Soong May-ling

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Soong May-ling
宋美齡
Songmayling.jpg
Soong May-ling
First Lady of the Republic of China
In office
May 20, 1948 – April 5, 1975
President Chiang Kai-shek
Succeeded by Faina Ipat'evna Vakhreva
Personal details
Born (1898-03-05)March 5, 1898[1]
Shanghai, Qing Empire[2]
Died October 23, 2003(2003-10-23) (aged 105)
New York City, United States
Nationality Taiwan Republic of China
United States United States
Political party Naval Jack of the Republic of China.svg Kuomintang (KMT)
Other political
affiliations
Republican Party
Spouse(s) Chiang Kai-shek
Relations Charlie Soong (father) and Ni Kwei-tseng (mother)
Children Chiang Ching-kuo (step-son)
Chiang Wei-kuo (adopted)
Alma mater Wesleyan College, Wellesley College
Occupation First Lady of the Republic of China
Religion Methodist
Signature
This is a Chinese name; the family name is Soong.

Soong May-ling or Soong Mei-ling, also known as Madame Chiang Kai-shek or Madame Chiang (traditional Chinese: 宋美齡; simplified Chinese: 宋美龄; pinyin: Sòng Měilíng; March 5, 1898[1] – October 23, 2003) was a First Lady of the Republic of China (ROC), the wife of Generalissimo and President Chiang Kai-shek. She was a politician, painter and the chairman of Fu Jen Catholic University. The youngest and the last surviving of the three Soong sisters, she played a prominent role in the politics of the Republic of China and was the sister-in-law of Sun Yat-sen, the leader of the Republic of China preceding her husband.

Early life[edit]

She was born in Hongkou District, Shanghai, China, on March 5, 1898, though some biographies give the year as 1897, since Chinese tradition considers one to be a year old at birth.[3]

She was the fourth of six children of Charlie Soong, a wealthy businessman and former Methodist missionary from Hainan, and his wife Ni Kwei-tseng. May-ling's siblings were sister Ai-ling, sister Ching-ling, older brother T. V. and younger brothers T. L. and T. A.[4]

Education[edit]

In Shanghai, May-ling attended the McTyeire School for Girls with her sister, Ching-ling. Their father, who had studied in the United States, arranged to have them continue their education in the US in 1907. May-ling and Ching-ling attended a private school in Summit, New Jersey. In 1908, Ching-ling was accepted by her sister Ai-ling's alma mater, Wesleyan College, at age 15 and both sisters moved to Macon, Georgia, to join Ai-ling. However, May-ling could not get permission to stay on campus as a family member nor could she be a student because she was too young.

May-ling as a student at Wesleyan College c. 1910

May-ling spent the year in Demorest, Georgia, with Ai-ling's Wesleyan friend, Blanche Moss. Mrs. Moss enrolled May-ling as an 8th grader at the Piedmont College. In 1909, Wesleyan's newly appointed president, William Newman Ainsworth, gave her permission to stay at Wesleyan and assigned her tutors. She briefly attended Fairmount College in Monteagle, Tennessee in 1910.[5][6]

May-ling was officially registered as a freshman at Wesleyan in 1912 at the age of 15. She then transferred to Wellesley College a year later to be closer to her older brother, T. V., who, at the time, was studying at Harvard. By then, both her sisters had graduated and returned to Shanghai. She graduated from Wellesley as one of the 33 Durant Scholars on June 19, 1917, with a major in English literature and minor in philosophy. She was also a member of Tau Zeta Epsilon, Wellesley's Arts and Music Society. As a result of being educated in English all her life, she spoke excellent English, with a pronounced Georgia accent which helped her connect with American audiences.[7][bare URL]

Madame Chiang[edit]

Chiang-Soong wedding photo

Soong May-ling met Chiang Kai-shek in 1920. Since he was eleven years her elder, already married, and a Buddhist, May-ling's mother vehemently opposed the marriage between the two, but finally agreed after Chiang showed proof of his divorce and promised to convert to Christianity. Chiang told his future mother-in-law that he could not convert immediately, because religion needed to be gradually absorbed, not swallowed like a pill. They married in Shanghai on December 1, 1927.[8] While biographers regard the marriage with varying appraisals of partnership, love, politics and competition, it lasted 48 years. The couple never had any children.

