Biography in English

Soong Mei-ling (c. 1897-), was the wife of Chiang Kai-shek and a leader of Chinese women. A native of the Wench'ang district of Hainan Island, Kwangtung, Soong Mei-ling was born in Shanghai. She was the fourth of six children and the youngest of the girls in her family. Because her father, Charles Jones Soong (q.v.), was an American-trained Methodist missionary as well as a moderately successful industrialist and merchant, she was brought up in a Christian and highly Americanized environment. She learned English at home and, at the age of five, she enrolled at the McTyeire School, a Methodist missionary school for girls from upper-class Chinese families in Shanghai. She reportedly left school a short time later because she was too young for dormitory life. In 1908 Soong Mei-ling accompanied her elder sister Soong Ch'ing-ling (q.v.) to the United States. They went to Macon, Georgia, where the eldest sister, Soong Ai-ling, was a junior at Wesleyan College for Women. Because Soong Mei-ling was much too young to attend college, arrangements were made for her registration as a special student. She went with her sisters to Demarest, Georgia, in the summer of 1909 and remained there in the care of Mrs. Moss, the mother of one of Ai-ling's classmates, to attend eighth grade at the preparatory school of Piedmont College. At the end of the school year, she returned to Macon, where she studied privately under Mrs. Margie Burks, a member of the Wesleyan faculty, for two years.

Soong Mei-ling was admitted to Wesleyan as a regular student in the autumn of 1912. The following year, she transferred to Wellesley College in Massachusetts because both of her sisters had left Georgia and because her brother T. V. Soong (q.v.) had enrolled at Harvard College. Her years in the South left a lasting impression on her speech, coloring her English with a soft Georgia accent. At Wellesley, she majored in English literature, with philosophy as her minor. Among her other courses were French, music, astronomy, history, botany, and Biblical history. In her senior year, she was named a Durant Scholar, the highest academic distinction conferred by the college. Throughout this period, she spent her summers attending various summer schools and traveling to other parts of the United States.

By the time of her graduation in 1917, Soong Mei-ling had become thoroughly Americanized. She reportedly said that "the only thing Oriental about me is my face." Nevertheless, she returned to Shanghai, where she learned Chinese again and studied Chinese classics. As befitted her social position as a Soong, she did church work, engaged in YWCA activities, became a member of a film-censoring committee, and became the first Chinese to be appointed to the child labor commission by the Shanghai Municipal Council.

Both of Soong Mei-ling's sisters had been married in 1914—Ai-ling to H. H. K'ung (q.v.) and Ch'ing-ling to Sun Yat-sen. It was at Sun's home in Canton that Soong Mei-ling met Chiang Kai-shek. He did not seem to be an appropriate suitor, for he was ten years older than she, married, and not a Christian. However, he was persistent. At the end of September 1927, after resigning from his government and military posts, Chiang went to Japan, where Soong Mei-ling's widowed mother was living, in an attempt to win Mei-ling's hand in marriage. He finally overcame the family's objections by promising to study Christianity, and he and Soong Mei-ling were married in Shanghai on 1 December 1927. After taking part in a Christian service in the Soong home at which David Yui (Yü Jih-chang, q.v.) officiated, they married again in a Chinese ceremony at the Majestic Hotel, with Ts'ai Yuan-p'ei (q.v.) presiding.

After their marriage, Soong Mei-ling accompanied her husband on military campaigns, serving as his secretary and English interpreter. As Chiang became the dominant leader in China, she became a leader of Chinese women. She also held office as a member of the Legislative Yuan from 1930-32. Her influence on her husband was demonstrated by his conversion to Christianity on 23 October 1930. She also helped introduce him to Western culture and ideas. Chiang began to employ such Western advisers as W. H. Donald, an Australian who had been an adviser to Chang Hsueh-liang (q.v.), and such Chinese with Western training as J. L. Huang and K. C. Wu (Wu Kuo-chen, q.v.). In 1934, when Chiang inaugurated the New Life Movement, a program of moral reform based on traditional Chinese virtues, Soong Mei-ling directed its women's department and assumed other important responsibilities. She recruited Western missionaries in rural areas of China to promote the movement. Soong Mei-ling also was concerned with the welfare of military men and their dependents. In 1929 she founded a school for the orphans of soldiers in the National Revolutionary Army, and she later helped inaugurate the Officers Moral Endeavor Association to provide recreational activities for servicemen. Early in 1936, Soong Mei-ling was appointed secretary general of the National Aeronautical Affairs Commission. In this post, she worked to create a modern and effective Chinese air force. During the Sian Incident of December 1936 (see Chiang Kai-shek; Chang Hsuehliang) she acted with courage and determination. She had not accompanied her husband to Sian because of illness. However, when the news of his detention reached her in Shanghai, she immediately went to Nanking, where she used her official position and her influence to help prevent such anxious officials as Ho Ying-ch'in (q.v.) from taking drastic military action. She and H. H. K'ung pointed out that premature military action would endanger Chiang Kai-shek's life and might precipitate a civil war. She then flew to Sian, arriving there on 22 December. Three days later, Chiang Kai-shek was released. In 1937 Soong Mei-ling published a book about this incident, Sian: A Coup d'Etat.

