Tuesday, November 17, 2009

First Missionary & The Last Empress

"What is the link between Robert Morrison and Soong Mi Ling (better known as Madame Chiang Kai-shek)" was the question I posed to fellow Morrisonians last year.

It was very interesting to see that a new book has just been published about Madame Chiang Kai-shek, The Last Empress by Hannah Pakula.

The Last Empress/Simon & Schuster

The link to Morrison was that of Madame Chiang’s father, Charlie Soong.

To understand Charlie Soong we need to look at some culturally-bound practices that may seem so strange and perhaps even "wrong” nowadays.

One such practise is “internal adoption”: that of allowing a brother to adopt one of your sons. In traditional Chinese families, a male heir is important and such practice is fairly common.

Charlie Soong was born as Han Jiaozhun (韓教準) in Hainan as the third son of Han Hongyi (韓鴻翼) some time between 1863 and 1866 and was adopted by a sonless uncle and was taken to Boston to work in his tea shop. He was not happy and soon slipped away onto a Coast Guard’s ship on the Eastern Seaboard.

The rest of his story is quite unbelievable and The Wesleyan Magazine has a reasonably easy to read summary. He converted to Christianity and was given a full western education before being sent back to China.

Eventually he made his fortune in printing the Chinese Bible, the link with Robert Morrison who was the first Protestant Missionary to China. Morrison was responsible for translating the bible into Chinese amongst his many other achievements.

It was because of the money he made from his printing press that he could send his three daughters to be educated at the Wesleyan College. They became the three most famous women in modern Chinese history. They were known as the Soong Sisters: "one loved money, one loved China, and one loved power" and they became the subject of a film. One of the sisters married a banker, one the founding father of China, Dr. Sun Yat Sun and one married Chiang Kai-shek who led the exiled nationalist government in Taiwan until his death.

The whole story might have been quite different without "the family adoption" as Charlie Soong would probably be farming or fishing in Hainan and never received his Western education. Real life is often stranger than fiction.

The Last Empress, Soong Mei-ling: born Shanghai, China 20 March 1897; married Chiang Kai-shek in 1927; died New York 23 October 2003.

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