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Madame Chiang Kai-Shek Dies in NYC at 105

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) - Madame Chiang Kai-shek, the widow of the
Nationalist Chinese president who used her charm and fluent English
to lobby Washington and become a driving force in Taiwan's
Nationalist government, died Thursday in New York. She was 105.

She died in the evening at her apartment in Manhattan, according
to Andrew Hsia, director-general of the Taipei Economic and
Cultural Office in New York. Her niece, her niece's husband and a
great-grandson were with her at the time, he said.

The cause of death was not immediately available, according to
Taiwan's Foreign Ministry spokesman Richard Shih.

Madame Chiang had been treated for cancer and other ailments.
She lived in semi-seclusion 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 one of the world's most
famous couples. They married in 1926, a year after Mr. Chiang, also
known as the Generalismo, 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 during
World War II and corruption within the government. After the war,
the Nationalists lost a bloody civil war to Mao Tse-tung's
Communist Party 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 the age of 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
an arrogant dragonlady and 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 family's background could stand as a brief
history of modern China as seen through revolution, efforts to
unify and modernize and the split between the communist People's
Republic of China and the Nationalists Republic of China.

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.

Education was important to Soong, and Madame Chiang and her two
sisters were among the first Chinese women educated in the West at
a time when foreign education was considered important only for sons.

A scholar at heart, Madame Chiang once said her idea of
happiness would be a life of uninterrupted reading, studying and
writing.

Madame Chiang met her husband, a disciple of Sun Yat-sen, around
1920 and married him Dec. 1, 1927. She later converted him to
Methodism, but their marriage was often stormy, in part because of
Chiang's infidelities.

Madame Chiang's sisters also married prominent Chinese figures
and all three of her brothers held high posts in the Nationalist
regime.

Ching-ling, the second of six Soong children, married Sun
Yat-sen, the father of modern China. She broke with the family's
Nationalist ideology and sided with the Communists after her
husband's death in 1925.

She eventually was appointed to a high-ranking position in the
Communist government in Beijing, one roughly equivalent to vice
president. Madame Sun died in 1981.

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, an ironic twist of fate since she suffered greatly
from air sickness.

She also was one of her husband's most prominent lobbyists in
Washington. The Generalismo could not speak English and disliked
dealing with foreigners, so his wife became his spokesman for the
outside world, creating an image of an attractive, young couple
trying to steer China out of war.

As the Generalismo's health deteriorated, control of the
Nationalist government eventually passed in 1972 to one of his two
sons by a previous marriage, Chiang Ching-kuo. Madame Chiang and
her husband had no children of their own, and she had long been on
bad terms with Chiang Ching-kuo.

After her husband's death in 1975, Madame Chiang moved to the
United States, staying in the stucco Long Island mansion where a
large portrait of her late husband decked in full-military regalia
hung in the living room. She moved out of the house in 1998 and
spent most of her time in her Manhattan apartment.

When President Jimmy Carter announced in 1978 that the United
States was breaking off diplomatic relations with Taiwan and
establishing formal ties with the People's Republic of China,
Madame Chiang remained in seclusion and did not comment.

The Nationalists eventually gave up the goal of ``retaking the
mainland,'' and the party's ranks began to fill with native
Taiwanese as the influence of the mainlanders who retreated with
Chiang Kai-shek faded away.

In March 2000, the party lost its five-decade control of
Taiwan's presidency. Madame Chiang endorsed Nationalist candidate
Lien Chan, but few voters paid serious attention to her and Lien
was battered at the polls - an example of her fading influence.

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