Many years ago I came across the photograph below and was immediately intrigued. Shown were classic dragon & phoenix tablewares from the Republic Period, being used by Meiling Soong and her husband, Chiang Kai-Shek, at their home in the wartime capital Chongqing (Chungking) in 1941.
So I started to search for more information, saved images etc and a broad and interesting picture emerged. This report has a more personal tone, looking at the porcelain collections, gifts and commissions of some of the most influential women in 20th century Chinese history.
The characters in this story are the three Soong sisters:
- Meiling Soong 宋美齡 (Madame Chiang Kai-Shek)
- Qingling Soong 宋慶齡 (Madame Sun Yat-Sen)
- Ailing Soong 宋藹齡 (Madame H.H. Kung)
Whilst searching for the data, I also came across the porcelains which were commissioned by Chiang Kai-Shek (the subject of a separate report yet to be finished – Zhong Zheng wares) and his wife, Meiling, and also the gifts which the couple gave to friends and dignitaries over the years.
The history and biographical details of the people above is easy to find – if you don’t know anything about the Chiang Kai-Sheks or the Soong family I suggest that you familiarise yourself with the basics before reading further. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soong_sisters
However, the basics of the Soong Sisters are summarised in the table below, from sources above:
The presence of these remarkable women spans the whole 20th century. In terms of porcelains, it is the years from 1920 to 1949 which are of interest here; the years that they were all mostly in China.
I will look at the youngest Soong sister first, Meiling, Madame Chiang Kai Shek, showing the porcelains which Madame Chiang Kai Shek commissioned as gifts for friends and others. Then, some images of the ‘china’ they used every day plus the ‘show’ pieces decorating her and her husband’s homes and offices.
I am sure this compilation is by no means exhaustive, as new information comes up all the time. I have gathered these images over the years and have linked to sources wherever possible. However, some of the links no longer work and the website doesn’t exist anymore.
Secondly, I will show images of porcelains used by Qingling Soong and her husband Sun Yat-Sen in the Republic period, mainly found in museums – did you know that there are at least 12 museums, memorial halls or gardens dedicated to Sun Yat-Sen around the world? The former residence of Qingling Soong is open to the public in Shanghai.
Thirdly, there is scant information on Ailing Soong but I have found one piece ordered by her husband, H.H. Kung.
The Chiang Kai Sheks also commissioned an extremely interesting and large range of porcelains in the late 1940s. These are rare and reasonably well documented, mostly made in the late 1940s and will be the subject of a separate report, ‘”Zhongzheng” (Chiang Kai Shek) and other commissioned porcelain in the 1940s’.
Meiling Soong (Madame Chang Kai-Shek)
- Porcelains commissioned by Meiling Soong for gifts to friends and dignitaries
- Porcelains in Meiling Soong’s homes, daily use and on display
- Porcelains commissioned by Meiling Soong for gifts to friends and dignitaries.
Meiling Soong was born in China but at the tender age of 10 went to the USA to school with her older sisters! She attended Wellesley College in Massachusetts from 1913 to graduation in 1917and then returned to China, not visiting the USA again until 1943 (and once again in 1965). She married Chiang Kai Shek in 1927. Following Chiang Kai Shek’s death in 1975, and having lived in Taipei since 1949, she again returned to the United States until her death in 2003, aged 105 years. She met dozens of dignitaries as the First Lady of China until 1949, and she certainly kept many close schoolfriends from her days at Wellesley.
Meiling Soong, Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, gave teabowl sets as presents to friends and dignitaries, all seemingly commissioned from a Jiujiang company, possibly the Hua Chang Gongsi. Some of these were given to trusted friends; we do know that she gave a teabowl to each member of her graduating class of 1917, in 1938. Other porcelains were apparently given to politicians she met when visiting the USA, seeking funding for the Anti-Japanese War which the Chinese Nationalist government was waging throughout the 1930s and into the 1940s.
These porcelain tea bowl gift sets have been coming up for auction this 21st century and here are some of them:
On looking at the seven examples below, one can see that several are incomplete, missing lids or saucers/stands. All that show the base have no basemark. All that show the lid have the mark character ‘Jiang’ in strong seal script – Chiang Kai Shek’s pinyin name is Jiang Jieshi (Chinese equivalent 蔣介石) , and the ‘Jiang’ supposedly refers to that. Other commemorative porcelains have the same or similar ‘Jiang’ square or circular medallion. The inscriptions are all written by the same distinctive calligrapher, here the characters shown left to right (opposite to that in the actual inscription) and their pinyin and English translation:
‘ 中華 民國 二十七年 夏 惠爾士理 同學 紀念 蔣宋美齡 贈’
‘Zhōnghuá mínguó èrshíqī nián xià huì ěrshìlǐ tóngxué jìniàn jiǎng sòngměilíng zèng‘
’27th year of the Republic of China summer Wellesley classmate commemorate Jiang Song Meiling gift’
The 27th year of the Republic is 1938. All of these beautiful teabowls are made in the same shape with quite a range of patterns, only two patterns repeated, so far.
