Friday, April 22, 2022

Chiang Kai-shek and Soong Mei-ling: The Couple Who Lost China

The Guomindang Party (GMD), led by China’s nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek, was the dominant political force in China till 1945. If Chiang had kept an eye on the political reality in China, if he had made an effort to listen to the concerns of the Chinese masses, and if he had not made the mistake of moving too close to America during the Second World War, he might have succeeded in wiping out Mao Zedong’s Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Chiang’s glamorous wife, Soong Mei-ling (Madame Chiang Kai-shek), had started playing an outsized political role during the Second World War. She accompanied her husband to international meetings—since she was fluent in English, she served as Chiang’s interpreter at the November 1943 meeting with Roosevelt and Churchill in Tehran. She was often photographed with American politicians, film stars, and vapid celebrities. 

In October 1942, President Roosevelt dispatched Wendell Willkie, who had unsuccessfully run for presidency on a Republican ticket in 1940, on a goodwill mission to China. According to widely believed rumors, Willkie was seduced by Chiang’s wife. At a formal meeting, Soong told Wilkie that she found him to be a “very disturbing influence”—a comment that left him visibly delighted. 

During a reception that evening, Willkie and Soong disappeared. According to one eyewitness, who was a part of the American contingent, Wilkie appeared at 4 AM, looking “very buoyant... cocky as a young college student after a successful night with a girl.” Two months later, Soong flew to the USA on a goodwill mission to raise economic and military support for China’s nationalists. 

While she was in America, she met the American president and other politicians. She hobnobbed with celebrities, and she addressed gatherings of up to 30,000. To tearful American audiences, she described how the Chinese had suffered during the Nanjing Massacre orchestrated by the Japanese. She was on the Time magazine cover in the March 1, 1943 edition—before this she had been featured twice on Time cover along with her husband, on October 26, 1931 and January 3, 1937.

The Americans were fascinated by Soong and they were behind Chiang's nationalist government. But a large section of China’s population had now come to despise Chiang and Soong. They saw Mao as their leader. By 1945, the CCP’s membership had swelled to 1.2 million and the PLA (which was then the military wing of the CCP) had more than 900,000 troops. Now Mao was in a position to mount a serious challenge against the nationalists.

The GMD still enjoyed a two to one superiority over the PLA, and they were armed with advanced American weapons and had access to America's diplomatic and intelligence support. But Mao had the backing of the Chinese masses and he was using revolutionary people’s war tactics which enabled his lightly armed communist forces to surround the cities from the outside and inflict catastrophic damage on the nationalist strongholds. 

By 1948, the tide of the political battle had turned. Large number of nationalist troops started to defect to the communist side. Chiang and Soong were totally discredited in China—they were being seen as the agents of American capitalism. One by one the Chinese cities fell to the communists and in 1949 Mao won the civil war. He established the PRC. Chiang and Soong fled to Taiwan along with several of their supporters.

No comments: