“We’d rather be Red than Dead”

At the height of the cold war for many Americans, the threat of a nuclear war was very real – you had the Hawks in Government (mostly making big bucks from America’s war factories) and the anti-war protesters – one of the slogans, in response to if we do not stop Communists they will take over our country.

“We’d rather be Red than Dead”

Now I have always been intrigued by the attitude of the Japanese towards direct threats by stronger nations from outside their country’s borders – I can’t remember all the details off hand – but more or less the East India Trading Company wish to set up in Japan and the Japanese were rather sceptical about the terms, so resisted – Britain protecting its interests sent a gunboat brisling with canon. The Japanese at that time had no defence against such weapons so capitulated. Then they did something I thought rather unexpected – they approached the only white man on the island, who happened to be Scottish, and asked him to show them what they needed to do to modernise.

“We’d rather be (savvy) than Dead”

In James Bradley’s book, we learn how an ill-informed, preludes and arrogant President Roosevelt looked upon the Chinese people. They were savages, unruly, and incapable of ruling themselves, what they required was re-educated to become Christian and Americanised. Much the same attitude that the new Americans had for the indigenous Native Americans whose land they settled.

Charles (Charlie) Soong had sailed to America to find work as a labourer, he chose the East coast rather than the West coast – for in the west Chinese, men women and children were being murdered – ethnic cleansing. Charlie ended up in the protection of the Southern Methodist Church in Carolina, they wanted Charles to be their man in China reforming the heathens to Christianity. He was educated at the best universities in America and sent back to his homeland as a baptised Christian to preach the good news to the people of China.

Charles, already knew that the people of China had no wish to be Christian or Americanised but he has seen the collection plates in the churches in Carolina filling up with coins and dollar bills for him to carry on their mission in China, (he had returned home with 2 million dollars, start-up fund).

The missionaries in China had little understanding of China since they lived mostly in western areas separated from the real folks of China. Soong used this to his advantage and strung them along, whilst the missionaries sent glowing reports home to America.

When Soong was in America he could not help noticing that everyone carried a bible to Church, they were issued to schools and even found in doctors waiting rooms. He suggested to the church that he could print and supply them with bibles and church books and material at a fraction of the cost and built up a large printing house in China supplying to the US, making him a very rich man.

Charlie married well in 1897 and the marriage produced three daughters (Ailing, Chigling, and Mayling) and a son (Tse-ven called T.V.) – all were sent to America to be educated, at universities of Harvard, Wellesley, and Georgia’s Wesleyan College. Like their father, they quickly realised that America did not accept them as Chinese but as Americanised Chinese Christians. The eldest daughter Ailing was a smart cookie, she was never interested in power but the money that power would bring her – she became the puppet master of the family.

Ailing Soong inherited her father’s drive. She journeyed to America, alone at the age of 14 years and graduated from Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia, in 1911, before returning to China as Dr Sun’s personal assistant.

By 1911 the Manchu dynasty was on its last legs, its emperor only five years old. Numerous uprisings – some of which Sun Yat-sen led or participated in. on January 1, 1912, Sun was elected resident of what was now the Republic of China, but he did not have control of this unruly country, and in 1913 Sun and Charlie Soong packed up their families, boarded a ship in the dark of night and fled to Japan.

In 1914 the 26-year-old Ailing extracted herself from the sexual advances of her 48-year-old boss and married H. H. Kung, a Chinese Christian also in Japan who was reputedly China’s richest banker and a lineal descendent of Confucius.   

In 1918 on the death of her father Ailing gained the reins of Soong’s empire. The Wesleyan-educated Ailing, her husband H.H. Kung and her Harvard-educated little brother T.V. raised funds for the Nationalist Party (the party was very up and down sometimes having to flee into exile.)

At the end of the First World War President Woodrow Wilson entered the Paris peace talks preaching “self-determination” as a salve for a ravaged world – Wilson sold out the Chinese people – when the news hit the streets of China – the people reacted in protest. Communist Russia sent agents who soon established warm contacts with important Chinese intellectuals and political figures. Two decades of America’s efforts to Christianise and Americanise the Chinese people had been swept aside – almost overnight.  

