Madame Chiang Kai-shek was the fiery power behind her Nationalist husband, Gen. Chiang Kai-shek. Soong Mei-ling has lived in New York City since her husband's death in 1975.
In an uncharacteristic move, Madame Chiang released a statement just before Taiwan's presidential election March 18 in support of Lien Chan, the ruling Nationalist Party candidate. (Lien placed a distant third to President-elect Chen Shui-bian.) Chiang follows Taiwanese politics, though she rarely speaks out on them.
She was born in China in 1897. The daughter of a wealthy printer, Chiang was tutored in New Jersey and Georgia before joining her sisters at Wesleyan College in Georgia in 1908. She transferred to Wellesley College in Massachusetts in 1913.
In 1927 she wed Chiang Kai-shek and soon became the darling of the West. In 1937, Time named the couple "Man and Wife of the Year."
An eloquent speaker, Madame Chiang galvanized the United States Congress when she testified in 1943. The speech bolstered Allied support for her husband, then fighting the Japanese. After Japan's defeat, though, the general had to retreat from Mao Zedong's Communists. He and his army fled to Taiwan 1949.
Madame Chiang still paints in the traditional Chinese style. Ten of her paintings recently were on display at San Francisco's Asian Art Museum.
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