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Madame Chiang Kai-shek of Taiwan Dies at 105

October 24, 2003|From Associated Press

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Madame Chiang Kai-shek, widow of the Nationalist Chinese president who used her charm and fluent English to become a driving force for nationalism in Taiwan, died Thursday in New York at age 105, the Foreign Ministry said.

Madame Chiang had been treated for cancer and other ailments, but no cause of death was immediately released. She lived in semiseclusion after her husband's death in 1975, spending most of the time in her Manhattan apartment or at her family's 36-acre estate in Lattingtown, an exclusive Long Island suburb 35 miles east of New York City.

Madame Chiang and Chiang Kai-shek were once one of the world's most famous couples. They married in 1927, a year after Chiang, also known as the Generalissimo, took over China's ruling Nationalist Party.

The Nationalists, or Kuomintang, overthrew China's last dynasty, the Qing, but their pledges to bring democracy to China and modernize the economy were frustrated by Japan's invasion prior to World War II and corruption within the government. After the war, the Nationalists lost a bloody civil war to Mao Tse-tung's Communists and retreated to Taiwan in 1949.

Though born in the East, Madame Chiang was thoroughly Western in thought and philosophy. Brought up in a Methodist family, she studied in America from age 10 to 19 and graduated with honors from Wellesley College in Massachusetts in 1917.

"The only thing Oriental about me is my face," she once said.

Her supporters said she was a powerful force for international friendship, understanding and good. But her detractors called her arrogant and a propagandist for her husband's corrupt and incompetent government.

She was born Soong Mei-ling in 1898, on the southern Chinese island of Hainan.

Her father, Charles Soong, was educated as a Christian missionary at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. Soong worked closely with Dr. Sun Yat-sen, leader of the Nationalist revolution that overthrew China's last emperor in 1911.

Madame Chiang was a working wife, taking on tasks ranging from interpreter and social worker to head of China's air force during World War II.

A full obituary will appear in Saturday's editions.

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