Behind every successful man is a strong woman, and founding father of the Republic of China, Sun Yat Sen was no exception.
His wife, Soong Ching Ling (seen on the far right), was a political leader in her own right and history buffs can learn more about her colourful life at an exhibition at the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall in Tai Gin Road.
Love & Revolution: Madam Soong Ching Ling, Wife Of Dr Sun Yat Sen is co-presented by the hall and the Soong Ching Ling Memorial Residence in Shanghai.
The exhibition contains more than 130 artefacts from Madam Soong’s life, from grainy black-and-white photographs to well-worn clothing and official documents.
Assistant curator of the exhibition Low Li Ming says: “We felt that all along, when we talk about Dr Sun, we always talk about revolution, but we never talk about his personal life.
“So we thought that it might be interesting to provide some insight into his personal life, with a special focus on his wife.”
Madam Soong was born in Shanghai in 1893 to a Christian family and at the age of 14, was sent to America to study. In 1915, she married Dr Sun, who was 26 years her senior, despite opposition from her parents.
Like her husband, she was active in politics and after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, she was appointed one of six vice-chairmen of the Central People’s Government.
Some of the artefacts which are on display include their marriage certificate as well as a traditional Chinese trousseau (seen on the left) which used to belong to Madam Soong’s mother.
Ms Low explains: “At first, Madam Soong’s parents were very much against their marriage because of the age difference. So when she received the trousseau from her mother, Madam Soong was very touched, because it was like her parents were giving the marriage their blessing.”
Also on display is the only known family photograph of the Soongs, in which Madam Soong can be seen alongside her sisters Ai Ling and May Ling.
The three Soong sisters each married important historical figures – Ai Ling married the richest man in China at the time, H.H. Kung, and May Ling married Dr Sun’s successor as leader of the Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist Party), Chiang Kai Shek.
The story of the sisters was turned into a 1997 film, The Soong Sisters, starring Maggie Cheung and Michelle Yeoh.
Madam Soong’s great-grand nephew, Mr Peter Sun, flew in from Hong Kong to attend the opening of the exhibition.
Mr Sun, who is the honorary director of the China Soong Ching Ling Foundation, first met Madam Soong in 1979 in Beijing, two years before she died of coronary heart disease and chronic lymphocytic leukaemia.
He says Madam Soong was a “very modern, thinking lady, very Westernised, very well-mannered and a very neat person”.
Although she did not have children of her own, she devoted herself to the education of children and in 1938, she established the China Welfare Institute which was aimed at promoting high-quality early-childhood education.
Her nephew adds: “Madam Soong was a very humble person, she never wanted to seek fame or anything.
“She wanted to be just a plain person, to devote her time to the young generation, because she believed that children are the future of China.”
LOVE & REVOLUTION: MADAM SOONG CHING LING, WIFE OF DR SUN YAT SEN
Where: Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall, 12 Tai Gin Road
When: ‘Til Sept 7, Tuesdays to Sundays, 10am to 5pm
Admission: $4 for adults and $2 for students, those below 12 and above 60. Free for Singapore citizens and permanent residents
This article was first run in The Straits Times newspaper on March 7, 2014. For similar stories, go to sph.straitstimes.com/premium/singapore. You will not be able to access the Premium section of The Straits Times website unless you are already a subscriber.