Soong Mei-ling

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Soong Mei-ling
Soong May-ling giving a special radio broadcast.jpg
First Lady of the Republic of China
In office
May 20, 1948 – April 5, 1975
President Chiang Kai-shek
Succeeded by Liu Chi-chun
Personal details
Born (1898-03-05)March 5, 1898
Shanghai, Qing Empire[1]
Died Script error: The function "death_date_and_age" does not exist.
New York City, New York, U.S.
Resting place Ferncliff Cemetery, Hartsdale, New York
Nationality Republic of China
Political party Naval Jack of the Republic of China.svg Kuomintang
Other political
Republican Party
Spouse(s) Chiang Kai-shek
Relations Charlie Soong (father) and Ni Kwei-tseng (mother)
Children Chiang Ching-kuo (step-son)
Chiang Wei-kuo (adopted)
Alma mater Wellesley College
Occupation First Lady of the Republic of China
Religion Methodist

Soong Mei-ling or Soong May-ling, also known as Madame Chiang Kai-shek or Madame Chiang (traditional Chinese: 宋美齡; simplified Chinese: 宋美龄; pinyin: Sòng Měilíng; March 5, 1898[2] – October 23, 2003), was a First Lady of the Republic of China (ROC), the wife of Generalissimo and President Chiang Kai-shek. Soong played a prominent role in the politics of the Republic of China and was the sister-in-law of Sun Yat-sen, the founder and the leader of the Republic of China. She was active in the civic life of her country and held many honorary and active positions, including chairman of Fu Jen Catholic University. During the Second Sino-Japanese War she rallied her people against the Japanese invasion and in 1942 conducted a speaking tour of the United States to gain support. She was also the youngest and the last surviving of the three Soong sisters, and the only first lady during World War II who lived into the 21st century. Her life extended into three centuries.[3]


Early life

She was born in Hongkou District, Shanghai, China, on March 5, 1898, though some biographies give the year as 1897, since Chinese tradition considers one to be a year old at birth.[2][3]

She was the fourth of six children of Charlie Soong, a wealthy businessman and former Methodist missionary from Hainan, and his wife Ni Kwei-tseng. May-ling's siblings were sister Ai-ling, sister Ching-ling, who later became Madame Sun Yat-sen, older brother Tse-ven and younger brothers Tse-liang (T.L.) and Tse-an (T.A.)[4]


May-ling as a student at Wesleyan College c. 1910

In Shanghai, May-ling attended the McTyeire School for Girls with her sister, Ching-ling. Their father, who had studied in the United States, arranged to have them continue their education in the US in 1907. May-ling and Ching-ling attended a private school in Summit, New Jersey. In 1908, Ching-ling was accepted by her sister Ai-ling's alma mater, Wesleyan College, at age 15 and both sisters moved to Macon, Georgia, to join Ai-ling. However, she could not get permission to stay on campus as a family member nor could she be a student because she was too young.[citation needed] May-ling spent the year in Demorest, Georgia, with Ai-ling's Wesleyan friend, Blanche Moss, who enrolled May-ling as an 8th grader at the Piedmont College. In 1909, Wesleyan's newly appointed president, William Newman Ainsworth, gave her permission to stay at Wesleyan and assigned her tutors. She briefly attended Fairmount College in Monteagle, Tennessee in 1910.[5][6]

May-ling was officially registered as a freshman at Wesleyan in 1912 at the age of 15. She then transferred to Wellesley College a year later to be closer to her older brother, T. V., who, at the time, was studying at Harvard. By then, both her sisters had graduated and returned to Shanghai. She graduated from Wellesley as one of the 33 "Durant Scholars" on June 19, 1917, with a major in English literature and minor in philosophy. She was also a member of Tau Zeta Epsilon, Wellesley's Arts and Music Society. As a result of being educated in English all her life, she spoke excellent English, with a pronounced Georgia accent which helped her connect with American audiences.[7]

