The Soong Dynasty by Sterling Seagrave is an eye opener indeed. How bad can a leader, or supposed leader, of a country be? Marcos was bad enough I came to understand on reading about his ‘dynasty’ by the same excellent author, but Chiang Kia-shek, I don’t even want to write his name down. His name should be buried somewhere totally out of sight. Of course he was not a Soong and the book is about the Soong but his rise to power made his life part and parcel of the Soong rise to power and riches so one has to deal with the one to deal with the other.
Contrarily, to learn of Soong Ching-ling, the second sister was important. She married Sun Yat-sen whose permanence in militancy to establish the Republic of China (ROC) eventually paid off. But, who also turns out to be, yes a revolutionary, but not a very organised fellow who was often where he should not have been and was usually not where he should be, but got the revolutionary accolades anyway.
Not a communist, Madam Sun Yat-sen (nee Soong Ching-ling) was a member of the Chinese Revolution and despite all the criminal activities of the Soong and their associates, she deservedly ended up next to Mao Tse-tung on the famous verandah of the Forbidden City October 1, 1949. She became a vice-chairman of Mao’s People’s Republic.
It took many years of intrigue on the part of the main Soong body to reach that same point in time but differently, though all still alive and kicking, they were far from the power in China when real change came. In the USA and internationally the family were well regarded among the super rich and until near the very end were treated as VIPs in the United States of America. Despite how they duped, robbed and stole and sideswiped the cash flow.
The book begins by laying down a list of the problematic antecedents of British Empire days when the brits decidedly interrupted Manchu (Ching Dynasty) rule, one that had stood since 1644, by pulling out all the military stops in the Opium Wars.
The book introduces General Charles Gordon and his Ever Victorious Army. Under Gordon and in collaboration with Chinese Imperial forces, he would fight some of the final and decisive battles that ended the Taiping Rebellion. The Western assistance was vital to that final defeat of the Taiping Long-haired Army but most Chinese would not agree that it was the sole deciding factor. The West’s decision to side with the Qing Dynasty was of course very important – it prevented the Taiping Army from appropriating important resources which could have been used against the Qing Dynasty. Gordon went on to become a very famous figure because of his tragic disappearance during the Khartoum conflict.
In Southern China, which never did kow-tow to the north, secret societies were flourishing – as they were in the north – bent on kicking the Manchu out from power and in lesser acts quite went there own way, smuggling, gun running, tax exempt trading, taking all means to live a life independent of the northern corruption while willy-nilly organising a southern equivalent.
In fact, those underground societies used similar tactics to today’s Islamic State organisation in that they executed missionaries, seeing them as de facto subversives, as do today’s disgruntled and internationally organised but sadly violent anti-West groups see anyone with a western link from NGO staff, medical doctors to journalists likewise.
I always appreciate Seagrave’s minor digressions, not at all losing track from the main theme though. For example, one southerner headed a Society of God Worshippers to smite the Manchu. They wanted to place the government back in Chinese hands, and to establish common ownership of land. They were also intent on stopping prostitution, opium smoking, drinking, adultery, gambling, foot binding, slavery and cruelty to women. As the author points out they were quite ahead of their time. This band of merry men swept north in efforts to establish the Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace – the Taiping Tien-kuo.
Fourteen years this continued with deaths of 20 million. It took a modernised army and military campaign from the west to quash the hand-to-hand fighting rebels who can be seen today as precursors to the Afghanistan Taliban. However, the energy unleashed among the ordinary classes did not subside altogether. “It was the beginning of a great peasant upheaval that would climax nearly a century later under the leadership of Mao Tse-tung.”
With the fall of the Manchu the underworld gangs lost their raison d’être. The Triad Societies turned to straightforward crime for its own lucrative ends. That’s where the Soong came in with their links to the Shanghai gangs in the early 20th century. This co-operation between rich families, military power – meaning warlords and their mercenary-like thugs and troops – plus the underworld gangs took over the reigns holding back any positive development of Chinese society.
