The Soong Dynasty

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Sterling Seagrave initiates his destruction of the more fanciful qualities of Western and Christian virtue claimed by and for the Soong family by recasting the events surrounding the early life and education of Charlie Soong. Considering such basic facts as Soong’s name, youthful employment, and education at Duke University and Vanderbilt University, Seagrave exposes the falsehoods, mis-impressions, and illusions of earlier studies. In fact, Soong’s return to China, his departure from Methodist missionary work, and subsequent business career reflect not Christian virtue, but a web of extortion, deceit, and underworld business transactions.

The story of the second Soong generation emerges essentially in three of Soong’s six offspring: Ching-ling, May-ling, and T.V. Soong. They receive excellent educations in America’s best colleges and exude the image of Western culture and charm. Ching-ling, the noblest of the three, marries Sun Yat-sen under rather unseemly circumstances after his first wife is shunted aside. Ching-ling is portrayed as a consistent supporter of Sun Yat-sen’s revolutionary principles. May-ling marries Chiang Kai-Shek under similarly questionable circumstances and is viewed as wielding the real power in Chiang’s consolidation of Nationalist control. T. V. Soong becomes Chiang’s finance minister, funding Chiang’s war with Mao’s Communists through illicit trade with the Japanese, the opium trade, and embezzlement of American foreign aid.

Seagrave impressively dismantles the noble image of the Soong Dynasty as good Christians acting as stalwart supporters of Chiang’s regime fighting on America’s behalf against the Japanese and the Chinese Communists. His grim narrative is occasionally lightened by amusing vignettes and stories of sexual practices of old Shanghai before the war. In gauging Seagrave’s new interpretive stance, the reader should note Seagrave’s favorable impressions of Mao Tse-tung, Chou En-lai, and his judgment of the foreign service representatives who were unsympathetic to the Communists.

The Soong Dynasty

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 10)

Journalist Sterling Seagrave recasts Nationalist Chinese history of the twentieth century from the Christian, social democratic images projected by the China Lobby, a United States lobby group, to the utterly corrupt, authoritarian reality of the Soong dynasty. No longer does the reader look to those “pinkos” of the United States Department of State as those “who lost China” but to the members of the Soong family, who were responsible for maintaining Chiang Kai-shek at the head of the Nationalist Chinese government.

The Soong dynasty included three generations of Soong family members, family members by marriage, and close associates of this coterie. Charlie Soong (1866-1918), who initiated the dynasty, made valuable connections through American Christian missionary training and was active in Sun Yatsen’s revolutionary movement. Three of Charlie’s daughters—Ai-ling, Ching-ling, and May-ling—and a son, T. V. Soong, were deeply involved in the Chinese revolution and the Nationalist government. Through marriage, Chiang Kai-shek and H. H. Kung joined the Soongs. Tu Yueh-sheng, the boss of a Shanghai criminal society, was financially and politically involved with the Soongs for many decades.

Seagrave’s work comments on several themes running through Chinese history during the first half of the twentieth century. First in importance is the revolutionary tradition rooted in the Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864), the nine attempted rebellions of Sun Yat-sen, and the conservative revolution of Chiang Kai-shek. A second thesis involves the relations of the United States and Nationalist China, and how arrogant and naïve the former became. Finally, Seagrave’s main focus centers on how the Soong family propped up the Nationalist government for so many years. Seagrave’s interpretations of these main courses of Chinese history substantially revise previous outlooks and should find a receptive audience in this era of normalized relations between the People’s Republic of China and the United States.

As presented by Seagrave, the Soong family was inextricably involved in the flow of Chinese history. Charlie Soong, the family’s patriarch, established the major characteristics of the principal members of the Soong dynasty. He initiated the family practice of acquiring an American education at prestigious institutions, including Harvard University and Oberlin College. Fluent in English, ostensibly Christian in practice, and American in style, the Soongs were influential in both Eastern and Western business and political circles. At the same time, contrary to their carefully groomed public image, the Soongs maintained their close association with Tu Yuehsheng, the leader of the Green Gang, a...

(The entire section is 1116 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 10)

Booklist. LXXXI, March 1, 1985, p. 922.

Kirkus Reviews. LII, December 15, 1984, p. 1195.

Library Journal. CX, March 1, 1984, p. 84

Los Angeles Times Book Review. May 19, 1984, p. 7.

Macleans. XCVIII, April 15, 1985, p. 56.

The New York Times Book Review. XC, March 17, 1985, p. 1.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXVII, January 25, 1985, p. 79.

Time. CXXV, April 29, 1985, p. 82.

The Wall Street Journal. CCV, April 19, 1985, p. 26.

Washington Post Book World. XV, March 24, 1985, p. 1.