Madame Chiang

Chiang-Soong wedding photo

Soong Mei-ling met Chiang Kai-shek in 1920. Since he was eleven years her elder, already married, and a Buddhist, May-ling's mother vehemently opposed the marriage between the two, but finally agreed after Chiang showed proof of his divorce and promised to convert to Christianity. Chiang told his future mother-in-law that he could not convert immediately, because religion needed to be gradually absorbed, not swallowed like a pill. They married in Shanghai on December 1, 1927.[8] While biographers regard the marriage with varying appraisals of partnership, love, politics and competition, it lasted 48 years. The couple had no children. In 1928, she was made a member of the Committee of Yuans by Chiang.[9]

Madame Chiang initiated the New Life Movement and became actively engaged in Chinese politics. She was a member of the Legislative Yuan from 1930 to 1932 and Secretary-General of the Chinese Aeronautical Affairs Commission from 1936 to 1938. In 1945 she became a member of the Central Executive Committee of the Kuomintang. As her husband rose to become Generalissimo and leader of the Kuomintang, Madame Chiang acted as his English translator, secretary and advisor. She was his muse, his eyes, his ears, and his most loyal champion. During World War II, Madame Chiang tried to promote the Chinese cause and build a legacy for her husband on a par with Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin. Well-versed in both Chinese and Western culture, she became popular both in China and abroad. Her prominence led Joseph Stilwell to quip that she ought to be appointed minister of defense.[citation needed]

In 1931, Soong Mei-ling had a villa built for her on the east side of Nanjing. Located a few hundred meters east of the Sifangcheng Pavilion of the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, the villa still exists, and is commonly known as Meilinggong (美龄宫), "May-ling Palace".[10]


Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek and his wife Madame Chiang sharing a laugh with Lieutenant General Joseph Stilwell in 1942, Burma.

Although Soong Mei-ling initially avoided the public eye after marrying Chiang, she soon began an ambitious social welfare project to establish schools for the orphans of Chinese soldiers. The orphanages were well-appointed: with playgrounds, swimming pools, a gymnasium, model classrooms, and dormitories. Soong Mei-ling was deeply involved in the project and even picked all of the teachers herself. There were two schools - one for boys and one for girls—built on a thousand-acre site at the foot of Purple Mountain, in Nanjing. She referred to these children as her "warphans" and made them a personal cause.[11] The fate of the children of fallen soldiers became a much more important issue in China after the beginning of the war with Japan in 1937. In order to better provide for these children she established the Chinese Women's National War Relief Society.[12]

Alleged tryst with Wendell Willkie

After losing to President Franklin Roosevelt in the 1940 US election, Republican candidate Wendell Willkie set out to travel the world in service to the US. During his visit to China, Madame Chiang Kai-Shek and Willkie took an interest in each other. According to recollections by publisher Gardner Cowles, Willkie's visit to China involved an episode where Soong Mei-ling seduced Willkie and took him to one of her hideaway apartments in Chungking. At 4 am, Cowles noted "a very buoyant Willkie appeared, cocky as a young college student after a successful night with a girl. After giving me a play-by-play account of what had happened between him and Madame, he concluded that he had invited Madame to return to Washington with us." But the next day, Willkie had Cowles tell Madame that she could not travel to Washington with him after all. "She reached up and scratched her long fingernails down both my cheeks so deeply that I had marks for about a week, Cowles wrote.[13]

Soong Mei-ling wasn’t deterred for long, making it to the United States the next year. While in her suite at the Waldorf, she said to Cowles: “You know, Mike, if Wendell could be elected, then he and I would rule the world. I would rule the Orient and Wendell would rule the Western world.” She asked that he use whatever means necessary to secure the Republican nomination for Willkie, even if it required using China's wealth.[14]

Cowles’s account “raises questions,” wrote Jay Taylor in his biography of Chiang. Many Chinese in gossip-hungry Chungking would have known of their time alone and rumors would have spread quickly. In 1974, when a shorter version of the story appeared, a suit was brought on behalf of Mayling, and Cowles testified (perhaps to protect Willkie) that the affair was “impossible.” Taylor speculates that Willkie, who had several drinks when he talked to Cowles, had exaggerated or misled his young friend who had imagined the rest.[15] In any case, none of the biographies mention even rumors of other sexual indiscretions.

