I forgot to include The Soong Dynasty by Sterling Seagrave to my list of memorable books about China. While the prose is a tad too purple in places for my taste, the book provides a riveting account of the extraordinary lives of the three Soong sisters, Soong Ai-ling, Soong Ching-ling, and Soong Mei-ling, who had such an enormous impact on the history of China during the first half of the Twentieth Century.
All three sisters were extremely well-educated and gained enormous influence and power thanks to their family wealth, their independent spirits, and their marriages to three of the most prominent men in China: H. H. Kung, the richest man in the country and perhaps not entirely coincidentally its finance minister; Sun Yat-sen, universally revered even today as the Father of Modern China; and Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, the leader of the Kuomintang (KMT) who was ultimately defeated by Mao Zedong and fled to Taiwan in 1949 where he was President of the rival Republic of China until his death in 1975.
In the book, the author leaves no stone unturned in describing the excesses and contradictions of the tumultuous era the three sisters lived through. He also shows particular zeal in describing the brutalities inflicted on the Shanghai populace by Chiang Kai-shek’s ally “Big-Eared Du” (Du Yuesheng/杜月生), the notorious boss of the Green Gang who managed to combine dominance of the city’s drugs, gambling, and prostitution trades with the stewardship of government opium suppression campaigns.
Not surprisingly, The Soong Dynasty drew widespread controversy when it was published in the mid-1980’s for the book’s less than flattering portraits of its main protagonists and the scandalous details of their conduct that it revealed. Nearly a quarter of a century later, purple prose notwithstanding, it appears to have stood the test of time.