These porcelains are all dated 1938. In 1937 Jingdezhen had been captured by the Japanese Army and most of the porcelain production had been re-directed to wartime products. Although Chiang Kai Shek spent most of the following 10 years operating out of Chongqing (further west in China), it may have been that for some small amounts of time Madame Chiang Kai Shek stayed at her villa in Lushan and ordered the porcelains from Jiuiiang just 10km down the mountain (According to the literature, in July 1946, Chiang Kai-shek spent the summer in Lushan – http://njsbwgzg.com/en/Antique/antishow/id/125) . We do not know when the teasets were actually given, but one of the descriptions above indicate that they were sent rather than personally delivered, presumably from China.
Before leaving this particular group of gifts, it is worth showing a couple of bowls I have found with very similar calligraphy, two year dates 1934 and 1938, but not associated with Madame Chiang Kai Shek. The decoration, however, is of the same ilk (unfortunately no base mark to possibly determine the maker):
Below is an image of the yellow ground teapot which came with the documents and the 5th bowl above:
Below is another porcelain gifted by Madame Chiang Kai Shek to Franklin D Roosevelt:
Octagonal footed bowl:
Porcelains made to commemorate
A series of important porcelains in the form of vases, bowls, dinner sets and teasets were commissioned by Chiang Kai Shek and his wife, Meiling. Most of this porcelain was designed and made after WWII, was made at Jingdezhen and was to commemorate victory over the Japanese in WWII, and therefore sent to US politicians and heads of state in the United States and Europe. Porcelains were also commissioned as wedding gifts for Queen Elizabeth II and other events. These porcelains will be the subject of a SEPARATE REPORT – “‘Zhongzheng’ and other commissioned Chinese porcelains of Chiang Kai-Shek”.
Porcelains in Meiling Soong’s homes, daily use and on display.
So, of course, this image above began my quest. Over the years I have found many more. The Chiang Kai Sheks had many homes in mainland China during the Republic period. When they moved to Taiwan, they had mountain villas as well as the Presidential Palace.
Meiling Soong, Madam Chiang Kai Shek owned a mountain villa at Lushan, up in the hills south of Jiujiang, a prolific porcelain producing centre during the Republic period. The villa is now known as Meilu Villa, and is open to the public.
Here is a range of porcelains found in these homes, with a dating if possible.
Not authenticated, but the following porcelains are reputed to have come from the estate of Madame Chiang Kai Shek in a 1999 auction of her contents of ‘Hillcrest’, the Long Island home she lived in until moving to New York at that time. The auction was held by Braswell Galleries, contained around 800 lots and attracted hundreds of Chinese Americans who wanted to buy a piece of history! “Aside from the chandeliers and a handful of paintings, many of the items resembled odds and ends that might be found in the average grandmother’s attic. “Most of it’s just residual household property,” Braswell said.
There were steamer trunks, framed photographs, lamps, vases, jars, bowls, old hi-fi speakers, television sets and a set of eight 1950s-style cocktail glasses, with an ice bucket.” Gary Braswell, auctioneer
Hillcrest was actually owned by the children of Madame Chiang’s sister Ailing Kung, and these porcelains may in fact have belonged to them.
This set of porcelain dishes above with a Jiujiang Zhen Dong company mark was auctioned again a few years ago with the following note: re: provenance….bowls were purchased in 2000 by my mother at Braswell Galleries in Stamford Connecticut. They handled Madame Chiang Kai Shek’s Long Island estate. I have contacted Braswell’s a number of times to get certification of provenance. Braswell’s did not have computerized records, only paper records from 2000. The photos showing the auction lot numbers should be helpful in gaining provenance given the right collector i’m sure Braswell’s could get their hands on the right materials. ***The saucer with the Braswell sticker is for reference only, not included in this lot.
These ‘Birthday’ Pattern pieces above are from a Kaminski auction in 2007, also purported to be from the estate of Madame Chiang Kai-Shek.
Qingling Soong and Sun Yat-Sen
Over the years that I have been archiving information for this report, many websites pertaining to Qingling Soong have come and gone. One would imagine that more data would be available today than previously, but I am finding that not to be the case. Several of the links no longer work, but I had saved the images and hope to show you some interesting porcelains that they used at home and which can be seen in the former residences of Qingling Soong, now museums.
