Throughout her 105-year life span, Soong Mei-ling never held elected office or any official government position. Yet few individuals exerted a bigger influence on 20th century Chinese history. As the wife of Chiang Kai-Shek, the man who ruled the Republic of China for nearly a half-century—first on the mainland and then in Taiwan—Soong served as a vital liaison between her country and the United States—a role she was uniquely suited for.
Born into a prosperous Shanghai family in 1898, Soong spent much of her childhood and early adulthood in the United States, where she attended boarding school in Georgia and later studied at Wellesley. Following her return to China, Soong eventually married Chiang, a military general who had assumed leadership Republic of China in 1927 following the death of the Republic's founder, Sun Yat-sen. Beautiful, Christian, and fluent in English, Madame Chiang compensated for a husband, who, despite great military prowess, was relatively provincial and unsophisticated.
Sino-American relations came to a head during the second World War, when the two sides fought together against Japan. Yet despite their common enemy, China and the United States were uneasy allies; China felt that the U.S. devoted insufficient resources to their cause, while in Washington the Roosevelt Administration distrusted the corrupt and ineffectual Chiang. During these years, Madame Chiang served as a translator and spokesman for her husband, whose tempestuous relationship with the American General Joseph Stilwell threatened the effectiveness of the alliance.