Siblings who were direct and powerful participants in the 20th-century struggle between Nationalists and Communists that changed both China and the world. Song Ailing (1890–1973). Chinese financier and philanthropist who held together and expanded the Song family fortune through a half-century of revolution and war. Name variations: Soong Eling, Eye-ling, or Ai-ling; Sung Eling; Madame H.H. Kong or Madame H.H. Kung; Chinese name of Ailing means "pleasant mood"; Christian name was Nancy in honor of Nannie Carr, wife of Julian Carr, her father's benefactor in North Carolina. Pronunciation: Soong EYE-ling. Born on December 12, 1890, in Shanghai, China; died on October 20, 1973, in New York City; eldest child of Han Chiao-shun, universally known as Charlie Jones Song (a publisher of Bibles) and Ni Guizhen (Ni Kwei-tseng, known later as Song Guizhen or simply Mammy); elder sister of Song Qingling and Song Meiling; educated at Wesleyan College, Georgia, 1904–09; married Kong Xiangxi also spelled K'ung Hsiang-hsi (1880–1967), in April 1914 (in the West, he was known as H.H. Kung, and she was therefore known as Madame Kung); children: Ling-i (known is Rosamund, b. 1916); Ling-ki'an (David, b. 1917); Ling-wei (Jeannette, b. 1918); Ling-chieh (Louie, b. 1919).
Song Qingling (1893–1981). Pro-Communist wife of Sun Yat-sen who was elected vice chair of the People's Republic of China, awarded the Stalin International Peace Prize, was active in the international peace movement, and worked with China Welfare while continuing her lifelong commitment to assisting women and children. Name variations: Madame Sun Yat-sen or Sun Yatsen; Soong Ching Ling; Soong Qingling; Song Chingling or Ching-ling; Sung Chingling. Born on January 27, 1893, in Shanghai; died on May 29, 1981, in Beijing; second daughter of Han Chiao-shun, universally known as Charlie Jones Song (a publisher of Bibles) and Ni Guizhen (Ni Kwei-tseng, known later as Song Guizhen or simply Mammy); sister of Song Ailing and Song Meiling; educated at Potwin's private school in Summit, New Jersey, and at Wesleyan College, 1907–13; married Sun Yat-sen (father of the Chinese Revolution), in 1915.
Elected executive member of Guomindang Central Committee (1926); with sisters, gave radio broadcasts to American audience on the Anti-Japanese War in China (1940); elected vice chair of the People's Republic of China (1949); received the Stalin International Peace Prize (1951).
Song Meiling (b. 1897). Wife of Chiang Kai-shek whose savvy use of modern media and public relations strongly influenced American opinion in the revolutionary struggles in China from the 1930s to the 1960s. Name variations: Soong or Sung May-ling,Mayling, or Mei-ling; Madame Chiang; Madame Chiang Kai-shek, or Chiang Kaishek; Mme. Jiang Jieshi; Chiang Mei-ling. Pronunciation: Soong MAY-ling. Born on March 5, 1897, in Shanghai, China; youngest daughter of Charlie Jones Song (a business leader and philanthropist born Hon Chao-Shun or Jia-shu Song) and Ni Guizhen (Ni Kwei-tseng, daughter of a wealthy scholar family in Shanghai who believed in Christianity, also known as Song Guizhen); educated at Potwin's private school, Wesleyan College, and Wellesley College, Massachusetts; married Chiang Kai-shek (1887–1975, the nationalist leader and ruler of China from 1927 to 1949), on December 1, 1927. (See also separate entry on Song Meiling, p. 564.)
The eye of the political hurricane that swept away old China in 1911–12 lasted for almost half a century before subsiding to allow a new China to be established. The Song family was at the center of the maelstrom. Song Qingling married the so-called father of the revolution, Sun Yat-sen. Song Meiling married the creator of the modern Chinese state, Chiang Kai-shek. As the eldest child, Song Ailing, who married businessman H.H. Kung, "stayed home to mind the store," while brothers T.V., T.L., and T.A. Song prospered in the West, supported the Chiang Kai-shek government, and came to be arch-opponents of the eventual winners of the revolution, the Communists. Though dissimilar beliefs led the Song sisters down different paths, each exerted influence both on Chinese and international politics. By marrying men of political distinction and adhering to their own political pursuits, the three daughters played key roles in modern Chinese history.
