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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 230

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This is the grave of T.V. Soong.

Soong Tzu-Wen was born in 1894 in Shanghai to one of the China’s most elite families. Among his sisters were Soong Ching-Ling, who married Sun Yat-Sen, and Soong Mei-Ling, who married Chiang Kai-Shek and became possibly the most famous and well-respected Chinese person in the mid-20th century United States. Like the rest of his family, Soong went to college in the United States, graduating from Harvard in 1915. He then worked at the International Banking Corporation in New York while getting a graduate degree at Columbia. Of course, his mission was to be a leading Chinese capitalist and politician, not stay in the U.S. So he went home and became an industrialist. His brother in law Sun asked him to be in charge of the finances for his government shortly before the legendary Chinese leader died in 1925 and Chiang basically had him do the same thing after the success of his government in taking power in 1927. He was simultaneously Minister of Finance and governor of the Central Bank of China from 1928 to 1933, and stayed in the latter position for another year. But he wasn’t very happy with how Chiang ran the government, a problem that became increasingly obvious to people on the ground in China if not to Americans who supported Chiang in Washington. He felt Chiang’s appeasement of Japan was a disaster in the making and that China needed to stand up to Japanese aggression. Probably he was right; certainly Chaing’s policy didn’t help, although perhaps it bought China some time. In fact, Chiang was kidnapped by senior military officers in 1936 because he was focusing on killing communists than fighting the Japanese. Soong had to come rescue him. His own sister didn’t trust him and, afraid he would join the military officers and dump Chiang, she went too. In any case, many referred to him as the Alexander Hamilton of China for his work putting together capitalist institutions. Soong very much profited personally in all of this and lived a life of luxury.

Of course, the Japanese invasion of Manchuria and continued expansionism defined the 1930s for Chinese elites. In 1934, Soong and other leading Chinese bankers founded the China Development Finance Corporation, which served as the major conduit of foreign aid to China that people such as his sister were fundraising. In 1940, Chiang named Soong as his personal representative in Washington to win American support for the Chinese war against Japan. He was pretty successful at this and made many close alliances within the American government. He negotiated a $100 million loan in 1940 in exchange for promising that Chinese troops would use the money to pin down 1 million Japanese troops, a promise that was a bit on the optimistic side. He was a big supporter of Claire Chennault’s plan to firebomb Japanese cities with American planes painted to look Chinese, and this plan evidently nearly came to fruition before George Marshall put his foot down in November 1941. Of course, a month later, everything would change. After Pearl Harbor, Soong came back into the Chiang government, this time as Minister of Foreign Affairs, but he was told to stay in Washington to do the job, which was no doubt the correct move as Chinese foreign affairs at this time basically consisted of trying to get more aid from the Allies.

As the war finally ended, Soong headed the Chinese delegation for the founding of the United Nations and was president of the Executive Yuan from 1945-47. He also took over managing the relationship with the Soviet Union, obviously a problem giving the communist revolution in China at the time. He wanted Stalin to oppose the Chinese Communist Party (and despite decades of blinkered Americans thinking all communism was a plot from Moscow, in fact there were huge problems between Stalin and Mao) and the Sino-Soviet Treaty resulted, with the Soviets recognizing Chiang’s government in exchange for military concessions and a sort of truce on who would dominate Mongolia.

All of this came to naught when Mao and the Communists threw Chiang’s government out of office in 1949. It’s not as if Soong was a particularly honest man dedicated to redistributing resources to alleviate Chinese poverty. Rather, some speculated he was the richest man in the world while Chiang was in power. So the revolution was very much about this kind of inequality. Soong moved to New York to go into international finance and raise funds and support for a non-communist China. He continued in these tasks until his death in 1971 while in San Francisco. Very little information is helpful on his life in the U.S. Basically, he was a rich exile doing rich exile things.

T.V. Soong, as he was known in the United States, is buried in Ferncliff Cemetery, Hartsdale, New York. His wife Yo-Li Chang is also buried here, but I can’t find any useful information on her at all.

If you would like this series to visit more political exiles to the United States, you can donate to help cover the expenses here. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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