Mr and Mrs Sun Yat-Sen do not appear to have commissioned any commemorative porcelain themselves, probably explained by Sun Yat-Sen’s early death in 1925. Despite the fact that Qingling’s parents were opposed to the marriage, her mother gave her a porcelain coffee or tea set as part of a dowry –
“There are still a few pieces of porcelain in the collection of Soong Ching Ling. This is when her mother Ni Guizhen gave her to her when she got married. The dowry-a set of colorful coffee sets. The interesting thing about this set of coffee sets is that the plates are from the Qianlong period; the pots and milk cans are from the Guangxu period; the sugar bowls and cups are made by Jiujiang Huachang Porcelain Factory. Although From three different years, the whole set of porcelain is still one piece.”
It is interesting to note that some of the pieces were made by the Hua Chang company of Jiujiang, the same company which probably made Meiling’s teabowl gifts in 1938 as shown above. The Qianlong marks are no doubt apocryphal; these sets with a mix of marks is quite common during the Republic period.
Most of the porcelains associated with Qingling which I have been able to discover are now held in her former residence in Shanghai, open to the public and the responsible body is ‘The Soong Ching Ling Cemetery Administration Office, Honorary Chairman of the People’s Republic of China, Collection Level : General Cultural Relics’. The following examples mainly come from this and associated sources http://sswgw.org.cn/wwdc/sqlww/4348.htm
“In the middle and late period of the Republic of China, prominent military and political figures such as Soong Ching Ling, Wang Jingwei, Chiang Kai-shek, and Chen Lifu had also customized ceramics in their personal capacity. For example, Soong Ching Ling and Chen Lifu had customized purple clay pottery, Wang Jingwei customized “Shuang Zhao Lou” porcelain, Chiang Kai-shek Customized “Jiang” porcelain.” http://www.artyi.net/blylc/fav_7_27829.html (Link no longer works)
This cabinet full of Republic period porcelain can be seen at Qingling Soong’s former home in Shanghai. The cabinet was closed when I visited in 2016 and very hard to see what is inside. However, I was able to find this image online earlier (the link no longer works unfortunately). Nonetheless you can see the dragon and phoenix and landscape serving bowls with lids, other rice bowls and spoons, some English tureens and even some PROC lidded blue cups.
And from the Sun Yat Sen Museum, also in Shanghai, the following set of Guangxu marked yellow ground bowls:
Another image of her Shanghai home interior shows that many items of porcelain were displayed:
Although not directly related to Qingling Soong, it was interesting to see these porcelains below in the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall in Singapore. They were commissioned for the first wife of Sun Yat Sen by one of their sons in 1936.
A similar bowl below shows the base mark, ‘Jian Hua Tang Zhi’, and a press clipping about the bowl which was included in the auction:
Ailing Soong and H.H. Kung
Ailing Soong and her husband H.H.Kung held a substantial amount of power within the family, but were very private. Although one can find out much about their financial and political dealings, there is relatively scant knowledge of the family life and their relationship to the arts. It is only by searching auction results with their name attached that I have found any information.
Neither Qingling nor Meiling Soong had children, but Ailing had four, 3 of them lived most of their lives in the USA. The eldest daughter, Kung Ling-i (孔令儀), and son, Kung Ling-kan (孔令侃), David Kung, bought the Long Island property ‘Hillcrest’ in which Meiling lived until the last few years of her life after which she moved to New York.
The only porcelain references I have been able to find is the following teacup:
And, in 2015, Christies sold a Yongzheng bowl from the Kung estate
Provenance: The K’ung Hsiang-Hsi (Kong Xiangxi, 1881-1967) Collection, New York, and thence by descent within the family.
A pair of vases commissioned by Chiang Kai-Shek in 1947 will be shown in my next report – this pair was provenanced from the Kung family in New York and sold at Christies in 2011.
I am always aware that more information about these remarkable women and their collections will come to light. In the meantime I hope you have some new insight into their homes and collections.
Best wishes, Michaela Russell
Many thanks to Simon Ng and Mike Harty for help with the translations!
- The Soong Sisters – 2014 by Emily Hahn ISBN-10 : 149764870X ISBN-13 : 978-1497648708 Open Road Media
- Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister: Three Women at the Heart of Twentieth-Century China –2019 by Jung Chang ISBN-10 : 1910702781 ISBN-13 : 978-1910702789 JONATHAN CAPE & BH
- The Soong Dynasty – 1986 by Sterling Seagrave ISBN-10 : 9780060913182 ISBN-13 : 978-0060913182 Harper Perennial
- The Last Empress – Madame Chiang Kai-Shek and the Birth of Modern China 2010 by Hannah Pakula ISBN: 9780753828021 Simon and Schuster
A selection of other websites viewed (some links no longer work, use at your own risk):