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Soong Chingling

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Soong Ching Ling in 1920s [CSCLF]

Soong Ching Ling was a true lady with beauty, style, grace, and an undying love for her country. She was also a modern woman£­intensely intelligent and fierce, unafraid to speak her mind. Most notably, at a time of turmoil and political instability in China, she had a vision for a new China; she supported and campaigned for this vision her entire life.

The house on the northern banks of Houhai lake where she lived 18 years demonstrates her peaceful, ladylike qualities; but the exhibit about her life remembers her role as a crusader for new China.

The grounds of her residence once housed Prince Chun Tsai Feng, father of the Qing Dynasty's last emperor, Pu Yi. In 1949, he sold the residence to the government, and it was converted into a schoolyard. The country built a two-story villa on the property in 1961 especially for Soong Chingling, and she lived there from 1963 until her death in 1981.

Her villa, with a traditional Chinese exterior and an interior typical of western designs, reflects her international past; she was born and raised in China, but she attended Wesleyan Women's College in Macon, Georgia.

When she was not at various conferences and events as a political dignitary, she led a quiet life on the banks of Houhai. She received several friends at the residence, including journalist Edgar Snow and the wives of state leaders such as Zhou Enlai and Zhu De. Much of her free time was spent writing articles and prose, many of which were in English. Her skill at cooking Western cuisine was well-known among her foreign companions and she had a fondness for American classical music, which she played on the piano.

There were two office buildings behind her villa, and the workers there can attest to her hobbies, "They said they often heard the sound of the piano in their office. You know, there weren't many pianos in Beijing in the 1960s," Shen Bin, Director of Education at the Soong Chingling Residence, said.

The serenity of her home life near Houhai contrasts sharply with her campaign for China. Soong married Sun Yat-sen, in 1915. Despite that Sun was a close friend of Soong's father, her parents opposed the match due to Sun's age. Nonetheless, she would be perhaps his most ardent political supporter until his death ten years later.

The photo of their wedding in Japan shows the handsome couple posing together in clothing typical of an upper-class, Western-style couple. One of the museum's most interesting displays is an embroidered copy of the wedding photo given by a friend; a replica is on display while the original embroidery is in protected storage.

Unlike the gentrified image projected in their wedding photo, Sun and Soong's marriage was a more adventurous, perilous type because of Sun's revolutionary political career. For her wedding present, Sun presented Soong with a German Mauser pistol, a copy of which is also on display. "Sun told Soong there were 20 bullets in the pistol, among which 19 were for the enemies and the last for herself," Shen explained. "We can see that they were prepared to sacrifice themselves for China's revolution."

A pistol may not be the most romantic gift, but Soong launched herself into her revolutionary role. She faced more than her fair share of bullets, but her contributions were peaceful. When seven political leaders were arrested by Chiang Kai-shek's Nanjing government in 1936 (known as the Case of the Seven Gentlemen), Soong Chingling protested by asking to be jailed herself because they were all guilty of being patriotic.

She founded the China Defense League (now the China Welfare Institute), which collected donations from around the world to help Chinese affected by the country's turmoil. In the 1950s, she worked with Israel Epstein to establish China Reconstructs (now China Today), a monthly magazine currently published in six languages detailing the current affairs of China.

Over 400 pictures of her are on display in the museum, alongside replicas and some original personal items. Among the originals are a gold-embroidered blanket given by her mother as a wedding present; after Sun Yat-sen's death, she kept the handmade work under her bedsheet as a reminder of her husband. Another original is the car given to her by Joseph Stalin, which she used from the 1950s to the 1970s. A reproduction of the X-ray machine that she helped bring to China in 1939 adds a unique look at early applications of this technology.

The yard around the residence appears every bit the Qing-era garden it once was. Willows sweep over the banks of a pond, and traditional pavilions offer a haven from the sun. In addition, there are more than two dozen pigeons housed in the garden. In 2001, Mr. Lin Yun Ta, the President of Winner International Pigeon Supply (WIPS) and Mr. Fu Bai Song, General Manager of WIPS visited the museum. They were extremely impressed with Soong's lifelong contributions to China, so upon learning that she loved pigeons, they donated twelve pairs of pigeons to the residence.

While many were waging bloody battles for control over China, Soong Chingling looked for positive ways to advance society and build a new China. As Shen Bin noted, "She fought for her people and the country's happiness, peace, and development." And she did so with grace and style.