang's widow in dark
The widow of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek has not been told of the
Kuomintang's defeat in the presidential election, Taiwan's media
Madame Soong Mei-ling who celebrated her 103rd birthday in New York
on Sunday has not been told that Taiwan voters voted her husband's
party out of power, the official Central News Agency said.
The agency said Stephen Chen, Taiwan's representative in New York,
withheld the bad news so as not to spoil the birthday party.
Close aides to Madame Soong also have not broken the bad news to her
because they did not want to upset her.
The agency said guests at the birthday party, including former
Taiwan premier Hau Pei-tsun, said nothing about the election to her.
Just days before the election, Madame Soong issued an open letter in
Taiwan urging voters to support the KMT candidate, Vice-President
Defeated on the mainland, Generalissimo Chiang had ruled Taiwan with
an iron fist for more than 25 years until his death in 1975.
Living a secluded life, Madame Soong spends much of her time in Long
Island in New York.
She has not returned to Taiwan for many years.