The woman 'who loved her country' is venerated at a mausoleum

Soong Ching-ling goes down in history as one of the most famous women in China. She was a dedicated patriot with a special heart for the welfare of women and children.

“Once upon a time, in faraway China, there were three sisters —— one loved money, one loved power and one loved her country.” The opening words of the 1997 Hong Kong historical drama “The Soong Sisters” distilled the divergent paths of three women who loomed large in the history of early 20th century China.

The women were the daughters of US-educated Methodist minister Soong Yao-ru, also known as Charlie Soong, who made a fortune in banking and printings. Considered great beauties, the sisters all studied in the US before wedding men of power and importance.

The eldest, Soong Ai-ling, married H.H. Kung, China’s richest man and finance minister. The youngest, Soong Mei-ling married Chiang Kai-shek, leader of the Kuomintang. The middle sister, Soong Ching-ling, married Sun Yat-sen, father of modern China. She later broke with her family and became a Communist patriot.

Soong Ching-ling is sometimes called “the mother of modern China” and was bestowed with the title of honorary chairman of the People’s Republic of China just before her death in 1981.

She is buried in what was once the International Cemetery in southwestern Changning District. The cemetery has since become part of the Mausoleum of Soong Ching-ling, erected in 1984 to honor her undying devotion to patriotism, democracy, internationalism and communism. The site, which also includes a museum dedicated to her life, receives about 200,000 visitors a year.

Li Chuntao, director of the mausoleum's research office, said Soong chose to be buried here with her parents instead of at the Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum in Nanjing because she considered herself ordinary compared with her famous husband.

Soong Ching-ling was born into a Christian family in 1893. Her parents supported the revolution that led to the end of dynastic rule. She was studying in the US when she learned of the success of the 1911 revolution, which she hailed as "the greatest event of the 20th century."

In 1917, her husband Sun assumed the posts of generalissimo of the military and the first provisional president of the new Republic of China.

In 1921, Soong was part of a group that formed a committee to care for servicemen in support of Sun’s assault on warlords in the north. The next year, as head of the Chinese Red Cross, she accompanied her husband to Shaoguan to supervise the northern expedition.

Sun was 28 years older than Soong, and she shared his passions and ideals. Three months after his death in 1925, she was behind the establishment of the National Daily News in Shanghai, a publication that supported the May 30th Movement and massive worker strikes in Guangdong Province and Hong Kong.

"Most of us are familiar with Soong's contribution to the care and protection of women and children's rights, and to promoting the New China to the world after it was liberated,” Li said. “But before the liberation, she was worked hard in support of the Communist Party in its fight against Japan aggression.

During that war, she was a tireless patriot. There is a photo of her standing against a damaged wall in Shanghai three days after Japanese troops invaded the city. In it, she is holding an unexploded enemy bomb to symbolize the need for the public to rise up and repel the invaders.

Soong is credited with setting up the National Hospital for Wounded Soldiers in Shanghai at Jiao Tong University. She frequently visited the wards and fed wounded soldiers.

After the war, she turned her focus to social programs. She renamed the China Defense League, an organization she founded in Hong Kong in 1938, to the China Welfare Fund. It was later renamed the China Welfare Institute, which she chaired.

When conflict broke out between the Kuomintang and the Chinese Communists, Soong issued a series of public appeals, including calls for the US to stop providing military assistance to the Kuomintang.

"It is a question of the Chinese people, their unity, liberty and livelihood,” she wrote in a manuscript displaced in the mausoleum museum. “Human rights hang in the balance."

In 1949, Soong was invited by Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai to attend the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in Beijing. Two months later, Mao declared the founding of the People's Republic of China.

Soong and her China Welfare Institute actively participated in the construction of New China, with a special focus on women and children.

Describing children as "the treasures of the world," she threw her efforts into providing care for children suffering from the war and set up a series of children’s cultural welfare organizations. Children were encouraged to help their less fortunate peers.

"We have a child’s service badge from the No.1 Children's Welfare Center in our museum," said Li. "Poor children were taught to read and write by their peers at these centers. The idea of children caring for one another was new in China at the time.”

As to Soong herself, Li said she was a woman of personal charm and charisma, who developed friendships that lasted a lifetime.

Talitha A. Gerlach, an American YMCA worker, was among her close friends. She met Soong after joining here China Defense League. Using her position as a non-belligerent foreigner, she helped to get supplies, medical aid and money for the resistance.

When Gerlach returned to the US, she was persecuted as a communist and lost her job. In the depths of her despair, she received a telegram from Soong inviting her to return to China. She later recounted the story in a book lauding a friendship from the other side of the world. Gerlach was also buried in the International Cemetery.

Soong died of leukemia in Beijing in May 1981. Three days of mourning were declared, with the lowering of flags at Chinese embassies around the world. She was given a state funeral.

"During the Qingming Festival every year, many people come to visit Soong's tomb," said Li. "Children bring flowers to place in front of her white marble statue."

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