Chi­ang Kai-shek and Soong Mei-ling 1887–1975 / 1898–2003

BBC History Magazine - - Great Lives Of China -

The hus­band-wife part­ner­ship of Chi­ang Kai-shek and his wife Soong Mei-ling (Madame Chi­ang) achieved that rarest of feats among the peo­ple of China in the first half of the 20th cen­tury: they made waves on the world stage. In fact, the cou­ple, who dom­i­nated Chi­nese pol­i­tics for two decades, were among the most prom­i­nent non­west­ern­ers on the planet through­out the 1930s and 1940s.

Chi­ang Kai-shek rose to power in the 1920s as a fol­lower of Sun Yat-sen, the great Chi­nese rev­o­lu­tion­ary who had spent the fi­nal years of the 19th cen­tury plot­ting the over­throw of China’s Qing dy­nasty. Af­ter Sun died in 1925, Chi­ang took over the lead­er­ship of China’s Na­tion­al­ist (Kuom­intang) party through his deft – and of­ten vi­o­lent – com­mand of mil­i­tary force. He es­tab­lished a frag­ile new Chi­nese govern­ment in 1928, but only af­ter he had had his for­mer com­mu­nist al­lies mur­dered in vi­cious purges in Shang­hai and Guangzhou.

In the same year, Chi­ang mar­ried a woman whose ex­pe­ri­ence was far re­moved from his own. He was a prod­uct of ru­ral China; she was the daugh­ter of a prom­i­nent fam­ily with over­seas Chi­nese trad­ing con­nec­tions, ed­u­cated at Welles­ley Col­lege in Mas­sachusetts, and some­one who was teased that her English was bet­ter than her Chi­nese.

Their great­est test would come in the years 1937– 45, when Chi­ang Kai-shek led China’s war ef­fort against the Ja­panese. This was China’s phase of the Sec­ond World War, in which more than 10 mil­lion Chi­nese were killed and nearly 10 times as many be­came refugees. Dur­ing these years, Chi­ang be­came a global po­lit­i­cal heavy­weight, sit­ting along­side Franklin D Roo­sevelt and Win­ston Churchill at the Cairo Con­fer­ence in Novem­ber 1943, where the fu­ture of post­war Asia was de­bated.

By Chi­ang’s side was Soong Mei-ling (who, re­mark­ably, would live in three cen­turies), her hus­band’s in­ter­preter to the out­side world. Ear­lier in 1943, she had given speeches about China’s war ef­fort to the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and the Se­nate in Washington, only the sec­ond woman ever to ad­dress both houses of Congress.

Chi­ang’s regime did not last. Corrupted and weak­ened, it sur­vived un­til 1945 but was de­feated by Mao’s com­mu­nists in 1949. But dur­ing the war years, Chi­ang and Soong Mei-ling were more vis­i­ble than any other Asian politi­cians in the world.

Chi­ang Kai-shek and Soong Mei-ling, pic­tured on their wed­ding day in 1927. The pair were the face of China on the world stage for two tur­bu­lent decades

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