In 1928, she was made a member of the Committee of Yuans by Chiang.[9]

Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Madame Chiang at the Cairo Conference, 25 November 1943

Madame Chiang initiated the New Life Movement and became actively engaged in Chinese politics. She was a member of the Legislative Yuan from 1930 to 1932 and Secretary-General of the Chinese Aeronautical Affairs Commission from 1936 to 1938. In 1945 she became a member of the Central Executive Committee of the Kuomintang. As her husband rose to become Generalissimo and leader of the Kuomintang, Madame Chiang acted as his English translator, secretary and advisor. She was his muse, his eyes, his ears, and his most loyal champion. During World War II, Madame Chiang tried to promote the Chinese cause and build a legacy for her husband on a par with Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin.[citation needed] Well-versed in both Chinese and Western culture, she became popular both in China and abroad. Her prominence led Joseph Stilwell to quip that she ought to be appointed minister of defense.[citation needed]

In 1931, Soong May-ling had a villa built for her on the east side of Nanjing. Located a few hundred meters east of the Sifangcheng Pavilion of the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, the villa still exists, and is commonly known as Meilinggong (美龄宫), "May-ling Palace".[10]

"Warphans"[edit]

Though Soong May-ling initially avoided the public eye after marrying Chiang, she soon began an ambitious social welfare project to establish schools for the orphans of Nationalist soldiers. The children of Communist soldiers were not welcome. The orphanages were unusually well-appointed: with playgrounds, swimming pools, a gymnasium, model classrooms, and dormitories. Soong May-ling was deeply involved in the project and even picked all of the teachers herself. There were two schools- one for boys and one for girls—built on a thousand acre site at the foot of Purple Mountain, in Nanjing. She referred to these children as her "warphans" and made them a personal cause.[11] The fate of the children of fallen soldiers became a much more important issue in China after the beginning of the war with Japan in 1937. In order to better provide for these children she established the Chinese Women's National War Relief Society.[12] She made frequent mention of her "warphans" in her many campaigns for foreign military aid.

Alleged tryst with Wendell Willkie[edit]

After losing to President Franklin Roosevelt in the 1940 US election, Republican candidate Wendell Willkie set out to travel the world in service to the US. During his visit to China, Madame Chiang Kai-Shek and Willkie took an interest in each other.

According to recollections by publisher Gardner Cowles, Willkie's visit to China involved an episode where Soong May-ling seduced Willkie and took him to one of her hideaway apartments in Chungking. At 4 am, Cowles noted

"a very buoyant Willkie appeared, cocky as a young college student after a successful night with a girl. After giving me a play-by-play account of what had happened between him and Madame, he concluded that he had invited Madame to return to Washington with us."

But the next day, Willkie had Cowles tell Madame that she could not travel to Washington with him after all. "She reached up and scratched her long fingernails down both my cheeks so deeply that I had marks for about a week,” Cowles wrote.[13]

Soong May-ling wasn’t deterred for long, making it to the United States the next year. While in her suite at the Waldorf, she said to Cowles: “You know, Mike, if Wendell could be elected, then he and I would rule the world. I would rule the Orient and Wendell would rule the Western world.” She asked that he use whatever means necessary to secure the Republican nomination for Willkie, even if it required using China's wealth.[14]

Cowles’s account “raises questions,” wrote Jay Taylor in his biography of Chiang. Many Chinese in gossip-hungry Chungking would have known of their time alone and rumors would have spread quickly. In 1974, when a shorter version of the story appeared, a suit was brought on behalf of Mayling, and Cowles testified (perhaps to protect Willkie) that the affair was “impossible.” Taylor speculates that Willkie, who had several drinks when he talked to Cowles, had exaggerated or misled his young friend who had imagined the rest.[15] In any case, none of the biographies mention even rumors of other sexual indiscretions.

