Working on a writing project, I came across this little nugget in the letters of famous journalist George Morrison.* Morrison lived in Beijing for nearly 20 years, much of that time as the China correspondent for the London Times. The fact that he couldn’t read or speak Chinese, and was way too trusting with his sources, didn’t stop him from earning the name “Morrison of Peking” for his regular dispatches.** In this letter, from Morrison’s papers, Robert R. Gailey, a missionary and American secretary of the YMCA in Beijing, writes to Morrison imploring the famous journalist to offer some advice on a sticky romantic situation involving a young Christian girl, her father and the much older, and rather famous, suitor with whom the girl has eloped.
Dear Dr. Morrison,
This is not the first time I have written to you when Chinese in whom I am interested were in trouble, or in danger of getting involved unjustly. It is the memory of your sympathy and promise of aid if necessary which prompts me to write again, though I hope that in this case there will be no need of intervention. I want you to be informed in regard to Mr. K’ung so that if any emergency should arise, there would be no delay in getting necessary information.
“Mr. K’ung” here refers to this guy:
H.H. Kung was a financial advisor, banker, and politician well-known at the time for his association with the warlord Yan Xishan and the nascent Kuomintang Party. Later he would become the richest man in China, in large part by exploiting these connections and those of his wife’s family. More on her in a moment.
Mr. K’ung tried twice to see you during his recent stay in Peking, but you were not at home…Whether he would have told you in addition of recent family complications I do not know, but…I think it is well to tell you, though Mr. K’ung told me in confidence. Mrs. K’ung has a younger sister, Rosamonde, who has recently returned from study in America.
Mrs. K’ung is the former Song Ailing, the oldest of the “Soong sisters.” Her younger sister, 22 at the time and here called Rosamonde, is none other than Song Qingling (Soong Ch’ing-ling), one of the most famous women in modern Chinese history. How did Song Qingling become so famous? Well, in large part because she hooked up with this older dude.
This impulsive girl has been enticed by Dr. Sun to marry him, his wife divorced for this purpose. This daughter was with her father in Shanghai, her mother having gone to Shansi to be with her daughter Mrs. K’ung in her confinement. The night that her mother returned to Shanghai the girl left for Japan with an emissary of Dr. Sun who had been sent for her.
Yep. Sun Yat-sen, at the time 49 years old and nearly three decades older than Song Qingling, had arranged the secret smuggling of his new love/mid-life crisis out of Shanghai and to his base of operations in Japan. Her parents, especially her father, the wealthy tycoon Charlie Soong, a friend and supporter of Sun’s, were less than amused. To put it another way, this would be kind of like Malia Obama running off and eloping to Canada with Rahm Emanuel.
Here parents were distressed beyond measure, and as soon as they could get a clue of their daughter’s whereabouts, they followed her to Japan, but arriving too late, the marriage having already taken place. The family feel very bitter against Dr. Sun for enticing this innocent enthusiastic daughter of an old friend to leave her home in this clandestine mélange, also for his faithlessness to his wife who had shared his trials, and whose children are older than the girl whom he recently married.
Seems like even revolutionaries can suffer mid-life crises.
Song Qingling’s youthful indiscretion turned out okay, her marriage with Sun lasted until his death ten years later. She did her best to protect his legacy for the rest of her life, although, unlike her two sisters, she would do so from the mainland side of the Taiwan Straits. Later in life, she held a number of (mostly honorary) positions in the PRC government and was well known for her work with education and children’s charities.
*Letter from R.R. Gailey to G.E. Morrison, dated December 12, 1915, reprinted in The Correspondence of G.E. Morrison, Volume II: 1912-1920. Edited by Lo Hui-min. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978.
**A highly readable, albeit fictionalized, depiction of Morrison’s time in Beijing can be found in Linda Jaivin’s 2009 novel, A Most Immoral Woman.