On display at the former residence of Soong Ching Ling in Shanghai is a large square piece of white silk on which is written a letter of appreciation addressed to Soong Ching Ling, dated September 1944 and signed by the 148 staff members and patients at the Norman Bethune International Peace Hospital. The letter reads:
“Even as the worldwide aggressors will soon face defeat, there are still dark undercurrents troubling our country. As you carry forward Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s lifelong cause, you have time and again spoken out for justice and have time and again provided much needed material support to our patriots. We the undersigned hereby offer you our love and respect and deep gratitude.”
What kind of support did Soong Ching Ling provide to the Chinese patriots?
In August 1937, the Japanese invading troops, having occupied cities in north China, marched southward and occupied Shanghai. In 1938, Soong Ching Ling, then living in Shanghai, eluded the occupation troops and flew to Hong Kong where she set up the China Defense League and appealed to the peace-loving people overseas to send medical and relief supplies to resistance troops behind enemy lines. Practicing Soong Ching Ling’s principle of giving aid to where aid is most urgently needed, the China Defense League staff broke through blockades and obstructions set up by the Chiang Kai-shek-led forces and transported a steady flow of relief goods to the Chinese Communist Party-led base areas behind enemy lines. In the 13 months after its initial setup, the China Defense League raised HK$ 250,000, most of which was used to purchase medical supplies for the anti-Japanese base areas. Once an X-ray machine arrived from abroad to be flown to Yan’an, headquarters of the Communist-led areas behind enemy lines. It was found to be too big to fit through the cabin door of the airplane heading for Yan’an. Soong Ching Ling immediately appealed for help from General Joseph Stilwell, then Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. forces in the China-Burma Theater. General Stilwell, who had always respected and admired Soong Ching Ling for her work, immediately ordered the cabin door to be reconstructed. Only a day later, the X-ray machine arrived at Yan’an. This was to be the first and only X-ray machine in an area with a population of 90 million at the time.
In the winter of 1938, Shen Qizhen, director of the medical division of the Communist-led New Fourth Army, arrived at Hong Kong to seek assistance from Soong Ching Ling and the China Defense League. The New Fourth Army, fighting the Japanese aggressors from mid-China areas, was in dire need of help of all kinds. Soong Ching Ling took immediate action. A large supply of medical and surgical equipments, medicines, food, beddings, clothing and stationeries was soon sent off, through roundabout routes, to the New Fourth Army fighting in southern Anhui province. The medicines included the newest and most effective antibiotics then available. The timely and generous assistance greatly improved the medical work and the soldiers’ morale of the New Fourth Army. Upon further request, the League also sent over 6,000 yards of materials for mosquito nets, 20,000 quinine pills, 200 cans of condensed milk, 120,000 doses of cholera vaccines, 2,000 packs of disinfectant wipes, as well as tons of woolen blankets and cotton-padded clothes.
The China Defense League’s most important aid to the Communist-led Eighth-Route Army was the establishment of the first model international peace hospital in the Shansi-Chahar-Hebei border region. Its first director was the well-known Canadian surgeon Dr. Norman Bethune, now a household name in China. In the three and a half years of its existence, the China Defense League had provided some 130 tons of medical and relief supplies, averaging 3 tons a month, to the Eighth Route and New Fourth armies, whose officers and soldiers regarded the aid as “delivering charcoal to snowbound areas”. Hence the letter at the beginning of this article.
In August 1945, when Mao Zedong went to Chongqing for talks with the Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek, he paid a personal visit to Soong Ching Ling, then also in Chongqing, and said to her, “Madame Sun, allow me to extend to you the greetings and appreciation of the people of the border regions. During the most difficult years of our anti-Japanese war, you had provided the border regions, the Eighth Route Army and the New Fourth army with the most urgently needed medical and relief supplies. Words alone cannot express our deepest appreciation.”
(Source:Shanghai Soong Ching Ling Foundation)