Visits to the US[edit]

On February 18, 1943, she addressed both houses of the US Congress.
Soong and Chiang on the cover of TIME magazine, Oct 26, 1931

Soong May-ling made several tours to the United States to lobby support for the Nationalist's war effort. She drew crowds as large as 30,000 people and in 1943 made the cover of TIME magazine for a third time. She had earlier appeared on the October 26, 1931 cover alongside her husband and on the January 3, 1937 cover with her husband as "Man and Wife of the Year"[16][17] Both husband and wife were on good terms with Time Magazine senior editor and co-founder Henry Luce, who frequently tried to rally money and support from the American public for the Republic of China. On February 18, 1943, she became the first Chinese national and the second woman to address both houses of the US Congress.

After the defeat of her husband's government in the Chinese Civil War in 1949, Madame Chiang followed her husband to Taiwan, while her sister Soong Ching-ling stayed in mainland China, siding with the communists. Madame Chiang continued to play a prominent international role. She was 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 1960s she was included among America's 10 most admired women.

Later life[edit]

After the death of her husband in 1975, Madame Chiang assumed a low profile. Chiang Kai-shek was succeeded to power by his eldest son Chiang Ching-kuo, from a previous marriage, with whom Madame Chiang had rocky relations. In 1975, she emigrated from Taiwan to her family's 36 acre (14.6 hectare) estate in Lattingtown, Long Island, New York, US, where she kept a portrait of her late husband in full military regalia in her living room. She also kept a residence in Wolfeboro, NH where she vacationed in the summer.

Madame Chiang returned to Taiwan upon Chiang Ching-kuo's death in 1988, to shore up support among her old allies. However, Chiang's successor as president, Lee Teng-hui, proved to be more adept at politics than she was, and consolidated his position. As a result, she again returned to the US.

Madame Chiang made a rare public appearance in 1995 when she attended a reception held on Capitol Hill in her honor in connection with celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II. Madame Chiang also made her last visit to Taiwan in 1995.

In the 2000 Presidential Election on Taiwan, the Kuomintang produced a letter from her in which she purportedly supported the KMT candidate Lien Chan over independent candidate James Soong (no relation). James Soong himself had never disputed the authenticity of the letter.

Soong sold her Long Island estate in 2000 and spent the rest of her life in a Gracie Square apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan owned by her niece. An open house viewing of the estate drew many Taiwanese expatriates.

When Madame Chiang was 103 years old, she had an exhibition of her Chinese paintings in New York. To this date her work is not for sale.

Death[edit]

Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek and his wife Madame Chiang sharing a laugh with Lieutenant General Joseph Stilwell in 1942, Burma.

Soong died in her sleep in New York City, in her Manhattan apartment on October 23, 2003, at the age of 105,[18] her life having extended into three centuries. Her remains were interred at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York, pending an eventual burial with her late husband who was entombed in Cihu, Taiwan. The stated intention is to have them both buried in mainland China once political differences are resolved.

Upon her death, The White House released a statement:

Madame Chiang was a close friend of the United States throughout her life, and especially during the defining struggles of the last century. Generations of Americans will always remember and respect her intelligence and strength of character. On behalf of the American people, I extend condolences to Madame Chiang's family members and many admirers around the world.[19]

George W. Bush

-Official statement upon her death

Appraisals by international press[edit]

The New York Times:

As a fluent English speaker, as a Christian, as a model of what many Americans hoped China to become, Madame Chiang struck a chord with American audiences as she traveled across the country, starting in the 1930s, raising money and lobbying for support of her husband's government. She seemed to many Americans to be the very symbol of the modern, educated, pro-American China they yearned to see emerge—even as many Chinese dismissed her as a corrupt, power-hungry symbol of the past they wanted to escape.[20]

In popular culture[edit]

The apocryphal tale that the large pearl on Empress Dowager Cixi's crown ended up on Madame Chiang's gala shoes is described in Bertolucci's film The Last Emperor.

The Soong Sisters, a movie was about Soong May-Ling and her sisters, was released in 1997.

Madame Chiang appears as a minor character in the 2012 novel The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Swedish author Jonas Jonasson.

The historical novel Mayling (2012) by Dutch author Lucas Zandberg portrays the life of Madame Chiang from a first-person perspective.

Actress Joan Chen portrays Madame Chiang in the HBO film Hemingway and Gellhorn (2012), which starred Clive Owen as Ernest Hemingway and Nicole Kidman as Martha Gellhorn.

