Mem­o­ries of a No­ble Lady

Beijing (English) - - MEMORIES • CELEBRITIES - Trans­lated by Png Yu Fung, Edited by Mark Zuiderveld, Photos by Hu Shengli, Nozim Ka­lan­darov Mir­zo­e­vich ( Ta­jik­istan)

The area around Shicha­hai is a nos­tal­gic place of old Bei­jing, be it Shicha­hai lake or the old man­sions and her­itage in hu­tong, they're all en­graved with mem­o­ries of the past. Many for­mer res­i­dences of fa­mous peo­ple can be found in hu­tong, in­clud­ing that of Soong Ching-ling's.

Soong Ching-ling lived from 1893 to 1981. She was the life part­ner and com­radein-arms of China's great rev­o­lu­tion­ary, Sun Yat-sen (1866–1925). Hav­ing been in­volved in many lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional af­fairs, she was named a “gem of the na­tion” by Pre­mier Zhou En­lai (1898–1976) and “the most no­ble lady of the 20th cen­tury” by in­ter­na­tion­al­ists and jour­nal­ist Is­rael Ep­stein (1915–2005).

Soong lived in Bei­jing for more than 30 years, spend­ing 18 years re­sid­ing at 46 Houhai Beiyan, a his­tor­i­cal court­yard that wit­nessed the pros­per­ity and de­cline of the Qing Dy­nasty, and been through days of tur­moil and en­joyed times of peace.

In­side the For­mer Res­i­dence

Soong's for­mer res­i­dence is lo­cated on the north­west bank of Houhai Lake. In the early Qing Dy­nasty, this was the man­sion of the grand sec­re­tary which later be­came a prince's palace. In the late Qing Dy­nasty, this was the man­sion of the Guangxu Em­peror's father. Af­ter it was passed down to Zaifeng (Guangxu's brother), Puyi (1906–1967), China's last em­peror of China, was born here. The pavil­ions in the gar­den were built in the Ming and Qing dy­nas­ties. Fa­mous plants and flow­ers, rare stones and rock­eries are all full of his­tor­i­cal cul­ture and rep­re­sent palace gar­den cul­ture, rank­ing sec­ond to the Im­pe­rial Gar­dens.

In 1963, this place was re­built into Soong's res­i­dence. For eigh­teen years, Soong lived and worked in this man­sion, man­ag­ing state af­fairs for the Peo­ple's Repub­lic of China, in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions and world peace. Soong passed away on May 29, 1981 and her res­i­dence was opened to the pub­lic on May 29 the fol­low­ing year.

A quad­ran­gle court­yard is in the premises. The liv­ing room is lo­cated in front of the south wing, and the din­ing room known as Changjinzhai is be­hind the north wing. In front of Changjinzhai stands two old mid­get crabap­ple trees that con­tinue to grow.

The west wing room is skill­fully mod­elled af­ter an an­cient style two-floor de­sign where there is a small liv­ing and din­ing area be­low and Soong's bed­room and study is above. We can see Soong's desk with ba­sic sta­tioner­ies and a pair of glasses as we en­ter the room. A bell that Soong used to sum­mon her work­ers is placed above the ink box. In the mid­dle of the room is a small sofa, a tea ta­ble and two soft chairs, with Soong's bed placed against the west wall. When Soong was crit­i­cally ill, med­i­cal equip­ment was placed near her bed.

Un­der the win­dow, a sim­ple dresser which she had been us­ing for many years was worn out on both sides. When her work­ers ad­vised her to have it re­placed, she pointed to the mid­dle of the dresser and said, “Look, it can still be used.” Be­side the door is an old black Strauss pi­ano from her brother Soong Tse-ven. This is prob­a­bly the most lux­u­ri­ous pos­ses­sion in her res­i­dence. Soong would of­ten play the pi­ano be­hind closed doors, rem­i­nisc­ing about the happy times with her fam­ily in Shang­hai and care­free col­lege days.

A book­shelf placed against the wall in her study has a col­lec­tion of thou­sands of lo­cal and for­eign books. An English type­writer is placed on a small work desk op­po­site the book­shelf. Soong could fre­quently be heard typ­ing away while seated on a small round stool.

