Anna Chen Chennault

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Anna Chen Chennault

Anna Chen Chennault (Chinese name Chen Xiangmei (陈香梅)) is the widow of WWII aviation hero Lieutenant General Claire Lee Chennault and a pioneering Chinese woman who became the first female reporter for the Kuomintang’s Central News Agency as well as a strong political voice in the U.S. politics before Asian Americans were well-represented.

Born on June 23, 1925, to a wealthy family in Beijing, Chen received a good education from her parents, who had both studied abroad. Under their influence (especially her mother’s), she loved literature and had a good command of English. After her mother’s death and her father’s appointment as an ambassador to the United States, Chen spent most of her adolescence living a migrant life, trekking with her siblings to Macau, Guangzhou, Guilin, Chongqing and Kunming to escape from the damage caused by war. Her father suggested they go to the U.S. to study, but Chennault refused.

In 1944, a year before the Anti-Japanese Aggression War ended, Chen graduated from Lingnan University in Guangdong Province, whereupon she was hired as the only female journalist by Central News Agency to be a war correspondent in Kunming. There, she met the leader of the Flying Tigers, General Chennault, during an interview.

Chen married Chennault in 1947 when she was moved to CNA’s Shanghai branch and Chennault, as a hero of Anti-Japanese Aggression War, revisited the city to organize a civil aviation company. Despite their huge age gap (he was 32 years her senior), the couple lived happily in Shanghai and then Taiwan.

After Chennault died in 1958, Chen moved to Washington, D.C., with their two children. She studied speech writing and worked at Georgetown University, and then toured the U.S. delivering speeches on China. She also wrote a bestselling memoir, "A Thousand Springs." With her rise to prominence, Chen has been an advisor to presidents from John F. Kennedy to George W. H. Bush.

When China and the U.S. established diplomatic relations during President Richard Nixon’s tenure, Chen acted as an envoy between the two countries. Today, she is still active in business and cultural exchanges in both China and the U.S. The late Chinese President Deng Xiaoping once said of Chen: "There are more than 100 congressmen in the United States, but there is only one Chen Xiangmei in the world."

Anna Chennault: Sino-US 'secret ambassador' [1]