The story begins with Charlie Song, father of the famed Song siblings. Though his background and early life were enshrouded in the legends created by his own and his children's accomplishments, the basic facts seem to be that Charlie Song came to the United States in 1878 as a boy, was educated by Methodists in North Carolina as a teenager, was ordained as a deacon in 1885, and was then sent back to Shanghai as a missionary. Somewhere along the line, he had changed his variously spelled Chinese name to Charlie Soon in North Carolina and to Charlie Song in China. He married a Chinese Christian woman named Ni Guizhen (Ni Kwei-tseng) in 1887 and set out to raise a family and earn a living.
Starting with success in the noodle manufacturing business, by 1904 Charlie Song had diversified to become a major investor in tobacco and cotton, and the primary publisher of Bibles and English-language commercial publications in east Asia. After securing his family fortune, Charlie Song poured his profits into the budding revolutionary movement against the dying Manchu regime. He would die a wealthy man in 1918.
In childhood, Ailing was known as a tomboy, smart and ebullient; Qingling was known as the intellectual, pretty and pensive; and Meiling was considered a plump child, charming and headstrong. For their early education, they all went to McTyeire, the most important foreign-style school for Chinese girls in Shanghai. In 1904, reflecting the American influence which rejected in some respects the traditional Chinese denigration of women, Charlie Song asked his friend William Burke, an American Methodist missionary in China, to accompany the 14-year-old Ailing to Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia, for her college education. Thus it was that Ailing embarked on an American liner with the Burke family in Shanghai. But when they reached Japan, Mrs. Burke was so ill that the family was forced to remain, and Ailing sailed on alone. Despite a genuine Portuguese passport on her arrival in San Francisco, the schoolgirl was pulled aside and told that Chinese were restricted from entering America. For the next three weeks, Ailing was transferred from ship to ship until an American missionary helped solve the problem. Finally she arrived at Georgia's Wesleyan College, where she was well treated. She worked hard at her studies and exhibited a flair for drama as she played the part of the Japanese woman Cio-Cio-San in a college presentation of Puccini's opera Madame Butterfly. But she never forgot her experience in San Francisco. Later, in 1906, she visited the White House with her uncle, who was a Chinese imperial education commissioner, and complained to President Theodore Roosevelt of her bitter reception in San Francisco: "America is a beautiful country," she said, "but why do you call it a free country?" Roosevelt was reportedly so surprised by her straightforwardness that he could do little more than mutter an apology and turn away.
In 1907, Qingling and Meiling followed Ailing to America. Arriving with their commissioner uncle, they had no problem entering the country. They first stayed at Miss Clara Potwin 's private school for language improvement and then joined Ailing at Wesleyan. All six Song siblings would receive American educations at their parents' encouragement.
As the first child and eldest daughter, Ailing assumed responsibility early in life. Receiving her degree in 1909, she returned to Shanghai, where she took part in charity activities with her mother. With her father's influence, she soon became secretary to Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the Chinese revolutionary leader whose principles of Nationalism, Democracy and Popular Livelihood greatly appealed to many Chinese. In October 1911, soldiers mutinied in Wuhan, setting off the Chinese Revolution. Puyi, the last emperor of China, was overthrown, and the Republic of China was established with Sun Yat-sen as the provisional president. Charlie Song informed his daughters in America of the great news and sent them a republican flag. As recalled by her roommates, Qingling climbed up on a chair, ripped down the old imperial dragon flag, and put up the five-colored republican flag, shouting "Down with the dragon! Up with the flag of the Republic!" She wrote in an article for the Wesleyan student magazine:
One of the greatest events of the twentieth century, the greatest even since Waterloo, in the opinion of many well-known educators and politicians, is the Chinese Revolution. It is a most glorious achievement. It means the emancipation of four hundred million souls from the thralldom of an absolute monarchy, which has been in existence for over four thousand years, and under whose rule "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" have been denied.