Even though Soong was al­ready 70 years old when she moved into this res­i­dence, she re­mained a very beau­ti­ful lady who looked mod­est, el­e­gant and re­fined. She paid at­ten­tion to her im­age as she had to at­tend many func­tions and events. How­ever, she was very thrifty in her daily life. She hardly bought any new clothes af­ter the 1950s but was al­ready ready to help out when her work­ers ran into fi­nan­cial prob­lems.

Pre­mier Zhou praised her as the “gem of the na­tion” on var­i­ous oc­ca­sions. In 1992, to com­mem­o­rate Soong's 100th birth­day, the “Gem Pavil­ion” was built on the west­ern hill in the gar­den. In 2001, on the 20th an­niver­sary of Soong's death, China Soong Ching Ling Foun­da­tion held a cer­e­mony to place a white mar­ble sculp­ture in front of the bam­boo grove east of the square.

Soong's for­mer res­i­dence has at­tracted nearly 6 mil­lion vis­i­tors ever since it opened to the pub­lic 30 years ago. In the res­i­dence's west wing were some cul­tural ob­jects and an ex­hi­bi­tion on Soong's life. The ex­hi­bi­tion has a dis­play ac­cord­ing to dif­fer­ent themes based on a time­line of her life. There was an ex­hi­bi­tion tour on Soong's life, which in­flu­enced many main­land prov­inces and re­gions in­clud­ing Tai­wan, Hong Kong, Ma­cau, and coun­tries like the U.S., Sin­ga­pore and Malaysia. The ex­hi­bi­tion tour served as a win­dow to Soong's ideals and spirit.

Life of a Rev­o­lu­tion­ary

Soong, a Wen­chang Hainanese, was born into a wealthy fam­ily in Shang­hai on Jan­uary 27, 1893. At that time, China was go­ing through tur­moil. The Qing govern­ment pur­sued poli­cies that were trai­tor­ous. There was no peace in the coun­try and the masses had no means to live. Mean­while, a group of pa­tri­otic rev­o­lu­tion­ists were get­ting ready to over­turn the Qing govern­ment in or­der to save their na­tion. Among these rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies, Sun Yat- sen stood out the most.

Sun Yat-sen was a fre­quent visi­tor to Soong's house in her early child­hood days. Soong's father, Char­lie Soong, stud­ied the­ol­ogy and worked in the U.S. when he was younger. Af­ter re­turn­ing, he worked as a pas­tor in Shang­hai and later be­came en­gaged in trade and com­merce. Dur­ing this pe­riod, he be­came ac­quainted with Sun and was in­flu­enced by his demo­cratic

rev­o­lu­tion­ary ideas. He also sym­pa­thised with the rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies.

He al­lowed his house to be used as a meet­ing place for rev­o­lu­tion­ists and his print­ing shop printed leaflets for incit­ing rev­o­lu­tion. Char­lie Soong was de­ter­mined to raise funds to help them over­throw the Qing govern­ment. Soong Ching-ling grew up un­der this in­flu­ence and ad­mired Sun, see­ing him as a role model.

In the sum­mer of 1907, the 14year old Soong went to the U.S. with her sis­ter for their stud­ies. She first stud­ied for­eign lan­guage in a pri­vate school and sub­se­quently en­rolled at Wes­leyan Col­lege. As a stu­dent, Soong was dili­gent and ea­ger to learn. Her in­tel­li­gence, cul­ti­va­tion and elo­quence left a deep im­pres­sion on her teach­ers and class­mates. Even though she was miles away, she stayed rooted to her home­land. Soong of­ten said to her class­mates: “I will never for­get my mother­land, for life would be mean­ing­less.”

Soong later be­came fa­mil­iar with the Xin­hai rev­o­lu­tion started by Sun Yat­sen and im­me­di­ately wrote an ar­ti­cle in her col­lege jour­nal to ex­press joy for her na­tion's up­com­ing change and road to free­dom and equal­ity. When her father sent her a new flag, she re­moved the dragon flag of the Qing Dy­nasty and re­placed with the new flag.

In the sum­mer of 1913, Soong grad­u­ated from col­lege. She con­sid­ered serv­ing the coun­try as an im­por­tant task of over­seas grad­u­ates. She once ex­pressed her view in a stu­dent pub­li­ca­tion in 1911 that “China faces a big prob­lem and is await­ing re­form by over­seas stu­dents.” This led her to re­turn to help serve the na­tion.