Madame Chiang's visit to Washington D.C. in 1943 is central to the plot of Elliott Roosevelt's 1998 (published posthumously) murder mystery novel Murder in the Map Room.

Gallery[edit]

Internet video[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b While records at Wellesley College and the Encyclopaedia Britannica indicate she was born in 1897, the Republic of China government as well as the BBC and the New York Times cite her year of birth as 1897. The New York Times obituary includes the following explanation: "some references give 1897 as the year because the Chinese usually consider everyone to be one year old at birth." cf: East Asian age reckoning. However, early sources such as the Columbia Encyclopedia, 1960, give her date of birth as 1896, making it possible that "one year" was subtracted twice.
  2. ^ The New York Times gives her place of birth as Shanghai, while the BBC and Encyclopædia Britannica give it as Wenchang, Hainan island (which was then part of Guangdong Province).
  3. ^ Faison, Seth (October 24, 2003). "Madame Chiang Kai-shek, a Power in Husband's China and Abroad, Dies at 105". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-06-27. 
  4. ^ Tyson Li, Laura (2007). Madame Chiang Kai-shek: China's eternal First Lady. New York: Grove Press. p. 5. 
  5. ^ "Southeast Tennessee Tourist Association". Southeast Tourist Tourist Association. Retrieved 9 July 2011. 
  6. ^ Chitty, Arther and Elizabeth, Sewanee Sampler, 1978, p. 106, ISBN 0-9627687-7-4
  7. ^ http://www.wellesley.edu/Anniversary/chiang.html
  8. ^ "CHINA: Soong Sisters". TIME. Dec 12, 1927. Retrieved May 22, 2011. 
  9. ^ "CHINA: Potent Mrs. Chiang". TIME. Nov 26, 1928. Retrieved May 22, 2011. 
  10. ^ Meiling Villa
  11. ^ Tyson Li, Laura (2006). Madame Chiang Kai-shek. New York: Grove Press. pp. 87–88. 
  12. ^ Scott Wong, Kevin (2005). American's first: Chinese Americans and the Second World War. Harvard University Press. p. 93. 
  13. ^ Laura Tyson Li, Madame Chiang Kai-Shek : China's Eternal First Lady (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press : 2006), pp. 184–86
  14. ^ Hannah Pakula, The Last Empress: Madame Chiang Kai-Shek and the Birth of Modern China (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009), pp. 410–11.
  15. ^ Jay Taylor, The Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-Shek and the Struggle for Modern China (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2009), pp. 217–18
  16. ^ TIME Magazine cover
  17. ^ Karon, Tony (October 24, 2003). "Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, 1898-2003". Time.com. Retrieved 27 July 2011. 
  18. ^ Faison, Seth (October 24, 2003). "Madame Chiang, 105, Chinese Leader's Widow, Dies". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-06-27. "Madame Chiang Kai-shek, a pivotal player in one of the 20th century's great epics – the struggle for control of post-imperial China waged between the Nationalists and the Communists during the Japanese invasion and the violent aftermath of World War II – died on Thursday in New York City, the Foreign Ministry of Taiwan reported early Friday. She was 105 years old." 
  19. ^ "President's Statement on the Death of Madame Chiang Kai-shek". The White House. Retrieved 4 July 2011. 
  20. ^ SETH FAISON (25 Oct 2003). "Madame Chiang Kai-shek, a Power in Husband's China and Abroad, Dies at 105". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-05-20. 
  21. ^ http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703574604574500412440365156.html China's Mystery Lady The troubled times and varied ambitions of Madame Chiang Kai-shek
  22. ^ Fenby, Jonathan (2009), Modern China, p. 279

Reading[edit]

  • Laura Tyson Li, Madame Chiang Kai-Shek : China's Eternal First Lady (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2006).
  • Samuel C. Chu, ed., Madame Chiang Kai-Shek and Her China (Norwalk, CT: EastBridge, 2004).
  • Hannah Pakula, The Last Empress: Madame Chiang Kai-Shek and the Birth of Modern China (London, Weidenfeld, 2009). ISBN 978-0-297-85975-8

External links[edit]

Honorary titles
Preceded by
None
First Lady of the Republic of China
1948–1975
Succeeded by
Liu Chi-chun