With the financial support of a misguided USA in the times of Chiang Kai-shek and the charismatic Madam Chiang, over decades the Americans were milked. Aided in no small degree by a superficial layer of Christianity that coloured these so-influential top-dogs and enamoured them to America’s similarly ascendant strata over there.
To better understand how this amalgam of military, financial and political power and the gangsters came about Seagrave tells readers that Charlie Soon and Dr. Sun Yat Sen combined forces with a few co-conspirators in Shanghai around 1894 in efforts to rally the “enormous latent power of the triads”. It was time to re-align those gang members who had deviated from the path of overthrow the Manchu – said to be as many as 35 million – under the flag of the ROC and to create an “Asia of opportunity.”
Wow, not just a Chinese revolution, but Asian… interesting.
But what of the Soong’s habitat, the island of Taiwan, formerly called Formosa by the Portugese? History tells us that it was mainly inhabited by Taiwanese aborigines until the Dutch and Spanish arrived in the 17th century, when Han Chinese had begun going across to the island from the mainland.
Then it was the turn of the pro-Ming loyalist Koxinga to make his worthwhile mark in history by expelling the Dutch and establishing the first Han Chinese polity of rule on the island, known as the Kingdom of Tungning. Qing Dynasty China forces later took over Taiwan, in 1683. When Taiwan was ceded to Japan, in 1895, the majority of Taiwan’s inhabitants were Han Chinese, by way of ancestral descent and assimilation with the original native population.
Perhaps the most colourful of the Soong’s was TV Soong who had his fingers in every KMT pie – from the financial collapse of China in the late 40s to the negotiation efforts during the Xian incident in which he played a pivotal role. He was right in the middle of it too when it came to the (mis) management of American aid during the war in China, right up to the San Francisco Conference, during which the UN Charter was created and signed by participating nations (he was the signatory for China).
In the end, Chiang Kai-shek was driven off the mainland in 1949, when Mao declared the People’s Republic of China. The ROC leader took refuge in Taiwan and his army very quickly took control, initially killing tens of thousand of Taiwanese.
The status of Taiwan at that time was a mixed result of influences following the end of World War 11. In October 1945 the US Navy had ferried ROC troops to Taiwan to accept the formal surrender of Japanese military forces in Taipei, handing the island over to General Chen Yi of the ROC military. The Allies however still considered Taiwan to be under military occupation.
The ROC administration of Taiwan under Chen Yi was strained by increasing tensions between Taiwan-born people and newly arrived mainlanders. Economic problems, plus cultural and linguistic conflicts between the groups quickly led to the loss of popular support for the newly imposed government. In February 1947 a shooting triggered island-wide unrest, which was suppressed using military force with estimates of the numbers killed ranging from 18,000 to 30,000, mainly educated Taiwanese.
Martial law had been declared across Taiwan since May 1949, and continued after Chiang Kai-shek relocated his Chinese Nationalists (Kuomintang) government to Taiwan which used its powers to suppress political opposition from then until 1987. During those years of what became to be known as the White Terror, people numbering around 140,000 were imprisoned or executed for being perceived as anti-KMT or pro-Communist.
As is becoming more widely understood this anti Communist vendetta was a universal phenomenon directly stemming from the USA and evidenced in Europe, Latin America, and Asia most predominantly. With the bombing of Pearl Harbor the USA decided to support Chiang Kai-shek’s vile efforts given his anti-Communist stance.
Thus. Many citizens were arrested, tortured, imprisoned and executed for their real or perceived links to the Communists. Since these people were mainly from the intellectual and social elite, an entire generation of political and social leaders was decimated. It was not until 2008 that a public apology was made for those actions. No form of restitution or compensation has been made.
The entire mess of China leading up to Mao’s victory was a consequence of misdealings between the Soongs, Chiang Kai-shek and criminal gangs and the only really true-to-themselves actors in the debacle were the very latter – at least one knew what one was dealing with when it came to the Triads!