January 29, 2014 00:00 By Kiyota Higa The Yomiuri Shimb
Taipei's five-star Grand Hotel pays tribute to Madame Chiang Kai-shek
Soong May-ling brilliantly coloured the history of 20th century East Asia as an “eternal first lady” possessed of both beauty and intellect.
Even 10 years after her death, Soong, who is widely known as Madame Chiang Kai-shek, remains etched in the consciousness of many Taiwanese.
Soong married Chiang Kai-shek, a military and political leader in the Chinese Nationalist party, in 1927. She is one of the three Soong sisters who lived out unusual destinies. Her second older sister, Soong Chian-ling, married Chinese revolutionary-turned politician Sun Yat-sen.
Passenger arriving at Taipei’s Songshan Airport, which serves flights from mainland China, South Korea and Japan, in Taipei, get a glimpse of a magnificent Chinese-style hotel before even leaving the plane.
The five-star Grand Hotel was established in 1952. The building, believed to have been constructed by Soong on her husband's instructions, has been visited by a large number of foreign dignitaries, including US President Dwight Eisenhower.
The hotel also served as a place for Soong to gain peace of mind.
Lee Chiang, 57, a veteran employee at the hotel, remembers Soong arriving at the hotel in a Cadillac to have her hair and nails done at a beauty parlour there.
When the leaders of the Chinese Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang, moved to Taiwan after their civil war loss to Mao Zedong's Communist Party, the only buildings deemed suitable for foreign guests were those that had been built during Japan’s rule over the island.
Lee Chien-rong, 54, chairman of the Grand Hotel, says there was a need to construct a building that had distinctive features peculiar to the Chinese people, to show the rest of the world the legitimacy of Taiwan, which calls itself the Republic of China.
Soong, a graduate of Wellesley College in the United States, had a good command of English and sometimes served as Chiang’s interpreter.
In 1943, she received thunderous applause during a speech she gave in English to a joint session of the US Congress about Kuomintang’s resolve to fight against Japan during World War II.
Soong’s beauty, which Chiang praised, saying it was “as if she were a fairy appeared from mist”, and her elegant behaviour and Chinese dress fascinated the US public.
Soong often visited the United States during the 1950s and 1960s to criticise China’s Communist regime, as well as promote her husband’s administration.
Under the Grand Hotel, there is an 85-metre-long escape route that leads to the outside.
The tunnel indicates the determination of Chiang’s regime not to allow the recurrence of such a crisis as the 1936 Xian Incident, in which Chiang was confined for a period of time by an allied commander, Zhang Xueliang.
Soong rushed to her confined husband, determined to release him. Later, Chiang praised her by saying she had put her head in the lion’s mouth by taking such a risk.
Soong is said to have loved power. However, Shao Ming-huang, an associate professor at the National Chengchi University, says Soong was eagerly engaged in charitable undertakings.
Genji Kaku, 57, who was a powerful pitcher for Japan's Chunichi Dragons professional baseball team, called Soong his benefactor, saying, “She gave me a chance to change my life”
Kaku, who was born to a farming family in Taiwan, went to the US as a member of a Little League baseball team which represented Taiwan, and the team won the pennant in the US meet. Kaku met with Soong at the Presidential Office Building in Taipei.
Kaku went on to study at a private middle school that Soong had established and received financial assistance from her to enter university.
When Kaku consulted Soong about whether he should be naturalised in Japan in 1989, Soong told him: “The most important thing is your state of mind. Don’t forget that even if you are naturalised as a Japanese, you are a Chinese.”
At a restaurant in the Grand Hotel, steamed cakes using adzuki beans, which Soong favoured so much that she had them sent by air to the US where she moved in her later years, are popular among visitors.
After Chiang died in 1975, Soong divided her time between Taiwan and the United States. She died in New York in 2003.