|This article relies largely or entirely upon a single source. (April 2012)|
Charlie Soong at Vanderbilt University
|Born||Han Jiaozhun (韓教準)
Hainan, Qing Dynasty
|Died||3 May 1918
Shanghai, Republic of China
|Other names||宋嘉樹 Pinyin: Sòng Jiāshù|
|Ethnicity||Han Chinese (Hainanese Clan)|
|Alma mater||Vanderbilt University
|Known for||Prominent player in the Xinhai Revolution and patriarch of the Soong family|
|Children||Soong Ai-ling, Soong Ch'ing-ling, T. V. Soong, Soong May-ling, T.L. Soong, T.A. Soong|
Charles Jones Soong (宋嘉樹 Pinyin: Sòng Jiāshù) (February 1863 – May 3, 1918), courtesy name Yaoru (耀如 Yàorú, hence his alternate name: Soong Yao-ju) was a Chinese businessman who first achieved prominence as a missionary in Shanghai. He was a close friend of Sun Yat-Sen and a key player in the events that led to the Xinhai Revolution in 1911. His children became some of the most prominent people in the history of the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China.
Charlie Soong was born as Han Jiaozhun (韓教準) in the western suburbs of Wenchang City, Hainan, China as the third son of Han Hongyi (韓鴻翼 Hán Hóngyì) sometime between 1863 and 1866. He was a Wen Chang Hainanese, whose ancestors were Hakka people. At the age of 15, he sailed with his uncle to Boston in the United States and became a migrant worker. After working for his uncle for some time, he left on his own and was soon taken in by a group of Methodist missionaries. Soon thereafter he converted to the Christian faith and was baptized Charlie Jones Soon—Charlie Soon was probably an Anglicized version of his given name Chiao-Shun, but there is more confusion towards from where he got his middle name Jones. It was not until years later that he added the extra letter to his surname, spelling it Soong.
The Methodists arranged for Charlie Soong to live with the industrialist and philanthropist Julian Carr in North Carolina. Carr had been a great contributor to Trinity College (now Duke University) and was subsequently able to get his Chinese protégé into the school in 1880, even though he met none of the qualifications for entry to university. The prospect of having a native Chinese as a missionary in China thrilled some of the ministers there. They set him to mastering the English language and studying the Bible. One year later, Soong transferred to Vanderbilt University, from which he received a degree in theology in 1885. In 1886, he was sent to Shanghai on a mission after spending almost half of his life to that point abroad.
From missionary to revolutionary
Soong's career as a missionary proved to be a short one. In the late 1880s, Charlie had begun to tire of the mission and felt that he could do more for his people if he was not bound to the restrictions and methods that came with working for the church. When he founded his first business—a small printing establishment—he seemingly found it appropriate to resign from preaching. Instead, another society required his time and loyalty. Around this time, Charlie had secretly been initiated into Shanghai’s thriving anti-Manchu resistance movement, more specifically an organization that went by the name of Hung P’ang, or the Red Gang. This organization had its roots in the movements to reinstate the Ming dynasty in the latter part of the 17th century, but had since transformed into a republican revolutionary force.
In 1894, Charlie Soong made the arguably most important connection in his life when he met Sun Yat-Sen at a Sunday service in a Methodist church in Shanghai. The two men were kindred spirits of sorts, sharing their Western education, region of birth, dialect, the Christian faith and a burning ambition and craving for change in China. Perhaps most importantly, they were both members of entwined anti-Manchu triads. They quickly became good friends and Charlie started funding Sun’s campaigns. A political body was set up, and the plan was to connect the triads into a network of opposition. When their first attempt at uprising failed in 1895, Sun fled China, and would not come back until sixteen years later. Charlie had remained incognito during the resistance and deemed it safe to remain in Shanghai, as his name had not yet been connected to the failed coup. In the coming years, Charlie Soong funded Sun Yat-Sen’s travels in search of support and major financial backing.
The founding of the Soong family
In the years leading up to the revolution in 1911, Charlie Soong started a family in Shanghai with his wife Ni Kwei-Tseng (倪桂珍 Ní Guìzhēn). The couple had their first child in 1890—a girl whom they named Soong Ai-ling. Their next daughter, Soong Ch'ing-ling was born in 1893, followed by their first son T. V. Soong (Soong Tse Ven) a year later. Their last daughter, Soong May-ling came in 1897 and was followed by the brothers T.L. Soong (Soong Tse Liang, 宋子良 Sòng Zǐliáng) and T.A. Soong (Soong Tse An, 宋子安 Sòng Zǐān).
Charlie intended all of his children to be educated in the United States. Ai-Ling, at the early age of thirteen, was the first to go, becoming a special student at Wesleyan College in Georgia. All three sisters attended Wesleyan, with Ching-Ling and May-Ling moving to Georgia in 1907. Ai-Ling graduated in 1909, and moved back to China. Charlie installed her as Sun Yat-Sen’s secretary, in charge of handling his correspondence and of decoding messages to him from the republicans. A few years later in 1911, Sun Yat-Sen was successful in bringing about the Xinhai Revolution, and the Qing Dynasty fell to be replaced by the short-lived presidency of Sun Yat-Sen.
In 1912, Ching-Ling returned to China, just in time to see the republic collapse under the leadership of Yuan Shikai. The connection between Charlie Soong and Sun Yat-Sen was now widely known, and Charlie felt that his family would not be safe in China. In 1913, they fled with Sun Yat-Sen to Tokyo. They remained there until 1916, when Charlie deemed the situation in Shanghai to be safe enough to return.
Dispute with Sun Yat-Sen
While in Tokyo, Soong Ai-Ling had married H. H. Kung, a wealthy banker, and it was no longer suitable for her to work as Sun Yat-Sen's secretary. Instead, Soong Ching-ling took the job in 1914 while in Tokyo. The relationship between Ching-ling and Sun soon turned romantic, and when Charlie Soong moved his family back to Shanghai in 1916, they secretly kept in touch. It was however problematic to pursue this relationship, as Sun was already married. Thus, Charlie was outraged when Ching-ling asked to go back to Japan to join Sun. When she then defied him and escaped on a boat to Tokyo in the middle of the night, it was enough for Charlie to break all ties with Sun and disown his daughter.
Charlie Soong died on May 3, 1918. The cause was believed to be stomach cancer. Neither Sun Yat-Sen nor the rest of the KMT showed any public mourning, as the clash over Ching-Ling was still fresh in the public memory.
- History of the Republic of China
- Sun Yat-Sen
- Soong sisters
- He was portrayed by Jiang Wen in the 1997 movie The Soong Sisters.