MADAM SOONG CHING LING, the wife of modern China’s founder Dr Sun Yat Sen, was a woman of charisma who served the underprivileged women and children of the country.
Her life spanned many momentous events in modern China’s development. As the daughter of a missionary Charlie Soong, Madam Soong was in the first batch of Chinese women to receive western education in the US, where she studied at the Wesleyan College in Georgia in the early 1900s.
After graduation and coming back to China in 1913, she worked as Dr Sun’s secretary. Soong married Dr Sun two years later and became his most devoted supporter.
What Soong had never expected was that she would later break with the Nationalists’ party, or Kuomintang, which had been established by her husband. She threw her support to the Communist Party of China after Dr Sun passed away in 1925. She denounced the Nationalists for deviating from Dr Sun’s belief to have suppressed the Communists in the country – which she believed was detrimental to national unity. Soong insisted on her husband’s belief on allying with Chinese Communists and fostering the interests of peasants and workers.
Since her split with the Nationalists in the late 1920s, she dedicated herself to supporting the country’s development of welfare for Chinese women and children. During the wartime period of the Japanese invasion, she supported the establishment of hospitals for wounded soldiers, wrote pamphlets urging resistance and raised funds to finance China’s war relief efforts. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, she launched numerous pioneering projects for the interests of Chinese women and children.
Visitors can take a glimpse of Soong’s historic artefacts in an exhibition at Hong Kong Central Library until October 14 – which has been organized by China Soong Ching Ling Foundation, Hong Kong Rosamond Foundation and Shanghai Soong Ching Ling Study Association.
ENHANCE WELFARE OF CHINESE WOMEN AND CHILDREN
When Japan launched an all-out war on China in 1937, Soong established the China Defence League, which drummed up support for China’s fight against Japan.
Soong renamed the China Defence League as the China Welfare Institute after the war and widely engaged in social services for women and children in China.
After the founding of the People’s Republic of China in October 1949, Soong proactively led the China Welfare Institute to enhance Chinese women’s well-being.
Soong established a maternity and child health hospital in Shanghai, and set up children’s art theatres, nurseries, kindergartens, children’s art playhouses.
She also launched a publication known as Children’s Epoch (兒童時代), which was the first magazine for children in the country.
During her lifetime, Soong held high-ranking positions in the government. In May 1981, Soong subsequently fulfilled her wish to become a member of the Communist Party of China and was honoured for her national contribution.
At the opening ceremony of the exhibition last month, Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu said that the SAR government has been dedicated to helping the young generation know more about their nation’s history.
Zheng Yanxiong, Director of the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in Hong Kong, said that Soong, with her spirit of unity, had made a national contribution and Hong Kong should embrace such a spirit to foster the city’s development.
Shen Beili, vice-chairwoman of China Soong Ching Ling Foundation, said that Soong had showed her profound love for the country and Chinese people throughout her life.
Professor Herman Hu Shao-ming, Founding President of Hong Kong Rosamond Foundation and a Hong Kong Deputy to the National People’s Congress, said Soong was one of the greatest women in the 20th century. As an international city, Hong Kong can serve the exemplary role of promoting Chinese culture to the rest of the world, Professor Hu added.
SOONG’S ARTEFACTS ON DISPLAY
In the exhibition, there are nine themes on Soong’s legendary life – from her studies in young age, her marriage with Sun, her dedication to anti-war relief efforts and support for Chinese women and children, to nurturing friendships with the international community and serving in leading posts in the country.
More than 500 artefacts and exhibits on display vividly tell the story of Soong and Dr Sun.
Among the exhibits is a written speech delivered by Soong in a fund-raising campaign staged in Hong Kong to aid orphans and war-affected children in 1939.
In the speech, Soong said that the China Defence League was driven by the need to serve war orphans whose parents had been killed in the war. Orphanages had been established by the League to take care of children whom it provided with medical care and nourishment.
Other exhibits include a qipao, also referred to as a cheongsam or a “Mandarin gown”, donated by Soong to a children’s art theatre as stage costume, along with a hard copy of Children’s Epoch magazine and a letter written by Soong to donate prize money of 100,000 Russian rubles for the welfare of Chinese women and children after clinching the International Stalin Peace Prize in 1950.
Other items on display are a cheongsam worn by Soong during the war against the Japanese invasion, as well as pair of glasses and a handkerchief she owned.
There is also a personal letter dated in 1952 from late former Chinese leader Mao Zedong to Soong, thanking her for a gift of a book titled The Struggle for New China – a collection of Soong’s speeches, articles and statements.
As one of the greatest women in China in the 20th century, Soong dedicated herself to enhancing the welfare of Chinese women and children as well as contributing to build a peaceful China. She was accorded with respect, deference and surely outlived her era.
Image at the top from H.C. Lu.