by Yoon Joung Lee
An Acting Head of State in China, Song Qingling was born in 1890 to a wealthy Christian family that played a significant role in Chinese politics in the first half of the 20th century. Her father, Charlie Song, was a successful businessman and missionary, and Qingling was the second of three sisters. The sisters – Qingling, Ailling and Meiling- were all educated in the U.S. Qingling and her older sister Ailing graduated from Wesleyan College for Women in Georgia and her younger sister Meiling went to Wellesley College in Massachusetts.
All three sisters’ husbands were China’s most important political figures of the early 20th century. Ailing married the banker and politician H.H. Kung and Meiling married Chiang Kai Shek who fought for Sun Yat-sen’s United Revolutionary League and the Kuomintang party to overthrow China’s imperial dynasty in early 20th century.
In 1915, Qingling married Sun Yat-sen who is considered the founding father of modern china as the People’s Republic of China. When they decided to get married, Qingling’s parents strongly opposed this because Sun Yat-sen was 26 years older than Qingling and he had once divorced Lu Muzhen. 10 years later in 1925, Qingling became a widow as Sun Yat-sen died of cancer in Beiging at his age of 59.
Shortly after her husband’s death in 1926, she became an influential political figure in China’s history. As she sided with the Communists during the Chinese Civil War, she supported the left wing of the Nationalist party, the Kuomintang as the Central Executive Committee. In 1939, she founded the China Defense League in Hong Kong, which later became the China Welfare Institute; that did various medical and child welfare work especially in areas where Communists were in control. There, she became the chairman of the Central Committee and worked for child healthcare and education, maternity, and out-of-school education.
In 1949, she became the Vice President of the People's Republic of China and played a significant role bridging between the People's Republic and the older revolutionary movement for Sun Yat-sen. However, knowing that her work and influence as a female politician in China was very limited, she decided to devote a greater amount of her time and effort on welfare activities. With her selfless dedication welfare and peace committee, she was awarded the Satalin Peace Prize in 1951 that was the Soviet Union’s equivalent to the Nobel Peach Prize. The prize was given to individuals who greatly contributed to strengthen peace among people.
In the early 1950s, she founded the magazine, China Reconstructs. This monthly magazine is now known as China Today and published in six different languages – Chinese, English, French, Spanish, German and Arabic. She also published a collection of her writings with a title of Struggle for New China, in 1953.
From 1968 to 1972, she had served as the head of State of China and also served as a co-chairman of the Republic as the first non-royal woman. In 1981; three years before her death, she again became the head of State and was named Honorary President of the People’s Republic of China.