Madame Chiang Kai Shek Overview (01:58)
For nearly 50 years, the Chinese first lady played an important role in world affairs and guided her nation through war, famine, and revolutionary threats.
Emergency Diplomacy (01:52)
In 1943, China struggled to resist Japanese invasion and was on the brink of collapse. Madame Chiang traveled to America to request war aid; view footage of her addressing Congress.
Childhood and Adolescence (03:08)
Soong Mei-Ling was born in 1897 to a wealthy family with links to the West. Sent to the U.S. for her education, she attended Wellesley College, graduated with academic honors, and perfected her English.
Political Beginnings (02:08)
Mei-Ling returned to Shanghai in 1917 and grew bored as a socialite. She investigated working conditions and found hunger, poverty, and poor sanitation affecting most of society.
Chinese Political Vacuum (02:43)
The monarchy fell in 1912, perpetuating poverty and civil unrest. Chiang Kai Shek wanted to democratize China; when Sun Yat-Sen died in 1925, he courted Mei-Ling for her family connections to party leadership. They fell in love and he sent away his wife.
First Lady Role (03:03)
Mei-Ling and Chiang Kai Shek were married in 1927; two days later, he was named head of China's military. In 1928, he tried to unite China in Nanking. Madame Chiang defied convention and sought an active political career.
Civil War Threats (02:57)
Mao Tse-tung challenged the Nationalists. In 1931, Japan invaded Manchuria but Chiang Kai Shek believed China must be united to fight back. Madame Chiang's English and Western cultural knowledge helped with diplomatic relations; hear personal correspondence between the couple.
Japanese Invasion (03:50)
Madame Chiang was appointed to an official position. Dissenting generals took Chiang captive and she negotiated his release. In 1937, Japan attacked Nanking; Chiang needed military reinforcement and ceded territory to buy time and appeal for U.S. aid.
Sino-Japanese War (02:12)
Madame Chiang appealed to the American press and government during the Japanese invasion, but received little foreign aid.
Axis Threat (02:30)
The U.S. was reluctant to become involved in World War II. Madame Chiang urged Congress to cut supplies to Japan. Roosevelt implemented an embargo in 1940 and declared war on Japan in 1941, becoming united with Britain and China.
Marital Issues (02:01)
Chiang's army was deteriorating under corruption and disease; the Allies saw him as incompetent. Madame Chiang tried to improve U.S. relations but recognized her husband's flaws and began focusing on her own political career.
U.S. Tour and Alleged Affair (03:53)
In 1942, Republican candidate Wendell Willkie met Madame Chiang in Chongqing. She traveled across America soliciting aid to China, and offered to fund Willkie’s 1944 presidential campaign.
Congressional Speech (04:38)
As Japan overwhelmed China, Madame Chiang needed foreign military aid. In 1943, she visited Washington as a guest of the Roosevelts and became the first foreign woman to address Congress—winning approval and funds.
Humanitarian Crisis (02:19)
Madame's Chiang's marriage deteriorated and Chiang took a mistress. She lost international friends when Truman became president and Willkie died. Despite Japan’s surrender, China suffered famine and poverty and Chiang was criticized for corruption and neglect.
Chinese Civil War and Revolution (02:51)
Chinese communists launched an uprising with Soviet support. Madame Chiang traveled to America to appeal for aid to save the Nationalist movement. Truman refused and Chiang resigned in 1949, fleeing to Taiwan with his army and loyal citizens.
Reunited in Exile (02:51)
Madame Chiang joined her husband in Taiwan in 1950; view her goodbye speech to American reporters. She resumed her role as ambassador and persuaded the United Nations to recognize the Nationalist state.
Final Years (03:51)
Taiwan prospered under Chiang's rule; he and Madame Chiang became resigned to exile. Chiang died in 1975 and Madame Chiang moved to America, taking up Chinese painting and living to 105. Hear a summary of her political career.
Credits: Madame Chiang Kai Shek: Extraordinary Women (00:47)
Credits: Madame Chiang Kai Shek: Extraordinary Women
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