The National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall held a design competition in which participants were invited to submit designs for creative products inspired by the “happy marriage” and “happy family life” of former dictator Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and his last wife, Soong Mayling (宋美齡).
The announcement of this competition caused a great deal of public disquiet, and Minister of Culture Lung Ying-tai (龍應台) requested that the memorial hall cancel its plans for the competition. However, Lung’s actions angered Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Central Standing Committee member Lee Te-wei (李德維), who said that Lung was trying to “destroy the spirit tablets” of the KMT’s founding father.
Anyone living in a democracy will be embarrassed to see a former dictator being glorified. However, if we look closer at Chiang’s marriages and romantic involvements, the memorial hall’s plan seems even more ridiculous. Also, judging from his comments, it is really hard to know just what era Lee thinks he is living in.
Let us look at history: Chiang had quite a few turbulent relationships with several women before he settled down in his “happy marriage” and “happy family life” with Soong, the fourth “Madame Chiang.”
There were three women before her, not to mention others that I do not include here because these relationships were never made public. So, let us take a look at whether Chiang enjoyed “happy marriages” and “happy family lives” with his three previous wives and concubines.
Chiang’s first wife, the mother of former president Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國), was called Mao Fu-mei (毛福梅), and Chiang Kai-shek often subjected her to domestic abuse.
His second wife was Yao Yecheng (姚冶誠), a prostitute that Chiang met in a Shanghai brothel and took as his concubine in 1912.
His third wife was Chen Jieru (陳潔如). Chen was a geisha and spoke fluent Russian. They met in 1921 when he was commandant of the Whampoa Military Academy and Chen often assisted him as his translator and was by his side at various social events. In his biography of Chiang Kai-shek, Qin Shou-ou (秦瘦鷗) described Chen as a heroine who led her female compatriots in the Northern Expedition.
However, in September 1927, Chiang Kai-shek suddenly asked Shanghai underworld boss Du Yuesheng (杜月笙) to arrange for Chen to visit the US for an “official inspection” so she could learn more about the West.
Before she left, she was given 100,000 Chinese silver dollars and was instructed to study hard so she could do a better job as the commander-in-chief’s wife on her return to China.
Chen naively went, and on the boat to the US, she heard a radio broadcast saying that Chiang Kai-shek had placed an official announcement in the newspapers stating that in 1921, Mao and he were formally divorced, that he had never had any marriage engagements with Yao and Chen, and that he now officially had nothing to do with them. This was all done to pave the way for the fourth “Madame Chiang,” Soong.
The two met in 1922 and after actively pursuing Soong, her family demanded that Chiang only have one wife and that he convert to Christianity. It was because of these conditions that Chiang Kai-shek made the announcement that he had nothing to do with the previous three “Madame Chiangs.” It was also at this time that he became a Christian.
Given his philandering ways, it is ironic that in the 1930s, Chiang Kai-shek became a model of moral behavior when he started the New Life Movement. While one’s love life may be a personal matter and none of our business, the way a person treats his wife and her mother are good ways of gauging a person’s character.
In January 1936, when Chiang Ching-kuo was studying in the Soviet Union, he had one of his friends give his mother a letter which was also published in the Russian newspaper Pravda. In the letter, he complained about the way his father had treated his mother.
Chiang Ching-kuo said that despite people saying that Chiang Kai-shek upheld the Confucian virtues of filial piety, propriety, justice, honesty and honor, this was merely deception. In the letter, Chiang Ching-kuo also asked his mother if she remembered how Chiang Kai-shek had hit her, pulled her hair, pulled her down a flight of stairs and beat Chiang Ching-kuo’s grandmother to death, and then answered his own rhetorical question: “Wasn’t that Chiang Kai-shek? This is who he really is, this is how he expressed his filial piety and decorum.”
If we look back at Chiang Kai-shek’s marriages, we will see that the “happy marriage” and “happy family life” he had with Soong were gained in exchange for the “happy family lives” of his first three wives.
Chiang is recognized as a dictator all around the world and to have a memorial for a dictator in democratic Taiwan is a disgrace. I am not sure if those who are glorifying the laughable marriages of this dictator are doing it to mock Taiwanese or whether it is just a lame attempt at satire.
Lee Hsiao-feng is a professor in the Graduate School of Taiwanese Culture at the National Taipei University of Education.
Translated by Drew Cameron