The Last Empress: Madame Chiang Kai-shek and the Birth of Modern China

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by Hannah Pakula

What an eye-opener this book was to me! I had read about the famous Soong sisters of China before. Each married important and famous men who impacted world history. All three of the sisters were educated in the United States and Madame Chiang Kai-shek, or May-ling Soong, graduated form Wellesley in 1917 with a degree in English literature. She spoke perfect English with a southern accent as she had attended schools in Macon Georgia prior to entering college.

The Soong sisters: Ching-ling, AI-ling and May-ling

The Soong sisters: Ching-ling, AI-ling and May-ling

The child of devout Christians, her mother at first strongly opposed May-ling’s marriage to Chiang Kai-shek as he was a Buddhist and already married. Finally, May-ling married Chiang Kaishek in 1927.He went on to rule Nationalist China, fighting simultaneously witthe Japanese and the Communist insurgents.

Wedding to Chiang Kai Shek, 1927

Wedding to Chiang Kai Shek, 1927

Reading about the Japanese surrender, 1945

Reading about the Japanese surrender, 1945

During that time, May-ling, known as Madame Chiang Kai Shek in the West, played an enormous role in procuring aid and loans from America. She was charming as well as intelligent and won support for her husband’s regime. It seems she had some special sex appeal that never failed to charm men, whether heads of state or generals.

With some important men at the Cairo Conference (Roosevelt and Churchill at center)

With some important men at the Cairo Conference 1943
(Roosevelt and Churchill at center)

Madame never had children, but devoted herself to politics and to furthering her husband’s career. Loved by many as she cared for war orphans and worked to gain support for her husband’s struggle against Communism, she has also been reviled for her wasteful expenditures on furs and jewelry while her people were starving. You have to read the book and judge for yourself which picture is accurate.

With Eleanor Roosevelt

With Eleanor Roosevelt

May-ling Soong was an amazing and powerful woman with her own agenda. She influenced world opinion about China and was close to many rulers and celebrities. She is fascinating to read about and Hannah Pakula kept the narrative moving along at an brisk pace. If you love biographies of unusual women, I definitely recommend this one!

Madame at 100, in 1997

Madame at 100, in 1997

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