Dur­ing her stopover in Ja­pan, she vis­ited Sun Yat-sen's par­ents in ex­ile in Tokyo. At that time, Sun was work­ing on or­gan­i­sa­tional strengths af­ter he failed in the sec­ond rev­o­lu­tion and had to es­cape. Soong was touched by his tough spirit and vis­ited him seven times dur­ing her stay in Septem­ber to find out more about the rev­o­lu­tion and sit­u­a­tion.

In the spring of 1914, Soong's el­der sis­ter Eling Soong got mar­ried and Soong took over her job as Sun Yat-sen's sec­re­tary. Even though the fu­ture re­mained in ques­tion re­gard­ing their rev­o­lu­tion­ary cause, Soong de­voted her­self to the job. It was pa­tri­o­tism that made her want to sup­port the ex­iled Sun Yat-sen and she even­tu­ally mar­ried him in Oc­to­ber 1915, go­ing against her fam­ily's wishes.

Many years af­ter Sun's death, Soong men­tioned this to her good friend and jour­nal­ist Edgar Snow (1905–1972), “I mar­ried Sun out of ad­mi­ra­tion for his heroic deeds, not love. I sneaked out se­cretly to help him out of ro­mance. But this was all in good in­ten­tion be­cause I wanted to play my part in sav­ing China. Doc­tor Sun proved him­self ca­pa­ble and all I wanted to do was help.”

At the time, Soong took the ini­tia­tive to help Sun Yat-sen, then ex­iled in Tokyo. Soon, she re­ceived a let­ter from him re­quest­ing her to make a trip to Ja­pan. Soong's par­ents op­posed but Soong se­cretly left the house while her par­ents were rest­ing. “From the first day I got to know Doc­tor Sun, up un­til the day he passed away, I had al­ways been loyal to­wards him, and still am.”

In her ten years spent with Sun, Soong was Sun's com­pan­ion as well as com­rade-in-arms, as­sist­ing him in the col­la­tion of doc­u­ments, cor­re­spon­dence and sum­ming up of ex­pe­ri­ences.

She shut­tled be­tween Shang­hai and Guangzhou for the anti-yuan mis­sion. To op­pose the gov­er­nance of war­lords and for democ­racy, she ac­com­pa­nied Sun to in­spect the ar­tillery bat­tery. Soong led an un­sta­ble life, al­ways on the move for rev­o­lu­tion, but she re­mained still as she be­lieved in sac­ri­fice as a rev­o­lu­tion­ary.

In June 1922, Sun Yat-sen's of­fice was un­der siege and the sit­u­a­tion be­came more grave. Soong, who was gen­tle and frail, acted coura­geously and re­fused to evac­u­ate with Sun. She said to him, “China can do without me, but not without you.” Af­ter Sun had left, Soong dis­guised her­self as a vil­lage lady and left the of­fice un­der pro­tec­tion. It was not un­til a month later that she re­united with Sun.

Mem­o­ries of Bei­jing

Soong had been to Bei­jing (then known as Beip­ing) twice be­fore 1949. The first time was from De­cem­ber 31, 1924 to April 10, 1925 and the sec­ond time was from May 18 to 26, 1929. Her stay in Bei­jing was short but un­for­get­table.

In 1925, she first stayed at Bei­jing

Ho­tel with Sun Yat-sen and later moved into the res­i­dence of Gu Wei­jun ( V. K. Welling­ton Koo, 1888–1985) in Tieshizi Hu­tong where she worked day and night and ac­com­pa­nied Sun in his fi­nal days. In 1929, she ar­rived in Bei­jing again to at­tend a grand cer­e­mony, es­cort­ing Sun's cof­fin to the Sun Yat-sen Mau­soleum.

In 1949, when the new China was about to be es­tab­lished, Mao Ze­dong (1893–1976) and Zhou En­lai as­signed Deng Yingzhao (1904–1992) to send a hand­writ­ten let­ter to Shang­hai, invit­ing Soong to Bei­jing for a dis­cus­sion. Soong who had al­ways placed im­por­tance on state af­fairs, made her way to Bei­jing to at­tend a con­fer­ence of the Peo­ple's Govern­ment, and was cho­sen as the vice pres­i­dent of the cen­tral govern­ment.