Visits to the U.S.

On February 18, 1943, she addressed both houses of the US Congress.

Soong Mei-ling made several tours to the United States to lobby support for the Nationalist's war effort. She drew crowds as large as 30,000 people and in 1943 made the cover of TIME magazine for a third time. She had earlier appeared on the October 26, 1931 cover alongside her husband and on the January 3, 1937 cover with her husband as "Man and Wife of the Year"[16][17]

Both husband and wife were on good terms with Time magazine senior editor and co-founder Henry Luce, who frequently tried to rally money and support from the American public for the Republic of China. On February 18, 1943, she became the first Chinese national and the second woman to address both houses of the US Congress. After the defeat of her husband's government in the Chinese Civil War in 1949, Madame Chiang followed her husband to Taiwan, while her sister Soong Ching-ling stayed in mainland China, siding with the communists. Madame Chiang continued to play a prominent international role. She was a Patron of the International Red Cross Committee, honorary chair of the British United Aid to China Fund, and First Honorary Member of the Bill of Rights Commemorative Society.[citation needed]

Later life

After the death of her husband in 1975, Madame Chiang assumed a low profile. She was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1975 and would undergo two mastectomies in Taiwan. She also had an ovarian tumor removed in 1991.[18]

Chiang Kai-shek was succeeded to power by his eldest son Chiang Ching-kuo, from a previous marriage, with whom Madame Chiang had rocky relations. In 1975, she emigrated from Taiwan to her family's 36 acre (14.6 hectare) estate in Lattingtown, New York, where she kept a portrait of her late husband in full military regalia in her living room. She kept a residence in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, where she vacationed in the summer. Madame Chiang returned to Taiwan upon Chiang Ching-kuo's death in 1988, to shore up support among her old allies. However, Chiang Ching-kuo's successor, Lee Teng-hui, proved more adept at politics than she was, and consolidated his position. She again returned to the U.S. and made a rare public appearance in 1995 when she attended a reception held on Capitol Hill in her honor in connection with celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II. Madame Chiang made her last visit to Taiwan in 1995. In the 2000 Presidential Election on Taiwan, the Kuomintang produced a letter from her in which she purportedly supported the KMT candidate Lien Chan over independent candidate James Soong (no relation). James Soong had never disputed the authenticity of the letter. Soong sold her Long Island estate in 2000 and spent the rest of her life in a Gracie Square apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan owned by her niece. An open house viewing of the estate drew many Taiwanese expatriates. When Madame Chiang was 103 years old, she had an exhibition of her Chinese paintings in New York.[19]


Madame Chiang died in her sleep in New York City, in her Manhattan apartment on October 23, 2003, at the age of 105.[3] Her remains were interred at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York, pending an eventual burial with her late husband who was entombed in Cihu, Taiwan. The stated intention is to have them both buried in mainland China once political differences are resolved.[20][21]

Upon her death, The White House released a statement:

Madame Chiang was a close friend of the United States throughout her life, and especially during the defining struggles of the last century. Generations of Americans will always remember and respect her intelligence and strength of character. On behalf of the American people, I extend condolences to Madame Chiang's family members and many admirers around the world.