However, the "glorious achievement" was not easily won. When Qingling finished her education in America and returned home in 1913, she found China in a "Second Revolution." That year, on the domestic front, Yuan Shikai, a Manchu general turned revolutionary, pushed aside the idealistic Sun to become a dictator. More seriously, on the international scene Japan was laying claim to Chinese territory. In a series of wars which coincidentally occurred every ten years (1884–85, 1894–95, and 1904–05), Japan had emulated the European imperialist nations by grabbing the provinces of Korea and Taiwan. In 1914, when Europe was embroiled in World War I (1914–18), Japan would be ready to take advantage and make further claims on Chinese territory. Yuan would die in 1916, but the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 and the failure of the Versailles Treaty to protect China's interests would not benefit Sun Yat-sen. Indeed, Chinese anger and frustration would boil over in the May 4 Incident (1919), when university faculties and students demonstrated against Japanese plans to exploit China. This heralded the rise of Communism in China.
In 1913, along with Sun Yat-sen, the entire Song family fled to Japan as political fugitives. During their stay, Ailing met a young man named Kong Xiangxi (H.H. Kung) from one of the richest families in China. Kung had just finished his education in America at Oberlin and Yale and was working with the Chinese YMCA in Tokyo. Ailing soon married Kung, leaving her job as Sun Yat-sen's secretary to Qingling, who firmly believed in his revolution.
During that same brief exile, it was Qingling, the second daughter, who broke the mold first. Flying in the face of convention, both Chinese Confucianist and American Methodist, she fell in love with Sun Yat-sen and informed her parents of her desire to marry him. The Songs were appalled. Qingling was barely 20; Sun Yatsen was over 50, and already married to Lu Ssu . Charlie Song hauled his family back to Shanghai and confined Qingling to her upstairs room. But Qingling escaped back to Japan to live with Sun Yat-sen, eventually marrying him in 1915 after he divorced Lu Ssu.
Meanwhile, Meiling had transferred from Wesleyan to Massachusetts' Wellesley College to be near her brother T.V. Song, who was studying at Harvard and could take care of her. When she heard of her parents' reaction to Qingling's marriage, Meiling feared that she might have to accept an arranged marriage on her return to China; thus, she hurriedly announced her engagement to a young Chinese student at Harvard. When her anxiety turned out to be unnecessary, she renounced the engagement. Meiling, who stayed in America the longest (1908–17), was seen as the "party girl" of the three, which meant that she was frivolous only in contrast to her sober sisters. All three sisters were educated in the prim Methodist (Victorian-era Christian) pattern. Not only did they become practicing Christians, but they became fluent in English and were better educated and more prepared for the public world than the average woman, Chinese or American.
Ailing, as the respectable Madame Kung, remained above these scandalous doings, more interested in business than politics. She and her husband lived in Shanghai and rapidly expanded their business in large Chinese cities, including Hong Kong. A shrewd entrepreneur who usually stayed away from publicity, Ailing was often said to be the mastermind of the Song family. Like her father, she produced children and money. In four consecutive years, Ailing gave birth to a girl and a boy, and a girl and a boy: Ling-i (Rosamund), in 1916; Ling-Ki'an (David), in 1917; Ling-wei (Jeannette), in 1918; and Ling-chieh (Louie), in 1919. During this decade when the revolution turned sour for Sun Yat-sen and his Nationalist Party, known as the Guomindang, Ailing, her husband H.H. Kung, and her brother T.V. Song were successful in the financial community.
