Soong Ching-ling

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Soong Ching-ling (宋庆龄), also known as Madam Sun Yat-sen and Rosamond Soong, was a prominent patriot and political figure in China during the 20th century. She was one of the famous three Soong Sisters, whose personal glamour, influential marriages and complicated sisterhood relationships mingled with love and conflict and made them three of the most legendary Chinese women in their times.

Born on Jan. 27, 1893, to a Christian family in Shanghai, Soong was well-educated in her childhood. Her father, Charlie Soong, a successful missionary and businessman, who believed in equality of education between girls and boys in feudalist China, sent his three daughters, Ailing, Ching-ling and May-ling to the United States when they were teenagers. When Ching-ling graduated from Wesleyan College in Georgia, she succeeded her older sister, Ai-ling, to work as the secretary of Sun Yat-sen, the revolutionary leader who overthrew the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and built up a republican China.

Soong’s reverence to Sun led her to fall in love with the man who was 26 years her senior. On Oct. 25, 1915, the two married in Japan, despite Soong’s parents’ strong opposition. Soong became the second wife of Sun and their marriage lasted for 10 years. In 1925, Sun died of liver cancer, leaving Soong a young widow facing the challenge of the split between the Kuomintang (KMT, or Nationalists) and the Communists (CPC). Yet her strong belief in Sun’s political philosophy braved her to be the rare Nationalist who publicly opposed Chiang Kai-shek’s massacre and expulsion of the CPC from KMT in 1927. Meantime, she exiled herself to Moscow, and it was there she got the news that her little sister May-ling married Chiang.

In the following 10 years, Soong struggled hard with the right-wing faction of the KMT, which included her sisters and brothers, to call for a real democracy in China. Rumors were circulating at the time that she criticized May-ling’s extravagant life, while May-ling refused to write to her directly.

However, she reconciled with the KMT during the Anti-Japanese War (1938-1945), when the KMT and CPC allied to defend the country. The three sisters united at the country’s critical moments and paid numerous visits together to the schools, hospitals, orphanages, air-raid shelters and aided war-torn communities in Chongqing. They also held a press conference together to declare their determination in expelling the invaders.

Yet the three sisters separated again when the Civil War between the KMT and CPC began in 1945. Soong was elected vice president of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 when the CPC defeated the KMT. This time, it was her two sisters leaving Chinese mainland: Ai-ling flied to the United States and May-ling accompanied Chiang to retreat in Taiwan. It was the last time Soong saw them.

In the 1950s, she founded China Reconstructs, the predecessor to today’s China Today, with Israel Epstein. On May 16, 1981, she joined the CPC and was named the honorary president. Two weeks later, she died in Beijing.