Soong May-ling, better known as Madame Chiang Kai-shek (1898–2003) was a First Lady of the Republic of China as the wife of President Chiang Kai-shek and she was played a prominent role in the politics of the Republic. She a painter, the youngest and the last surviving of the three Soong sisters, and the sister-in-law of Sun Yat-sen.
Soong May-ling met Chiang Kai-shek in 1920. He was eleven years older, already married, and a Buddhist; her parents only agreed to their marriage after he had shown them proof of his divorce and promised to convert to Christianity. They married in Shanghai in 1927; the marriage was childless but lasted forty-eight years.
As her husband rose to become Generalissimo and leader of the Kuomintang, Madame Chiang acted as his advisor and was his most loyal champion. During World War II she tried to promote the Chinese cause and build a legacy for her husband on par with Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin. During the war was lauded by the American media (especially Time Magazine) and in 1943 she became the first Chinese national, and second woman, to address both houses of the US Congress. But by 1947 when she tried to appeal for more US aid the charm had worn off and Truman kept her out of the White House; the greed and corruption of the Nationalists, and the Soong dynasty in particular, was on the public record.
After the defeat of her husband’s government in the Chinese Civil War in 1949, Madame Chiang followed her husband to Taiwan, while her sister Soong Ching-ling stayed on the mainland, siding with the communists. Madame Chiang continued to play a prominent international role. She was a Patron of the International Red Cross Committee, honorary chair of the British United Aid to China Fund, and First Honorary Member of the Bill of Rights Commemorative Society. Through the late 1960s she was included among America's 10 most admired women.
After the death of her husband in 1975 she emigrated from Taiwan to her family’s estate on Long Island, where she kept a portrait of her late husband in full military regalia in her living room. She died in her sleep in her Manhattan apartment in 2003, aged of about 105. She was buried in New York, with the stated intention that she and her husband should be reburied in mainland China once political differences are resolved.
After her death the New York Times admitted:
She seemed to many Americans to be the very symbol of the modern, educated, pro-American China they yearned to see emerge – even as many Chinese dismissed her as a corrupt, power-hungry symbol of the past they wanted to escape.