Qingling continued working as Sun Yat-sen's secretary and accompanied him on all public appearances. Though shy by nature, she was known for her strong character. After the death of Yuan Shikai, China was enveloped in the struggle of rival warlords. Qingling joined her husband in the campaigns against the warlords and encouraged women to participate in the Chinese revolution by organizing women's training schools and associations. In the 1920s, the Russians sent Michael Borodin to enlist Chinese revolutionaries into the Communist crusade against Western capitalism. Sun Yat-sen attempted to straddle the Communist versus the West rivalry. As long as Sun was alive, the Guomindang Party remained equally receptive to assistance from Russia and Western Europe and America. Unfortunately, Sun Yat-sen died in 1925, factions in the Guomindang split, and there ensued a power struggle to succeed him. His widow Qingling, sympathetic with Guomindang leftists whom she regarded as faithful to Sun Yat-sen's principles, became a Communist, but the Kungs and the Song brothers were among the wealthy Chinese who struggled to keep the revolution anti-Communist. In the following years, Chiang Kai-shek, who attained control of the Guomindang with his military power, persecuted Guomindang leftists and Chinese Communists. In 1927, he asserted his leadership by purging the Guomindang Party of all its Communists. By so doing, Chiang committed himself irrevocably to the West to gain the economic support of the international business community to which Kungs and Songs belonged. He alienated many Chinese revolutionaries who hated their own upper class. In their minds, the Chinese upper class was not only opposed to thoroughgoing democratic reform but were also associated with the "white foreign devil" imperialists. He also alienated many Chinese patriots who wanted to resist the aggression of Japan. Therefore, while Chiang Kai-shek gained the necessary support from wealthy Chinese and rich American Christians to survive in
the short term, he had fatally undermined his chance to unify the Chinese against their imperialistic neighbors, both Russia and Japan.
Next to the fall of the Manchu dynasty in 1911, Chiang Kai-shek's purge was the most crucial decision which shaped the subsequent direction of China's 20th-century revolution. It was in December of that year (1927) that Chiang Kaishek married Song Meiling, thereby greatly enhancing his political life because of the Song family's wealth and connections in China and America. Whereas Qingling never approved of the marriage (believing that Chiang had not married her little sister out of love), Ailing was supportive. Perceiving Chiang as the future strong-man of China, Ailing saw in their marriage the mutual benefits both to the Song family and to Chiang. Although Meiling was eager to marry Chiang, Ailing made it happen. Genuinely interested in securing happiness for her baby sister, she also discerned in Chiang the man who would protect the family interests from the rising Communist movement. Qingling was opposed. Not only did she dislike this match for conventional class and religious reasons (Chiang Kai-shek was already married to Chen Jieru and came from the lower classes), she also opposed it for the same political reasons her sister favored it. While it is too much to say that he made his epochal decision to purge the Communists in order to win the hand of Meiling, there is no question that Chiang made this decision to win the support of the Kung and Song families.
As Madame Sun Yat-sen, Qingling ardently defended her husband's principles and continued her revolutionary activities. In denouncing Chiang's dictatorship and betrayal of Sun Yat-sen's principles, Qingling went to Moscow in 1927, and then to Berlin, for a four-year self-exile. Upon her return to China, she would continue to criticize Chiang publicly.
Chiang's purge almost succeeded. While it annihilated all the Russian-born and educated leaders of the Communist Party, it did not kill the Chinese-born Communists (like Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai) who would assume leadership. Unfortunately for Chiang and the relatively few, but rich, Western-oriented and Christian Chinese, Chiang's purge served to strengthen the Communist movement. By eliminating the foreign leadership, he forced the Communists to rely on peasant support. For over seven years, Chiang's army pursued the remnant who, led by Chinese-born Mao Zedong, fled from the coasts and the cities to reach the interior. The handful of Communists who survived the epochal "Long March" (1934–35) lived to fight another day—eventually to win everything.
