SOONG MEI-LING

SOONG MEI-LING

(b. March 5, 1897, Shanghai, China—d. Oct. 23, 2003, New York, N.Y., U.S.)

Soong Mei-ling (Soong also spelled Sung, Mei-ling also spelled Mayling) was a notable Chinese political figure and second wife of the Nationalist Chinese president Chiang Kai-shek. She is also called Madame Chiang Kai-shek. Her family was successful, prosperous, and well-connected: her sister Soong Ch’ing-ling (Song Qingling) was the wife of Sun Yat-sen, and her brother T. V.

Soong was a prominent industrialist and official of the Nationalist Chinese government.Soong Mei-ling was educated in the United States from 1908 to 1917, when she graduated from Wellesley College, and was thoroughly Americanized. In 1927 she married Chiang Kai-shek, and she helped introduce him to Western culture and ideas and worked to publicize his cause in the West.

With her husband, she launched in 1934 the New Life Movement, a program that sought to halt the spread of communism by teaching traditional Chinese values. In 1936 Chiang Kai-shek was taken captive by Chang Hsüeh-liang, a warlord who believed the Nationalist government should stop fighting China’s communists and instead concentrate on resisting Japanese aggression; Soong Mei-ling played a major role in the negotiations that led to his release.

During World War II she wrote many articles on China for American journals, and in 1943, during a visit to the United States, she became the first Chinese and only the second woman to address a joint session of the U.S. Congress, where she sought increased support for China in its war against Japan. Her efforts resulted in much finan-cial aid, and Soong Mei-ling so impressed the American public that until 1967 her name appeared annually on the U.S. list of the 10 most admired women in the world.

In the mid-1940s civil war broke out in China as Nationalists and communists battled for control of the country. Chiang Kai-shek’s forces were defeated in 1949, and Soong Mei-ling and her family moved to Taiwan, where her husband established his government. Still highly influ-ential, she continued to seek support from the United States, and her efforts helped sway the U.S. government’s policy toward China and Taiwan.

After Chiang Kai-shek’s death in 1975, Soong Mei-ling moved to New York, where she lived in semi-seclusion. Following the death in 1988 of Chiang Ching-kuo, Chiang Kai-shek’s son from his first marriage and the president of Taiwan, she briefly became involved in Taiwanese politics, but by that time her influ-ence had greatly diminished. Her published works include This Is Our China (1940), The Sure Victory (1955), and two volumes of selected speeches.