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Mon, Jul 17, 2000 - Page 2 News List

Chiang Kai-shek's official residence opens its doors

The generalissimo has been dead for 25 years, and while people have been able to visit the grounds of his Shihlin house since 1996, the buildings themselves are only now being opened up

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

Standing on top of Fushan (福山, or Fortune Mountain), the pagoda, Tzuyunting (慈雲亭), was built in 1963 in memory of Chiang's mother, who was buried in a family graveyard in their hometown of Ci-an (慈庵) in Zhejiang province, China.

Chien Yi-fang (錢義芳), the curator of the residence, said the Chiangs had treated him like one of the family since he started serving them at the age of 17.

"They lived a very regular life. They were well-tempered and read the Bible a lot," he said.

Quiet and restrained, Chien offered some tempting tidbits about Madam Chiang.

"She paid a lot of attention to hygiene," he said. "For example, we had to wipe the windows and tables everyday. The floor needed to be waxed everyday too, and believe you me, she could tell from a distance whether it was clean or not."

Retired deputy head of the National Security Bureau, Chen Tsung-tsui (陳宗璀), outlined a detailed account of life with the Chiangs' during his 30 years of service at the residence in his memoir entitled Thirty Years in the Shihlin Official Residence (士林官邸三十年). He said that while Chiang had liked to go to bed early and get up early, Madam Chiang liked to stay up late and get up late.

It is well-known that Madam Chiang -- who was educated in the US -- has a strong command of the English language. While Chiang was receiving foreign guests, Chen said, Madam Chiang would sit quietly and listen carefully to the translator, but would sometimes take over the translation job herself so she could have a closer relationship with the guests.

Born to a Buddhist family, Chiang was christened in 1930, three years into his marriage with Madam Chiang, who was born into a Christian family. In a letter dated July 1975, Madam Chiang wrote that she was moved by Chiang's diligence and determination to study the Bible to become a Christian.

"Since we got married in 1927, he started to put into practice what he had promised my mother when he asked her for my hand -- that is to study the Bible diligently. He obtained his first Bible from her and has since studied very hard to understand its meaning and memorize the contents," she once said.

After they moved into the Shihlin residence, Chen said, the couple went to church every Sunday morning and usually invited other government officials to go along as well.

Madame Chiang was from a well-to-do family while her husband had a humble background, and this was reflected in their different tastes.

"Master Chiang liked old things such as vintage caps and shoes, because he said they were more comfortable to wear," he said. "Madam Chiang, on the other hand, preferred new things such as the latest fashion of Qipaos [traditional Chinese long gowns for women]. Their dresses, most of them Chinese, were all custom-made by the two in-house tailors." As for food, Chen said, Chiang was fond of Chinese cuisine, while Madam Chiang appreciated western dishes more.

"Master Chiang liked such hometown food as baked sweet potato and potherb mustard leaves, but his false teeth prevented him from eating many of his favorite foods later in life," he said.

"Although Madam Chiang preferred western food, in order to keep fit and healthy, she usually ate very little."

The residence had several in-house chefs specializing in both western and Chinese food. Madam Chiang always gave final personal approval of the menu for special occasions, or outside chefs from the Grand Hotel were called in to offer assistance for more elaborate occasions, he said.

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