The more immediate problem after 1927 was posed by Japan. In 1931, Japan seized Manchuria, China's most industrial province. Declaring the creation of an independent state called Manchukuo, the Japanese placed ("restored") Puyi on the ancestral throne from which he had been deposed by Sun Yat-sen's forces in 1912, at age three. Although the United States persuaded the League of Nations to refuse to recognize Manchukuo's existence as an independent nation, Japan responded merely by withdrawing from the League and preparing for war. With the Western democracies paralyzed by the Great Depression and mesmerized by the rise of Fascism in Mussolini's Italy and Nazism in Hitler's Germany, nobody was inclined to help the beleaguered government of Chiang Kai-shek against Japan. Relations would continue to deteriorate until July 7, 1937, when Japan provoked an "incident" at the Marco Polo Bridge outside of Beijing (Peking) and declared war on China. World War II had begun in Asia.
Meiling's marriage to Chiang meant that the Song family was deeply involved in China's business and financial affairs. Both Ailing's husband Kung and her brother T.V. Song alternately served as Chiang's finance minister and, at times, premier. In 1932, Ailing accompanied her husband on an official trip to America and Europe. When she arrived in Italy, she was given a royal reception even though she held no public titles.
In 1936, two Guomindang generals held Chiang Kai-shek hostage in Xian (the Xian Incident) in an attempt to coerce him into fighting against the Japanese invaders, rather than continuing the civil war with Chinese Communists. When the pro-Japan clique in Chiang's government planned to bomb Xian and kill Chiang in order to set up their own government, the incident immediately threw China into political crisis. In a demonstration of courage and political sophistication, Meiling persuaded the generals in Nanjing to delay their attack on Xian, to which she personally flew for peace negotiations. Her efforts not only helped gain the release of her husband Chiang, but also proved instrumental in a settlement involving the formation of a United Front of all Chinese factions to fight against the Japanese invaders. The peaceful solution of the Xian Incident was hailed as a great victory. Henry Luce, then the most powerful publisher in America and a friend to Meiling and Chiang, decided to put the couple on the cover of Time in 1938 as "Man and Wife of the Year." In a confidential memo, Luce wrote: "The most difficult problem in Sino-American publicity concerns the Song Family. They are … the head and front of a pro-American policy."
The United Front was thereafter formed and for a time it united the three Song sisters as well. Discarding their political differences, they worked together for Chinese liberation from Japan. The sisters made radio broadcasts to America to appeal for justice and support for China's anti-Japanese War. Qingling also headed the China Defense League, which raised funds and solicited support all over the world. Ailing was nominated chair of the Association of Friends for Wounded Soldiers.
Meiling now stepped forward for her long day in the sun. Of course, the Kung-Song businesses were supporting the Chiang regime in order to protect and enhance their financial interests, but it was Meiling who became the stalwart ambassador to the international community. Taking advantage of her personal beauty and fervent piety, as well as her American connections with the missionary-oriented Christian churches, she became Madame Chiang Kai-shek the diplomat. She cultivated especially good relations with the American news media. In this respect she was helped by the Time magazine organization founded by China-born Henry Luce whose zeal for the Chiang regime was exceeded only by that of his wife Clare Boothe Luce (whose own beauty, piety and articulateness matched Meiling's). All through the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, and well into the 1960s, Madame Chiang Kai-shek spread the gospel that the real war was the holy war being waged between Christ and Satan. The good democratic, Christian, and capitalistic Chinese were fighting first against the wicked Japanese from 1930 to 1945 and then against godless Communism after 1945.
The year 1942 saw Meiling's return to America for medical treatment. In February 1943, she was invited to address the American Congress; she spoke of brave Chinese resistance against Japan and appealed to America for further support:
When Japan thrust total war on China in 1937, military experts of every nation did not give China a ghost of a chance. But, when Japan failed to bring China cringing to her knees as she vaunted, the world took solace…. Let us not forget that during the first four and a half years of total aggression China has borne Japan's sadistic fury unaided and alone.
Her speech was repeatedly interrupted by applause. In March, her picture again appeared on the cover of Time as an international celebrity. She began a six-week itinerary from New York to Chicago and Los Angeles, giving speeches and attending banquets. The successful trip was arranged by Henry Luce as part of his fund-raising for United China Relief. Meiling's charm extended past Washington to the American people, and the news media popularized her in the United States and made her known throughout the world. Indeed, her success in America had a farreaching effect on American attitudes and policies toward China.
