Mayling Soong, who became Madame Chiang Kai-Shek,
is the Wellesley Person of the Week.
One of the most influential women of the twentieth century, Mayling
Soong was born in March, 1897, in Shanghai. Her father Yaoju "Charlie"
Soong, was a Methodist minister and businessman, who spent some
15 years during the latter part of the 19th century in the United
States, where he earned a certificate in theology at Vanderbilt
University in Nashville, TN. Her mother, Kwei Twang Nyi, was a devout
Christian and strict disciplinarian.
fourth of six children, Soong came to the United States in 1908,
living near the campus of the Wesleyan College for Women, in Macon,
GA, where her sister was a student. She was tutored by Wesleyan
students, and attended school in Demorest, GA. She was an excellent
student, who picked up English, which she spoke with a Georgia accent,
In 1913, Mayling entered Wellesley College, where she majored in
English Literature and minored in philosophy. In her senior year,
she was named a Durant Scholar, Wellesley's highest academic distinction.
She was a member of the Tau
society and was a casual tennis player and swimmer
during her Wellesley years. She boarded with a Wellesley family
her first year, and lived in the Wood Cottage and Tower Court, on
campus, from her sophomore year through her senior year. She was
outgoing and popular, and according to a friend, "There always
seemed to be some nice Chinese boy or other on the doorstep of Wood."
her graduation from Wellesley College in 1917, she returned to China,
where she honed her fluency in spoken Chinese, and studied the classics
and literature of China. She did social work for the Y.W.C.A.
in Shanghai and was appointed to be a member of Shanghai's Child
in 1920. He was eleven years her elder, and a Buddhist.
Although he was already married, Chiang proposed marriage to Mayling,
much to the objection of Mayling's mother. He eventually won Mrs.
Soong's blessing for marriage to her daughter by providing proof
of his divorce, and after committing to convert to Christianity.
He told his future mother-in-law that he couldn't convert immediately,
because religion needed to be gradually absorbed, not swallowed
like a pill. He was baptised in 1929. A rising star in the Chinese
military, he became Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, the leader of
the Nationalist Party, and engaged in a struggle with communist
factions which would continue for the rest of his life.
Madame Chiang initiated China's New Life Movement in 1934, with
the goal of the "physical, eduacational and moral rebirth of
the Chinese nation", based on traditional Chinese values. In
1936, she assumed the role of Secretary General of the Chinese Commission
on Aeronautical Affairs. She said, " Of all of the inventions
that have helped to unify China, perhaps the airplane is the most
outstanding. Its ability to annihilate distance has been in direct
proportion to its achievements in assisting to annihilate suspicion
Madame Chiang Kai-shek was her husband's English translator, secretary,
advisor and an influential propogandist for the Nationalist cause.
She distinguished herself as a skilled negotiator during the "Xi'an
Incident". Following the refusal of Nationalist forces in Sian,
China, to engage communist forces in December, 1936, Chiang Kai-shek
went to Sian, where he was "arrested" by military subordinates.
Madame Chiang Kai-shek flew to Sian and successfully negotiated
the Generalissimo's release, on Christmas Day.
February, 1943, Madame Chiang became the first Chinese national,
and the second woman, to ever address a joint session of the U.S.
House and Senate, making the case for strong U.S. support of China
in its war with Japan. She came to Wellesley College the next month,
her first visit to her alma mater following her graduation in 1917.
In a nationally broadcast speech, Madame Chiang addressed assembled
students and faculty in Alumnae Hall.
In 1949, when communist forces gained control of China's major cities,
Chiang Kai-shek fled the mainland, and declared Taipei, Taiwan to
be the temporary capital of China, where he was elected president.
Madame Chiang continued to play a prominent international role.
She was the honorary chair of the American Bureau for Medical Aid
to China, a Patron of the International
Red Cross Committee
, honorary chair of the British United Aid
to China Fund, and First Honorary Member of the Bill of Rights Commemorative
Society. Through the late 1960's she was included among America's
10 most admired women.