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Last Updated: Friday, 24 October, 2003, 11:04 GMT 12:04 UK
Chiang Kai-shek's widow dies
Chiang Kai-shek and his wife, Soong May-ling, are photographed in the garden of their home at Nanchang
Madame Chiang's fiery charm won her husband the US' backing
Madame Chiang Kai-shek, one of the most influential women in the recent history of China and Taiwan, has died at her New York home, aged 105.

The widow of China's Nationalist leader, who then fled to Taiwan in 1949, she had been receiving treatment for cancer and other ailments.

The couple was once one of the world's most famous, having married in 1927, after Chiang took over China's ruling Nationalist party.

The only thing Oriental about me is my face.
Madame Chiang Kai-shek

Her husband spoke no English and Madame Chiang quickly became his government's spokesperson, especially after the Japanese invasion of China and the outbreak of World War II.

In one of her most famous international appearances, she brought the US Congress to its feet in 1943 with an impassioned plea for assistance against the Japanese.

She told its members: "I know your people. I have lived with them. I spent the formative years of my life amongst your people. I speak your language, not only the language of your hearts, but also your tongue."

Madame Chiang, who was brought up as a Christian, had studied in the US in her youth.

She once said "the only thing Oriental about me is my face."

Nationalist

Madame Chiang was born Soong May-ling on China's southern Hainan island in 1898.

Her family background illustrates the changes and opposing ideals which split China during the 20th century.

Her father, Charles Soong, was educated in the US, and both she and her two sisters received a western education, unusual for Chinese women at the time.

MADAME CHIANG KAI-SHEK
Born 1898
Married Chiang 1927
Fled to Taiwan 1949
Moved to US 1975
Died 2003

Her sister, Ching-ling, married Sun Yat-sen, seen as the father of modern China.

Madame Sun, as Ching-ling was known, broke with the family's Nationalist heritage and sided with the Communists after her husband's death.

She died in 1981, having become a high ranking member of the Communist government on the mainland.

Madame Chiang met her own husband, a follower of Sun Yat-sen, in the early 1920s.

Their marriage was often stormy, in part because of Chiang's infidelities, and they had no children.

After the war against Japan, the nationalists became increasingly unpopular because of corruption and repression, as they failed to deliver on their stated goals of democracy and economic modernisation.

In 1949 Chiang's forces lost the civil war to Mao Zedong's Communists, and Madame Chiang fled with her husband to the island of Taiwan.

Her supporters admired her as a force for international friendship and understanding.

But her detractors viewed her as an arrogant "dragon lady", entrenched in what they regarded as a corrupt regime.

Madame Chiang remained a powerful figure in Taiwan until the early 1970s, when her husband's health began to deteriorate.

When his son by a previous marriage, Chiang-Ching-kuo, took over as leader, Madame Chiang's influence waned.

Her husband died in 1975 and she moved to the US where she lived a life of relative seclusion.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Francis Markus
"She was the bride of a political strong man"



SEE ALSO:
Taiwan divided over Chiang's memory
11 Mar 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Taiwan's identity crisis
17 May 02  |  Asia-Pacific
Taiwan firms get China opening
11 May 02  |  Asia-Pacific
China attacks Taiwan's 'warrior'
01 May 02  |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: Taiwan
21 Mar 02  |  Country profiles


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