I sing a song of Soongs.
Soon afterward, Meiling accompanied Chiang to Cairo and attended the Cairo Conference, where territorial issues in Asia after the defeat of Japan were discussed. The Cairo summit marked both the apex of Meiling's political career and the beginning of the fall of Chiang's regime. Ailing and Meiling seemed to be standing on the wrong side of history. Although Chiang Kai-shek was on the winning side of World War II, and attended the Cairo Conference in 1943 to guarantee his Chinese government a permanent seat in the United Nations, Mao Zedong's Communist armies drove Chiang out of China in 1949, first to Tibet and then to permanent exile on the island of Taiwan. Even though the Chiangs would be able to keep Mao's government out of the United Nations for 20 more years, until the Nixon-Kissinger expeditions in 1969, they were unable to reverse the results of the revolution. The Communists who were all but exterminated in China in 1927 recovered to drive the Kungs and Songs out of China forever.
Corruption in Chiang's government had run so rampant that—despite a total sum of $3.5 billion American Lend-Lease supplies—Chiang's own soldiers starved to death on the streets of his wartime capital of Chongqing (Chungking). While China languished in poverty, the Songs kept millions of dollars in their own American accounts. In addition to the corruption, Chiang's government had lost the trust and support of the people. Meiling made a last attempt to save her husband's regime by flying to Washington in 1948 for more material support for Chiang in the civil war. Harry S. Truman's polite indifference, however, deeply disappointed her. Following this rebuff, she stayed with Ailing in New York City until after Chiang retreated to Taiwan with his Nationalist armies.
Ailing had fled China with her husband in 1947, taking most of her wealth with her; she never returned to China or even Taiwan. While in the States, she and her family worked for Chiang's regime by supporting the China Lobby and other public-relation activities. In 1967, H.H. Kung died. Though Ailing suffered from intermittent bouts with cancer from 1949 on, she endured until 1973 when she died in New York City on October 20, at age 83.
Because of their differing political beliefs, the three Song sisters took different roads in their efforts to work for China. Song Ailing, a.k.a. Madame Kung, embodied the American dream of one century and created the American nightmare of the next. She was formed to a great degree by well-meaning American Protestant Christians in the 19th century. They wanted to convert all China to the American Christian, capitalistic way of life. And as a pious, rich, and influential product of American culture, she played a crucial role in directing American foreign policy in the 20th century. This road led to three wars in Asia, initially to apparent victory but then to tragedy and ultimate disappointment. In the words of the most recent biographer of the Song Sisters, Ailing was "a woman of enormous financial accomplishment, … perhaps the wealthiest woman ever to put it all together with her own cunning, the broker of [Meiling]'s marriage to Chiang Kai-shek, the principal contriver of the Song family legend, and the true architect of the dynasty's rise to power."
Qingling had been isolated from the rest of her family when the Communists, led by Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, won her allegiance as Sun Yat-sen's widow as they destroyed the regime of Chiang Kai-shek and confiscated the Chinese property of the Kung and Song families. Qingling remained in China, leading the China Welfare League to establish new hospitals and provide relief for wartime orphans and famine refugees. When Chinese Communists established a united government in Beijing in 1949, Qingling was invited as a non-Communist to join the new government and was elected vice chair of the People's Republic of China. In 1951, she was awarded the Stalin International Peace Prize. While she was active in the international peace movement and Chinese state affairs in the 1950s, she never neglected her work with China Welfare and her lifelong devotion to assisting women and children. Qingling was one of the most respected women in China, who inspired many of her contemporaries as well as younger generations. She was made honorary president of the People's Republic of China in 1981 before she died. In accordance with her wishes, she was buried beside her parents in Shanghai.
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Liping Bu , Ph.D. in History, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and David R. Stevenson , formerly Associate Professor of History, University of Nebraska at Kearney, Nebraska