Soong's first for­mal res­i­dence in Bei­jing was at 44 Fangjinx­i­ang, near Jian­guomen. Pre­vi­ously the res­i­dence of a Ja­panese mer­chant, Soong lived on the sec­ond floor while the liv­ing and din­ing rooms were on the first floor. She re­ceived many in­ter­na­tional guests and state lead­ers in her ten years of liv­ing there.

In cel­e­brat­ing ten years of build­ing the na­tion, Bei­jing be­gan con­struc­tion of a new train sta­tion near Fangjinx­i­ang in 1959. She had no choice but to leave for a new home.

Soong's sec­ond res­i­dence was at 18 Houhai xiyan. Once an aux­il­iary build­ing of Prince Gong's Man­sion, it was an an­cient ar­chi­tec­ture with red lac­quered door. Soong moved in on Na­tional Day in 1959. Since con­struc­tion was still on­go­ing, Soong gave the work­ers a treat in the hall, cel­e­brat­ing Na­tional Day with them.

Due to tight dead­lines for con­struc­tion work, the room was damp and the en­vi­ron­ment was un­suit­able as Soong suf­fered from rheuma­tism (rheuma­toid arthri­tis). In ad­di­tion, the house faced the icy Shicha­hai lake, and loud mu­sic of­ten awoke her. Pre­mier Zhou no­ticed these cir­cum­stances and the cen­tral govern­ment in­tended to choose an­other site to build a new res­i­dence for Soong.

Upon hear­ing the news, Soong wrote a let­ter to Wang Guang­mei (1921–2006), wife of Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Liu Shaoqi (1898–1969), ex­press­ing her views. She said, “We are in the stage of build­ing our na­tion, which re­quires fi­nances. Build­ing a new house would only in­crease our coun­try's ex­penses. This makes me uneasy and I don't in­tend to re­lo­cate.”

How­ever, the cen­tral govern­ment did not ac­cept her opin­ions in con­sid­er­a­tion of her sta­tus and health. Pre­mier Zhou per­son­ally chose her house at Houhai Beiyan, which was orig­i­nally the gar­den man­sion of Prince Chun, the father of China's last em­peror. Pre­mier Zhou over­saw the lo­ca­tion's plan­ning and re­con­struc­tion.

In April 1963, Soong moved into 46 Houhai Beiyan, with peace­ful sur­round­ings and beau­ti­ful land­scape. The newly built two-storey house that faces a grass lawn is linked to the gar­den. Soong's study and bed­room are on the sec­ond floor while her liv­ing room and din­ing room are be­low. The court­yard is em­bel­lished with an­cient trees, fresh flow­ers and pavil­ions. As a nos­tal­gic per­son, Soong brought a grape plant with her, a few pome­gran­ate trees and doves from her two pre­vi­ous res­i­dences.

A friend from the U. S. sent Soong a let­ter in 1966, ask­ing her if she was re­ally liv­ing in a palace. Soong replied, “This was once the man­sion of Prince Chun, where Pu Yi was born. A stream flows around the gar­den with many beau­ti­ful trees and the grass is green al­most year- round. In the gar­den lies a two­s­torey house. In the past, mem­bers of the im­pe­rial fam­ily would come here to lis­ten to the birds chirp­ing. I am in­deed en­joy­ing royal treat­ment here, but I'm not happy, be­cause many mer­i­to­ri­ous peo­ple are still liv­ing in hum­ble houses.” In fact, it was clear to every­one that this man­sion was noth­ing more than an af­fir­ma­tion and recog­ni­tion by the state and the peo­ple for Soong's mer­its and con­tri­bu­tions.

Soong spent nearly 20 years re­sid­ing in 46 Houhai Beiyan un­til she passed away on May 29, 1981. In this man­sion, she left be­hind her laugh­ter while chat­ting with lo­cal and for­eign friends, her melan­choly dur­ing trou­bled times, as well as her hopes and joys dur­ing a new so­cial­ist era.

The res­i­dence of Soong Ching-ling was orig­i­nally the gar­den of Prince Chun’s Man­sion.

Soong Ching-ling’s bed­room

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