Appraisals by international press

Soong and Chiang on the cover of TIME magazine, Oct 26, 1931

The New York Times:

As a fluent English speaker, as a Christian, as a model of what many Americans hoped China to become, Madame Chiang struck a chord with American audiences as she traveled across the country, starting in the 1930s, raising money and lobbying for support of her husband's government. She seemed to many Americans to be the very symbol of the modern, educated, pro-American China they yearned to see emerge—even as many Chinese dismissed her as a corrupt, power-hungry symbol of the past they wanted to escape.[3]

In popular culture


Internet video

See also


  1. The New York Times gives her place of birth as Shanghai, while the BBC and Encyclopædia Britannica give it as Wenchang, Hainan island (which was then part of Guangdong Province).
  2. 2.0 2.1 While records at Wellesley College and the Encyclopaedia Britannica indicate she was born in 1897, the Republic of China government as well as the BBC and the New York Times cite her year of birth as 1897. The New York Times obituary includes the following explanation: "some references give 1897 as the year because the Chinese usually consider everyone to be one year old at birth." cf: East Asian age reckoning. However, early sources such as the Columbia Encyclopedia, 1960, give her date of birth as 1896, making it possible that "one year" was subtracted twice.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Faison, Seth (October 24, 2003). "Madame Chiang Kai-shek, a Power in Husband's China and Abroad, Dies at 105". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-06-27. Madame Chiang Kai-shek, a pivotal figure in one of the 20th century's great epics — the struggle for control of post-imperial China waged between the Nationalists and the Communists during the Japanese invasion and the violent aftermath of World War II — died on Thursday in Manhattan, the Foreign Ministry of Taiwan reported yesterday. She was 105. ...<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Tyson Li, Laura (2006). Madame Chiang Kai-shek: China's Eternal First Lady. New York: Grove Press. p. 5. ISBN 978-0-8021-4322-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Southeast Tennessee Tourist Association". Southeast Tourist Tourist Association. Retrieved 9 July 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Chitty, Arther and Elizabeth, Sewanee Sampler, 1978, p. 106; ISBN 0-9627687-7-4
  7. Profile,; accessed July 28, 2014.
  8. "CHINA: Soong Sisters". TIME. Dec 12, 1927. Retrieved May 22, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "CHINA: Potent Mrs. Chiang". TIME. Nov 26, 1928. Retrieved May 22, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Meiling Villa,; accessed July 28, 2014.
  11. Tyson Li 2006, pp. 87–88
  12. Scott Wong, Kevin (2005). Americans first: Chinese Americans and the Second World War. Harvard University Press. p. 93. ISBN 9780674016712.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Tyson Li 2006, pp. 184–86
  14. Pakula, Hannah (2009). The Last Empress: Madame Chiang Kai-shek and the Birth of Modern China. New York: Simon & Schuster. pp. 410–11. ISBN 978-1-4391-4893-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Taylor, Jay (2009). The Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-Shek and the Struggle for Modern China. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. pp. 217–18. ISBN 9780674060494. Retrieved 20 May 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. TIME Magazine cover
  17. Karon, Tony (October 24, 2003). "Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, 1898-2003". Retrieved 27 July 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. Pakula 2009, p. 659
  19. Pakula 2009, p. 670
  20. Berger, Joseph (30 October 2003). "An Epitapth for Madame Chiang Kai-shek: 'Mama'". New York Times. Retrieved 3 April 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. Isogawa, Tomoyoshi; Aoyama, Naoatsu (7 March 2014). "Chinese Civil War and birth of Taiwan, as told by Leo Soong". The Asahi Shimbun. Retrieved 3 April 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. "President's Statement on the Death of Madame Chiang Kai-shek". The White House. Retrieved 4 July 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. Pakula, Hannah. "Chiang Kai-shek". New York Times. Retrieved 11 November 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. Pakula 2009, p. 305
  25. 25.0 25.1 Kirkpatrick, Melanie (3 November 2009). "China's Mystery Lady". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 11 November 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  26. Fenby, Jonathan (2009), Modern China, p. 279


External links

Honorary titles
Preceded by
First Lady of the Republic of China
Succeeded by
Liu Chi-chun