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Madame Chiang Kai-Shek Dies - 2003-10-24


Soong Mayling, widow of the late Taiwan leader Chiang Kai-shek, has died in her New York home at the age of 106.

Taiwan's Foreign Ministry relayed the news of Madame Chiang Kai-shek's death. The Nationalist Party lowered its flags to half staff at its Taipei headquarters.

Born Soong Mayling, the youngest of China's famous Soong sisters, Madame Chiang was raised and educated in the United States. She graduated with honors from Wellesley College in Massachusetts in 1917.

She gained the title "Madame Chiang" after she married China's ruling Nationalist Party leader, Chiang Kai-shek, in 1926.

She was famous for her grace and beauty, but academics say Madame Chiang is best remembered for her appeal to the U.S. Congress in 1943, requesting support against the occupying Japanese forces in China. "Like you, [we] want a better world," she said. "Not for ourselves alone, but for all mankind; and we must have it."

Ho Pui Yin, a history professor at Hong Kong's Chinese University, recalls that speech, in which Madame Chiang tried to convince Congress that fighting Japan during World War II was just as important as stopping Germany.

"Her role in the modern Chinese history, especially during the Sino-Japanese war was extremely important," said Ho Pui Yin. "Her speech in Congress was quite welcomed by the general audience, not only the political leaders. She [was able to] point out the major issues, the ambitions of the Japanese."

Professor Ho said many in Asia saw Madame Chiang as an inspirational figure, who broke away from the traditional woman's role. "Her role in the society and the country [was] - I can say avant guarde," she said. "Because her educational background and her social role in all these women's associations was quite attractive at that time, because it was a male-dominated society."

Her supporters called her a vehicle for cross-cultural understanding between East and West. Her critics, however, often characterized her as a manipulative force in what became a corrupt and incompetent government.

In 1949, Madame Chiang and her husband fled to Taiwan from China with the Nationalists, or Kuomintang, after losing a bloody civil war to Mao Zedong's Communist Party.

Unlike her elder sister Soong Ching-ling, who broke ties with the Nationalist Party to join China's Communist Party, Madame Chiang maintained her political ties to the Kuomintang and Taiwan long after her husband's death in 1975.

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