The Nationalists were the rising star under Chiang Kai-shek, he had trained as a soldier in Japan and his idea of revolution was for the army to take over and control the country. He believed China could only be controlled under one leader (dictatorship).

The other side of the equation was Mao Zedong (Communist Party) he was a bit of a romantic and loved the idea and the romance of Old China, a cultural revolution.

The bulk of the people of China at the time lived in small villages scattered across the country. They were farmers, living in mud huts, with no electricity or sewers. Half the people died before the age of thirty. Landlords held sway, owning the vast majority of the land, and the farmers often paid them more than 50 per cent of their crops in confiscatory taxes.

By 1925 Mao was already talking about organising a peasant revolt. Peasants scattered across the country in small numbers could not be easily brought together and participate in the revolutionary movement.

Sun Yat-sen died in 1925 setting off a chain of events. Chiang Kai-shek was allied with the urban, Western-oriented moneyed classes and the banker of landlords who feasted on the situation as it stood, the opposite of Mao Zedong’s thinking, taking from the rich to give to the poor (90 per cent of the Chinese population).

Ailing steps up to the plate, she was a woman with a mind that forgot nothing and forgave little, a forceful woman that had she been male would have ruled China.

In July 1926 the Russian-funded Chinese United Front forces and Mao’s Communist followers launched the Northern Expedition of military effort involving a hundred thousand troops and were designed to break out of southeastern China, bet back various warlords, conquer central China and gain control of the vital Yangtze River.

Ailing Soong was alarmed by Mao’s peasant uprising and workers’ strikes. Ailing took a Bank of China steamer upriver to the city of Jiujiang, Chiang Kai-shek’s temporary headquarters on the Yangtze, and invited him aboard for a man-to-man talk. Ailing had taken control from the start by making the Generalissimo come to her. After hours of negotiation, she proposed an alliance between the powerful Soong Empire and the ambitious Chiang.

Ailing made three demands, which would later have a dramatic impact on the U.S. – China relations. Each demand concerned her family. Ailing told Chiang to appoint her husband H.H. Kung, as prime minister, for financial control. That her little brother T.V. would serve as Chiang’s finance minister. Third, that was both political and personal, Ailing possessed something priceless through her father’s support of, and Chingling’s being a widow of, Sun Yat-sen: around the Soong family hovered the aura of the fabled Mandate of Heaven. Ailing offered Chiang an unimaginable prize: marriage to the Soong clan and a stake in the Mandate.

Ailing had earlier told younger sister Mayling that she would offer Mayling’s hand in marriage to Chiang Kai-shek, 29 years her senior. Mayling was indeed a catch, cultured, rich Chinese Southern Methodist. She had spent a decade of her young life living and studying in New Jersey, Georgia, Tennessee and Massachusetts, learning to speak perfect American-style English. In 1917 when only 21 years old Mayling graduated from Wellesley College with a major in English literature and a minor in philosophy, she had lived half her life in the U.S. Mayling was later heard to say

“The only thing Chinese about me is my face”      

Ailing proposed a Soong-Chiang syndicate with her relatives in the Generalissimo’s bedroom, office and pocket. Ailing dismissed Chiang after making her proposal, saying she would await his answer, Chiang could not get home quickly enough to pack his wife off to exile in America and marry into the Soong dynasty.

In April 1929 Chiang moved to oust Sun Yat-sen’s Russian advisers and the United Front, eliminate Mao, and crush the peasant and labour union uprisings.

In one of history’s bloodiest betrayals, forces loyal to Chiang massacred between twenty thousand and thirty thousand presumed Communists in Shanghai alone. Generalissimo’s slaughter in the countryside was far-ranging taking hundreds of thousands of lives, yet it was little reported in America. Chiang had turned his Soviet-funded and trained armies against those who had been his Communist allies. Chiang’s forces were small in comparison with the Chinese population but were regionally strong enough to force Mao and his comrades away from China’s east coast.   

I just love this stuff, don’t you?

Off for coffee and a scone with my two ‘girl friends’ life, does not get much better than this.   

Stay safe.


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