At about the point that Hu Jin-Tao was subtly making his House of Representatives case for Captain Cook being a Johnny come lately, news came through that the formidable Madame Chiang Kai-Shek had passed away. It was a timely interruption because I’d just started daydreaming about how things might have been had Bob Brown – rather than Gough – made that groundbreaking visit to Beijing back in 1971.
Given the inevitability of formal complaints about the amount of MSG in the state banquet, not to mention secondary smoke violation notifications relating to the Chinese leadership’s uniform nicotine addiction – “it’s just not the Australian way” – the relationship between Our Two Great Nations might have taken a very different course. But I digress….
My initial reaction to Madame Chiang’s death was surprise that it hadn’t already happened. She was 106 and I guess I’d just assumed that she was no longer with us.
Her husband, Chinese nationalist leader Chiang Kai-Shek had died in 1975, a quarter of a century after he’d fled to Taiwan following Mao’s final victory over the Kuomintang. She left Taiwan after Chiang’s death and lived on in the U.S. for nearly 30 years; her glory days – when she rivalled Eleanor Roosevelt for the role of world’s most influential political wife – long behind her.
In her day, she rocked. Born Soong Mei-Ling, one of her sisters married Sun Yat-Sen – China’s first President – and another married H.H. Kung an enormously influential banker. She married Chiang Kai-Shek and spent the 1930’s and 40’s as his charm-filled, propaganda right-arm, albeit that theirs was – from all acccounts – a tempestuous relationship.
She was also seen as manipulative, imperious and “vicious” as the NYT obit recounts.
It struck me that this less than flattering epitaph might also be applied to the two other internationally-renowned, Chinese female founts of influence over the last century or so – the Dowager Empress Cixi and Mao’s fourth (and surviving) wife, Jiang Qing – the dreaded “white-boned demon” and leader of the Gang of Four.
So, confining the question to an Asian context: why does India produce Indira Gandhi? Why do Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the Phillipines (and latterly, Indonesia) produce female leaders whilst China only seems to produce “flawed consorts?”
Just thought I’d ask.