I would have been happy enough to simply enjoy the
Since I’m American, meters are as hazy a concept to me as my mental image of Soong Ching-ling but I walked in the direction the sign indicated for a few minutes only to find nothing, not even another sign. Brandishing my bilingual map, I approached a young woman and begged for help. She pointed me in another direction and off I went.
But then the path divided with no indication of which way I should go. The only sign was one that told me to “Behave in a good manner,” so I smiled as I asked a passerby which way I should go next. Her directions led me away from the park and to a road of menacing proportions that was at the end of the trail. Sign language from a kind beer-drinker in front of a small house indicated I should take my life in my hands, cross the traffic-laden street, and turn left, which seemed an appropriate direction.
Fortunately living in
The widow of Sun Yat-sen was provided with an estate that had once belonged to a prince and had housed the father of the Last Emperor. It was filled with trees and manmade hills and a stream and pools and had a feudal air to it, with its collection of houses, all of different sizes. It was a park within a park and the formality of it was quelling. I began to wonder if Soong Ching-ling might not have been happier living in a shack along the lane.
The houses that contained rooms of memorabilia did nothing to dispel that impression. They were filled with an assortment of photographs and documents that had been assembled by the
The gardens were dark and cool and much more alluring than the Russian way of presenting Soong Ching-ling’s life. I walked in quiet, marveled that a Communist would live surrounded by this sort of royal splendor, and wondered how Mao had spent his days—or Chou Enlai for that matter, since he was the one who had arranged this for Soong Ching-ling.
She had refused to live there at first and then finally accepted. I was curious about her life and then I found it—a true museum dedicated to her from childhood to death.
She was beautiful. Her father called her Rosamund and she used that name when she went off to college in the states. She was also fierce, and when the Republic of China replaced the
He was her father’s best friend and when she was denied a paternal blessing, she ran away with Dr. Sun Yat-sen. “It was not true love,” she said but it was deeper than that. They shared a cause and a belief in their country, which Soong Ching-ling refused to abandon long after her husband’s death.
His wedding gift to her was a very small pistol.
After Dr Sun’s death and the Japanese invasion of
She still had friends from her college years in the States. She could have used her family’s wealth and influence to live there; both of her sisters often did. She stayed in
The house that Chou Enlai provided as her refuge was big and comfortable, but not ornately luxurious, rather what a well-to-do merchant would live in, gloomy, multi-roomed, Victorian. She spent her time on the second-floor, in a large bed-sitting room with lots of windows and space. A long covered verandah behind it ran the length of the house and overlooked a beautifully manicured sweep of lawn and some truly glorious trees. A room nearby was outfitted as a little kitchen where she prepared her own food, the sign said, and a well-stocked library lay just beyond that.
She must have been comfortable. It’s unclear whether she was a prisoner. A letter that she wrote leaving her books to a young relative “should something untoward happen” hints that she felt she was in danger.
A photograph of her as she greeted Ho Chi Minh when he came to