The women's advisory council of the New Life Movement was formed under Soong Mei-ling's directorship in 1937. After the Sino-Japanese war began in July, the council trained young women for wartime jobs, established relief programs for refugees and centers for homeless children, and promoted industry by setting up small cooperative factories in rural areas. She also continued to serve as secretary general of the National Aeronautical Affairs Commission until March 1938, when she resigned because of ill health. Soong Mei-ling also made important contributions to China's war effort through her presentation of her country's cause to Americans. She wrote articles for American magazines and made transoceanic broadcasts to the American people. In 1940 China in Peace and War and This Is Our China were published in the United States, and in 1941 China Shall Rise Again appeared. Soong Mei-ling reached the peak of her prestige in America in 1942-43, when she visited the United States. After arriving in New York on 27 November 1942 and spending two months at the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, she accepted an invitation from President and Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt to stay at the White House as their guest. On 18 February 1943, she became the first Chinese and the second woman (the other being Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands) to address a joint session of the United States Congress. She then traveled throughout the United States, raising funds and making public speeches to large audiences in such cities as New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Newspapers reported her "invasion" of America, saying that she was "taking the country by charm." Her grace and eloquence helped her to become, as one commentator put it,_ "the personification of Free China." The effect of her visit was such that every year until 1967 her name appeared on American lists of the ten most admired women in the world. However, some Americans had reservations about her. Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt was quoted as saying that Soong Mei-ling "could talk very convincingly about democracy and its aims and ideals, but she hadn't any idea how to live it." After making a three-day trip to Canada in June, where she addressed the Canadian Parliament, Soong Mei-ling returned to China by way of the United States, arriving in Chungking on 4 July.

As cooperation between the United States and China increased during the Second World War, Soong Mei-ling assumed greater political responsibilities, serving as Chiang Kai-shek's interpreter and adviser in his dealings with American officials. She also accompanied him to the Cairo Conference in November 1943. Her actions even won the approval of General Joseph W. Stilwell, a bitter opponent of Chiang Kai-shek. In his diary, The Stilwell Papers, published in 1948, General Stilwell described her as "a clever, brainy woman" who had "great influence on Chiang Kai-shek, mostly along the right lines too." Soong Mei-ling's political influence waned after the Second World War. However, in 1948 Chiang Kai-shek made a final attempt to obtain American aid for fighting the Chinese Communists, and he sent his wife to press the case. She arrived in Washington in November 1948, but, although she was greeted courteously by President Harry S. Truman and other American officials, she could do nothing to alter the American policy of non-involvement in the internal affairs of China. She remained in the United States until January 1950, by which time the National Government had been moved to Taiwan and the Central People's Government had been established at Peking by the victorious Chinese Communists.

In Taiwan, Soong Mei-ling devoted much of her time to directing the Chinese Women's Anti-Aggression League. She made four unofficial visits to the United States (August 1952 to March 1953, April 1954 to October 1954, May 1958 to June 1959, and August 1965 to October 1966) during which she sought medical treatment, visited friends and relatives, and acted as a goodwill ambassador and personal envoy of Chiang Kai-shek.

Honors conferred on Soong Mei-ling over the years included honorary degrees from such American colleges as Wesleyan College for Women and Wellesley College. She was the first and only Chinese woman to receive the highest military and civil decorations awarded by the National Government of China. She served as honorary chairman of such organizations as the American Bureau for Medical Aid to China and as a patron of the International Red Cross Society.

The speeches and writings of Soong Mei-ling were collected and published in Taiwan in 1965 as Chiang fu-jen yen-lun hui-pien [collected works of Madame Chiang]. Anecdotal material about her early life and family background is included in Emily Hahn's The Soong Sisters, which was published in 1941. Helene Kazangien's Madame Chiang Kai-shek—Mailing Soong, the revised edition of which appeared in 1943, is a short but comparatively accurate biography.

Biography in Chinese




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