Chen Baokong: “The Three Sisters of Song” by Zhang Rong: a wonderful microcosm of modern Chinese history

The world-renowned Chinese-American author Zhang Rong has a new contribution. This time, she has created a biography of the three Soong sisters from a unique perspective. The English version is entitled BIG SISTER, LITTLE SISTER, RED SISTER, Three Women at the Heart of Twentieth-Century China, and the Chinese version is entitled SONG’S THREE SISTERS AND THEIR HUSBANDS: Three Legendary Women of the Twentieth Century, a History of Modern China in a Turbulent Century. The Three Sisters and Their Husbands: Three Legendary Women in the 20th Century, a History of Modern China, to be published in 2019 and 2020, respectively.

After writing about Mao Zedong and Cixi, Zhang Rong originally planned to write about Sun Yat-sen. But after examining the historical materials, she found Sun Yat-sen to be a tedious figure with only political ambitions and corrupt integrity, so she turned to write about the three Soong sisters. The husbands of the three sisters, including Kong Xiangxi, Sun Yat-sen, and Chiang Kai-shek, in turn became supporting characters in Zhang Rong’s writing. In fact, as a sensual and perceptive female writer, Zhang Rong could not be more appropriate to write about the three Soong sisters.

The three Soong sisters, Song Yiling, Song Qingling and Song Meiling, three Chinese women who reigned in modern history, became the richest wife, the “mother of the nation” and the first lady respectively, achieving a century of amazing legends. Books about them have been written all over the world, but like Zhang Rong, he excavates the hidden and little-known historical materials, writes objectively throughout, and tells a true, delicate and vivid story throughout, forming a fascinating masterpiece that is unique.

For a long time, the “characterization” of the three Soong sisters has been circulating in mainland China, and it is also the propaganda of the Chinese Communist Party: one loves money, one loves the country, and one loves power, referring to Song Yiling, Song Qingling, and Song Meiling respectively. In fact, it is a big misunderstanding to say that Song Qingling was patriotic in just one point. In Zhang Rong’s book, he cites a lot of historical information to show that Song Qingling became a fanatic Leninist believer and an agent of the Communist International, so where is the word “patriotic” in such extreme red beliefs? To put it nicely, all she believed in was internationalism and that the proletariat had no homeland, i.e., anti-patriotism.

In Zhang Rong’s writing, Sun Yat-sen, whom Song Qingling once admired, was never a qualified husband. In the perilous situation of Chen Jiongming’s shelling of the presidential palace in Guangzhou, Sun Yat-sen actually left his wife behind and escaped alone in panic, leaving Soong Ching-ling at the presidential palace with a guard of 50 men as a sacrificial lamb to cover Sun’s escape. After escaping to safety, Sun Yat-sen had no intention of rescuing Song Qingling, preferring to let her continue to be the bait and target, attracting artillery fire from Chen Jiongming’s forces.

After two days and nights of nightmarish escapes, Song was finally sent to Sun’s warship with the assistance of Lingnan University President Zhong Rongguang. Song Qingling was disappointed to the core with Sun Yat-sen. Later, she spoke to a reporter from the heart: “I did not fall in love with him, I was hero worship from a distance, the thoughts of a romantic girl ……”

This reminds the author of Liu Bang, the famous bad emperor in history. Once pursued by Xiang Yu’s army, in a critical situation, in order to reduce the load of the carriage, Liu Bang actually pushed his own pair of biological children off the carriage and escaped alone. Liu Bang later became the emperor, but he was cursed for a thousand years. The same should be said of Sun Yat-sen. This is a modern figure who introduced the Soviet Russia to the foreign invaders because of his personal power ambition, and was hailed as the so-called “Father of the Nation” by both the Communist Party and the Kuomintang.

In contrast, Chiang Kai-shek, who was accused of being a dictator, was a good husband. He loved Song Meiling with all his heart and was very romantic. He built a mountain in Nanjing into a necklace-shaped hilltop villa and gave it to Song Meiling as a birthday gift and a testimony of his love. This is the first historical information disclosed in Zhang Rong’s book. According to Zhang Rong, accordingly, Song Meiling, who had an American complex, played a softening role in Chiang Kai-shek’s martial law era.

The contrast between Sun and Chiang is not only that Sun was a bad husband and Chiang was a good husband; but also that Sun was pro-Russian and pro-communist and Chiang was anti-Russian and anti-communist. The counterparts of Soong Ching-ling and Soong Mei-ling, one hard, one soft. Soong Ching-ling worships the Soviet Union, and Soong Mei-ling loves America. Soong Ching-ling was frenzied in her early years and sullen in her later years because she experienced the horror of Mao’s Cultural Revolution; Soong Mei-ling was gentle in her early years and furious in her later years because she could not face up to the return of independent public opinion in Taiwan after Chiang Kai-shek’s death. In all these respects, Zhang Rong’s observations and descriptions of them and theirs can be considered precise.

Zhang Rong is a remarkable biographer and a brilliant writer, writing vividly, delicately and beautifully, overflowing with humanity and human feelings. For example, in writing about the three Soong sisters, in addition to exploring political, ideological and historical facts, Zhang Rong also devotes a lot of ink to describing the details of the three sisters’ lives, such as their costumes.

On her wedding day, Song Mei-ling’s wedding dress: a silver and white georgette with a lace veil and an orange-flowered headdress, blended her Chinese and Western backgrounds while eschewing the traditional Chinese white. Chiang Kai-shek’s diary records the image of his beloved wife on that day, full of ecstasy and deep love: “Seeing Yu Ai come out slowly, like clouds falling. The love that never existed in his life, in this time and appear, I do not know where I put it!”

The wedding dress of the eldest sister, Song Yiling, was embroidered with crimson flowers on pink satin, and then changed to a set of apple green gold thread embroidered birdcage style during the honeymoon. In Zhang Rong’s writing, the entire Song family, with the three sisters as the main line, is a history of modern and contemporary Chinese clothing: from the early twentieth-century Borealis-style cocoon fur coats, to the bell-shaped hats and knee-length skirts of the twenties, the fur collars of the thirties, the bright shoulder lines of the forties, the firm bust-line silhouettes of the fifties, to the mini skirts of the sixties. ……

All these lifelike and faithful records and vivid depictions not only show the flesh and blood, love and colorful and vivid lives of the three Song sisters, but also make the whole book more aesthetically appealing, ornamental and readable.

Zhang Rong’s The Three Sisters of Song and Their Husbands is divided into five parts: The Road to the Republic; The Three Sisters and Sun Yat-sen; The Three Sisters and Chiang Kai-shek; The Three Sisters in War; Three Women, Three Fates. Such combination and condensation, play-like complete presentation is a modern history of China, or even, a modern history of Sino-American relations. The only thing is that it is a special perspective on a special person: the three sisters of the Soong family, who shine in the history books.

The author attended the launch of Zhang Rong’s English-language book in New York on the eve of the Great Plague that struck the world, and the launch was enthusiastically received by the New York cultural community. Later, the Chinese version of the book was published in Taiwan, and many people, including the author, did not know about it or learned about it later because of the fight against the Great Plague. With this article, I would like to introduce it to the readers and share the joy of reading it.