OBITUARY : by Jeffry Babb News Weekly
Madame Chiang Kai-shek dies at 105
, November 15, 2003
Meiling Soong, wife of Chiang Kai-shek, died last month aged 105 in New York. Jeff Babb reviews her life.Madame Chiang Kai-shek - also known as Meiling Soong, her maiden name - died in New York on October 23, aged 105.
She lived through one of the most tumultuous periods in the history of China, was famous in her own right and during, the Second World War, was the face of China best known in the West.
Meiling Soong was a Methodist, born on the southern Chinese island of Hainan.
She converted Chiang Kai-shek to Methodism after she married him in 1927. Her father was Charles Soong, a millionaire Methodist missionary.
In one of the quirks that abound in the life of one of China's most famous women, her father made his fortune as a publisher, mainly of a vernacular Bible.
No-one had made a Bible available in the Chinese vernacular, a style that was still developing and the demand was immense. Charlie Song became one of the richest men in China as a result.
Meiling was one of three sisters, known as the "Soong Dynasty," a play on words about the actual Sung Dynasty, which says something about the extent of their influence.
Meiling married Chiang Kai-shek in what was a marriage of convenience - Chiang's power and the Soong money went a long way. Ai-ling married into the Kung family, China's richest family, and Ching-ling married the founder of modern China, Sun Yat-sen.
Meiling Soong was educated in the US - at the age of 10, she began her schooling at a private institution in Georgia and briefly at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia, before transferring to Wellesly College near Boston, from where she graduated with honors in 1917.
All her life she spoke flawless English with a slight Scarlet O'Hara accent.
Although she was famous for saying "The only thing oriental about me is my face", her destiny and that of modern China were intertwined.
Madame Chiang was the public face of China in the US and the world and used her considerable charm to woo aid for her poor country, divided between the warring Japanese, the Communists and the Nationalist Kuomintang.
Her brother Paul "T.V. Soong" may have been the richest person in the world in the early 1940s and the Soong family was a chief source of money for the Nationalists.
After the Communists won the civil war in mainland China, the Nationalist government moved its seat to Taiwan. There, Meiling Soong showed why she was one of her husband's best political assets.Burial plot
Nothing about Soong Meiling is simple. Take, for example, her place of burial. Her husband's remains are interred in "temporary resting place" in the countryside near Taipei.
His remains are to be returned for burial in his family plot in China after China is reunited.
Meiling Soong, it seems, is to be buried in the US, and her remains returned to China with her husband upon reunification of Taiwan and mainland China.
Her life spanned the birth of modern China. The Ching Dynasty was still in power when she was growing up and she saw her country suffer much before it reached today's level of some prosperity.
She saw the aggression of the Japanese, the victory of the Communists and she even saw in power in Taiwan a party dedicated not to reunifying the Chinese nation, but declaring a Taiwanese republic.
It is rare for someone whose grandest title was "first lady" to evoke such passions.