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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 184

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This is the grave of Soong Mei-Ling, better known as Madame Chiang Kai-Shek.

Born in 1898 in Shanghai to one of the most powerful and wealthy families in China, Soong lived in the United States as early as 1907, when her father sent her to school in New Jersey. She attended a variety of U.S. colleges, eventually graduating from Wesleyan in 1917. She was fluent in English, but because she had spent a lot of time in Georgia with her sisters who attended Methodist colleges there, she actually spoke it with a pronounced southern accent. In 1927, she married Chiang Kai-Shek. They were partners in the ruling of China over the next 22 years. She served in the Yuan from 1930-32, and became a member of the Central Executive Committee of the Kuomintang in 1945.

She was his ambassador to western nations due to her fluent English and spent parts of World War II in the United States, promoting the Chinese cause. This made her and her husband very popular among the U.S. elite classes, who constantly talked of them in the press as critical U.S. allies. Time promoted her more than anyone thanks to her friendship with Henry and Claire Booth Luce and she appeared on three Time covers. She addressed both houses of Congress in 1943, the first Chinese citizen to do so. When Mao and the communists defeated Chiang’s forces in 1949, she fled to Taiwan with him and continued in her role as international celebrity, albeit in exile. It was also her possibility that fed the “Who lost China?” narrative that excoriated Democrats for “losing China,” completely ignoring the well-established fact that Chiang was a corrupt dictator who did not the support of the Chinese people. They were both getting incredibly wealthy stealing money from government coffers before their defeat. Eleanor Roosevelt found her disgusting. At a White House dinner, someone asked her what she would do if coal miners were striking, as they were in 1943 when FDR nationalized the mines to undermine John L. Lewis’ attempt to strike during the war. She ran her finger across her neck in a symbol that she would have Lewis killed. Eleanor Roosevelt later said, “She can talk beautifully about democracy. But she does not know how to live democracy.”

Chiang Kai-Shek died in 1975 and she moved permanently to the U.S. after that, settling on her estate in New York and her summer home in New Hampshire. She moved back to Taiwan briefly in 1988 to contest for power over the island, even though she was 90 years ago. When she failed to block Lee Teng-Hui from taking power, she returned to the U.S.

Madame Chiang died in 2003 at the age of 105. Although Chiang Kai-Shek is buried in Taiwan, she is buried at Ferncliff Cemetery, Hartsdale, New York. But upon the defeat of the communists and the reunification of China under non-communist rulers, both are to be reburied on the mainland. That should happen soon…..

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