Soong Mayling (
One clue to this could be gleaned simply by looking at the guest list.
The Minister of National Defense, the heads of the China Youth Corps and the National Women's League and KMT heavyweights all attended the historical conference on Madame Chiang Kai-shek's life and times. And her grandson, KMT secretary-general John Chang (
The fact that politicians, historians and the general public disagree on what her contribution actually was, only serves to show that Madame Chiang Kai-shek and the circles she moved in continue to fascinate people.
"People love her, people hate her, they think she's a goddess, a dragon lady ... In the States you have the Kennedys, and England has a royal family ... [the Soongs] are very similar," said Laura Tyson, a journalist researching a biography of Madame Chiang.
Born into history
A member of one of China's most powerful and wealthy families, foreign educated, sister to a former premier and finance minister, sister-in-law to Sun Yat-sen (孫???s) and another former premier, Soong -- who may soon see her third century -- has spent much of her life chained to China's, and Taiwan's, history.
What her role actually was, however, is perhaps more difficult to pin down.
"She's a very complicated, multidimensional woman," said Lin Po-wen (
Born in Guangdong province in 1897 to former Methodist missionary Charles Jones Soong (宋?l?? and his wife, Soong Mei-ling was one of the few women during the era to receive formal education. She spent 10 years in the US, and graduated from Wellesley College in 1917.
Ten years later, her marriage to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek (
During World War II, she played an active role in drawing foreign attention to the Chinese war of resistance against the Japanese, acting as a spokesperson for the KMT regime and forming an important part of its image abroad.
She befriended Time and Life magazine publisher Henry Luce, who became the core of the US "China lobby," and was a frequent guest of Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt at the White House.
Many of the presenters at the conference were old friends, such as Yan Cho-yun (
"I think she's a great woman," said Alex Wen-yi Cho (
"When you look at her in the context of her era she was quite revolutionary. An educated woman," said Diana Lary, a military and social historian at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver who spoke at the conference.
"The attention she drew to the war in China had an amazing impact abroad," she said.
Other historians have perhaps been less kind to Madame Chiang than those speaking at the conference this week.
Sterling Seagrave, whose 1985 book The Soong Dynasty chronicles the history of her family, describes her as a silently complicit partner in her husband's regime who was "politically at home on the far right."
"She was full of ideas and energy, but there was a limit to what she could achieve by herself. Chiang proffered power," Seagraves wrote, citing the Chinese adage about the three Soong sisters that "one loved money, one loved power and one loved China."
Tyson said controversy persists over Soong's political views during the Chiang era.
"She talked about how wonderful democracy was, but tolerated a regime that was anything but democratic," she said.
But the image of Soong Mei-ling as an ambitious political player is perhaps an oversimplified one, Tyson said.
"I don't think she was personally or politically ambitious ... she had charisma, she had charm, she was a marvellous talker ... I think she knew that and she used that," Tyson said.
Soong's recent reclusivity doesn't make it easy to clarify these and other questions about her role in many historical developments.
Since Soong moved to New York in 1975, after her husband's death, she and her family have closely guarded her privacy and limited her contact with the media.
Her rare public appearances are for her pet causes, such as the National Palace Museum's travelling exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum in New York in 1996.
`The Eternal Madame'
Although she has been largely out of sight for the last 25 years, she is not out of mind for the people at this week's conference.
"Mainlanders, even Taiwanese have a nostalgic feeling toward Soong Mei-ling, but it's not worship," Lin said.
It's impossible to tell whether Chiang Kai-shek's former secretary Chin Hsiao-yi (
But nostalgia was certainly thick in the air, where recordings of her speeches in English played beside cases full of her military decorations.
Older mainlanders at the conference wandered past photographs from the KMT's archives bearing the heading "The Eternal Madame," occasionally pointing out old friends and elaborating on connections between political players.
Speeches and comments at the conference were peppered with personal anecdotes and thick with emotion. One conference guest suggested compiling a book or album of her quotations as had been done for her sister Soong Ching-ling (
Despite the reverence shown at the conference, Soong's influence is now, observers said, largely historical.
"Her age, her dynasty is gone," said Lin.
Three cases of Candida auris, a fungus that can cause a yeast infection known as candidiasis in humans, have been reported in Taiwan over the past few years, but they did not display drug resistance, Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Deputy Director-General Philip Lo (羅一鈞) said yesterday. Lo made the statement at a news conference in Taipei, one day after the Washington Post reported that the potentially deadly fungus is spreading in US hospitals. The fungus was first discovered in Japan in 2009 and poses a danger to immunocompromised people, with an estimated mortality rate of 30 to 60 percent, Lo
SWITCH TO BEIJING: The government severed diplomatic relations about an hour after Honduras announced the move, saying that no semi-official ties would be maintained Taiwan severed diplomatic ties with Honduras and ended all cooperation with the Central American country, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said yesterday, about an hour and a half after the Honduran Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced on Twitter at 8am Taiwan time that the nation would cut its ties with Taiwan. Honduran President Xiomara Castro on Wednesday sent Honduran Minister of Foreign Affairs Eduardo Enrique Reina to Beijing to negotiate the establishment of diplomatic relations. She announced the plan on March 14 on Twitter. “To safeguard Taiwan’s sovereignty and dignity, Taiwan is terminating diplomatic ties with Honduras with immediate effect” after communication with
MEDIA, SOCIETY FOCUS: Doublethink Lab said that Beijing is trying to coerce countries that rely on China economically to pursue policies in its favor China has stronger influence over Taiwan’s media and society than any other country, the Taipei-based Doublethink Lab think tank said yesterday, as it announced its China Index gauging Beijing’s global influence. Taiwan ranked 11th overall among 82 countries assessed, but first in terms of social and media influence, Doublethink Lab chairman Puma Shen (沈伯洋) told a news conference in Taipei. More than 200 experts and academics participated in the project, including some highly influential figures, Shen said. The index collects information from countries worldwide to gauge China’s influence and assess how Chinese policies affect them, Shen said. In terms of Chinese
TRADE MISSION: After Fijian elections in December last year, pro-democratic parties formed a coalition and overruled a name change imposed by the former government The Taipei Trade Office in Fiji has been restored to its former name, the Trade Mission of the Republic of China (Taiwan) to the Republic of Fiji, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said yesterday. Fiji on Friday last week issued a note verbale to the office saying that the name change was retroactively effective from March 15, Department of East Asian and Pacific Affairs Director-General Wallace Chow (周民淦) told a news conference in Taipei. The mission’s diplomatic privileges have been reinstated as stipulated in Fiji’s Diplomatic Privileges and Immunities Act, which was enacted in 1971, Chow said. Taiwan set up a trade