On Oct 25, 1945, Japan officially handed over the administration of Taiwan to the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), signifying the end of World War II in Asia. Fifty-eight years later, on the eve of Taiwan's "Retrocession Day," Soong Mayling (
Born in 1898, with a life spanning three centuries, the 105-year-old "Madame Chiang" (
China's Kennedy Family
PHOTO: CNA FILE PHOTO
Soong was born in Shanghai on Feb. 12, 1898. She was a student in the US at the age of 10. She studied at the Wesleyan College for Women and Wellesley College from 1908 to 1917, and graduated with a bachelor of arts from Wellesley.
Soong belonged to one of the most powerful families in modern Chinese history, and as the youngest daughter of three sisters, she was the apple of her parents' eyes. Her father, Charlie Soong (
The Soong family's eldest son, T.V. Soong (
"Chiang and Soong's wedding, held in the internationally renowned Majestic Hotel in Shanghai, was like a royal wedding in the West. This huge banquet was deemed a political marriage, and indeed it changed the face of Chinese history. The marriage was the most successful political union of the 20th century," said Lee Yung-chih (
"The marriage linked the three most influential families in China together. Chiang Kai-shek was the most powerful military leader, the Kung Family was the richest, and Sun Yat-sen was the founder of the KMT and China, and via the marriage they were intimately connected."
The War Period
Many historians and politicians feel that by marrying Soong, Chiang Kai-shek was able to inherit Sun Yat-sen's power in the KMT and the support of the international community, especially the help of the US, which would promote Chiang's prominence in China.
"When Madame was young, she was pretty, elegant and spoke fluent English, all of which caused quite a stir in the then-closed society of China. Furthermore, Madame's good understanding of Western affairs enabled her to be a bridge between Chiang and the West," said Shih Chih-yu (
In 1931, Madame Chiang and Chiang Kai-shek appeared on the cover page of Time magazine as "China's First Couple."
The same year, Japanese troops took over northeastern China and advanced on central China. Chiang, the KMT administration's leader and chief military commander, also had to fight the Chinese Communist Party, deemed "bandits." Soong became a key element in acquiring international support for this fight on two fronts.
In December 1936, the Xian Incident took place. Former northeastern military marshal Chang Hsueh-liang (
Soong rushed to Xian to negotiate with Chang, which resulted in a peaceful resolution.
During the war with Japan, Soong Mayling boosted air force construction, organized women's groups and engaged in children's welfare development.
However, she turned a blind eye on the vast corruption of her family members, which soiled her reputation.
In addition to her high-flying family background, Soong, while she was abroad, developed a graceful manner and a subtle understanding of Western affairs.
In order to seek international support to assist China in beating back the Japanese invaders, she made a series of visits to the US on behalf of her husband.
During these visits, her personal charisma proved a very formidable asset; everywhere she went a crowd of spectators would gather. In February 1943, Soong delivered a speech titled "War and Peace" to the US Congress. Her charming southern drawl as well as her leadership qualities won the support of the US government for her husband.
"Her major accomplishment was the success in pushing for the abolition of the `unequal treaties' between the US and China, as well as the abolition of anti-Chinese regulations," Shih said.
In November 1943, towards the end of World War II, Soong and Chiang Kai-shek attended the Cairo Conference to discuss post-war issues with US President Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Churchill.
During the meeting, the four leaders reached an agreement that Japan should return Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu to China.
After the 1945 victory against the Japanese army, China did not enter a realm of peace. On the contrary, a civil war was fought between the KMT and the Communist Party. The government's army was beaten to such an extent that China finally became occupied by the Red army. The KMT moved its government to Taiwan in 1949, since when Soong supported former president Chiang Kai-shek in Taiwan's development.
She traveled all over Taiwan and continued to participate in movements that contributed towards the improvement of women's rights, education, culture and social benefits.
Chiang Kai-shek passed away in April, 1975. His oldest son, Chiang Ching-kuo (
In the face of an unfavorable political relationship with the dominant "Prince's faction," Soong claimed ill health, and the need for medical treatment in America as her reason for leaving Taiwan and settling in New York with her nephew.
When Chiang Ching-kuo passed away in January 1988, vice president Lee Teng-hui (
"Lee was to be confirmed as the acting president at a crucial Central Standing Committee meeting on Jan. 20. But on the eve of the meeting, through Chiang Chin-kuo's third son Chiang Hsiao-yung (
Despite Soong's obvious political ambition and vigorous attempts to lead Taiwan's politics, due to the party's young-member faction and opposing public opinion, her attempt to take over the political stage did not succeed.
"In fact, Madame Chiang's attitude was far away from the development of Taiwanese society, as if she was inside her palace and knew nothing about what was going on in the world," Hu said.
"Even the younger Chiang particularly emphasized that `I am also a Taiwanese' while pushing for reform and openness by the end of his presidency. In comparison, both Madame Chiang's words and thinking still remained bogged down in the beginning of the 20th century," he said.
"Compared to Eva Peron, Argentina's `eternal first lady' -- who embraced the media and the people to gain power -- Madame Chiang exercised power as if she was a noble living in feudal China. This, in fact, completely alienated her from Taiwanese society," Hu said.
A new era dawns
In July, 1988, the KMT's 13th National Congress officially appointed then-president Lee as the party chairman. During her speech at the closing ceremony -- in which she stressed the importance of both `old trunks and new branches' of the party -- Soong said "I shall arise", inspired by General Douglas MacArthur's famous "I shall return" pledge It was her last public speech in Taiwan.
"Lee's rule was consolidated after severe struggles between the pro- and anti-Lee factions inside the KMT. Later in 1991, Soong moved to New York and remained there, gradually stepping out of Taiwan's political circles," Hu said.
Soong and her family members lived in relative obscurity in Locust Valley, New York. Nevertheless, thanks to the Dragon Lady's great contributions to China during World War II, as well as its US ally, Soong charmed the world again in July, 1995 when she attended a ceremony that marked the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II. Congress saluted her on Capitol Hill, where the Chinese Nationalists had garnered their international support in the past.
Having lived during three centuries, Soong personally experienced countless ups and downs in life, even the transition of governing political parties in Taiwan. Even some Democratic-movement activists, who are critical of the authoritarian government, are willing to praise Soong's historical achievements. Democratic Vice President Annette Lu (
After Soong's 105th birthday in March this year, Lu said "Madame Chiang represents kindness, beauty and wisdom. She is a great cross-centuries woman."
Soong did not leave any biographies or memoirs, but all of her precious historical records are stored at California's Stanford University in the Hoover Institution Library and Archives under the East Asia section.
When Soong donated this batch of historical records, it was agreed that it would only be opened to the public after she had passed away.
Though some encouraged Soong to write a memoir, she remained unwilling to do so. In her mind, time would reveal historical events.
Now, with her passing, it seems that we can only wait for history to reveal itself.
Reporting by Lin Chieh-yu, Debby Wu, Cody Liu, Stephanie Wen and Eddy Chang
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