Sat, Oct 25, 2003 - Page 3 News List

The Dragon Lady who charmed the world

Taipei Times Special Report

Madame Chiang Kai-shek is greeted by the late US President Franklin Roosevelt during a trip to the US in 1943.


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 (宋美齡), wife of the chairman of the KMT administration and leading general on the WWII Asian battlefield, Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石), passed away in her New York mansion at dawn.

Born in 1898, with a life spanning three centuries, the 105-year-old "Madame Chiang" (蔣夫人) played the prima donna on the 20th-century Chinese political stage and in the international diplomatic arena. She was the eternal first lady of the KMT administration, and also the longest-living leader involved in WWII. Her death in self-imposed exile contrasted markedly with her earlier life as an icon of the Nationalist regime.

China's Kennedy Family

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 (宋耀如), made his fortune doing business in the US and returned to China a powerful figure. Later, each of the Soong daughters married into the most influential and wealthy families in China, making the "Soong dynasty" the equivalent of the Kennedy family in the US.

The Soong family's eldest son, T.V. Soong (宋子文), was a KMT central standing member and China's finance minister, while the eldest daughter, Soong Ai-ling (宋靄齡), was wife to Kung Hsiang-hsi (孔祥熙), the wealthiest man in China. The second daughter, Soong Ching-ling (宋慶齡), was wife to Sun Yat-sen (孫中山), China's founding father. The youngest daughter, Mayling, married Chiang on Dec. 1, 1927, following his victories in the civil war over the northern military warlords.

"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 (李永熾), a history professor at National Taiwan University.

"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 (石之瑜), a political science scholar and political psychology lecturer at National Taiwan University.

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