Sat, Oct 25, 2003 - Page 3 News List

The Dragon Lady who charmed the world

Taipei Times Special Report

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 (張學良), son of northeastern Chinese warlord Chang Tso-lin (張作霖), abducted Chiang and demanded he work with the Communist Party to fight against the Japanese.

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 (蔣經國), was his designated successor. Long-time tensions in the relationship between Chiang Ching-kuo and his stepmother, Soong, finally surfaced.

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 (李登輝) at the time succeeded to the presidency, in line with the Constitution. At the time, the KMT inner circle, which controlled the government, was divided with a younger faction wanting to carry out Chiang Ching-kuo's dying wish that "no son of Chiang could or should become the future president." Allowing Lee to take over the governing authority would have been beneficial to the country's international image, yet some older politicians still set their hopes on Chiang family descendents, and were unwilling to accept Lee as their leader.

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