The “San Mao Paradise” Souvenir Badge

A small badge featuring San Mao, a young boy with just three hairs sticking out from his bald head, is on display at the Cultural Relic Hall of Soong Ching Ling’s former residence in Shanghai. What’s the story behind the badge?

On August 15, 1945, the Japanese imperialists declared unconditional surrender to the Allied forces and China finally won a hard-earned victory in its 8-year war of resistance against Japanese aggression. In Shanghai, war had left hundreds of children homeless and emaciated, scrounging for food in the streets. The sights pained Soong Ching Ling deeply and she decided to do her best to bring alleviation and some warmth to the children.

From 1946 to 1947, the China Welfare Fund under Soong Ching Ling set up three Child Welfare Stations which provided the war-torn children with much needed medical care and nutritious food, as well as simple educational and entertainment facilities.  Pleased to see the children receiving the much-needed attention, she wrote to the donors abroad saying that “these stations are doing great work and, as of now, over 5,000 children have received benefits which they could not have enjoyed if left on their own”.

The most important work of the Child Welfare Stations was to eliminate illiteracy. To help more children learn to read and write, Soong Ching Ling adopted the “little teachers” method first introduced by the eminent educator Tao Xingzhi. First, teachers in the Child Welfare Stations would train a group of “little teachers” who would then, carrying slate boards with them, go to the narrow household lanes, the sidewalks, and hut-home areas to give lessons to the children of the poor. By May, 1949, the Child Welfare Stations had trained 170 little teachers, who in turn had taught some 5,000 children to read and write.   

In 1948, even as the civil war between the Communists and the Nationalists continued in full force, a heavy flood hit the lower reaches of the Yangtze River. More and more destitute children were found wandering around the streets of Shanghai. By then, the noted cartoonist Zhang Leping had created a series on the fate of a poor boy named San Mao. His works, such as “The Wanderings of San Mao” and “San Mao Joining the Army”, became household tales among his viewers young and old. Soong Ching Ling too was much moved by the drawings and had arranged through friends to buy some original drawings on San Mao to present as gifts to young foreign friends. She then instructed the staff of the Child Welfare Fund to contact Zhang Leping on holding a charity auction exhibition of San Mao originals, the proceeds to go for aid to homeless children.

Zhang Leping , much moved by Soong Ching Ling’s idea, agreed to it at once. Though still recovering from a severe illness, he offered a more concrete proposal. Then within a month, he did more than 30 watercolor paintings on San Mao for the charity auction. He also designed an image of San Mao for a souvenir badge with the title “San Mao Paradise”. And this was how the story of the souvenir badge came about.  

Attaching great importance to the charity auction, Soong Ching Ling personally hosted a preview of the auction paintings in the great hall of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank building (now the site of Pudong Development Bank of Shanghai) attended by her friends in China and from abroad.  

Four days later, on April 4, 1949, the charity auction exhibition was held in the 4th floor gallery of The Sun Company (now the Shanghai No. 1 Department Store), showing some 300 original drawings of the “Wanderings of San Mao” and “San Mao Joining the Army” series and more than 30 watercolor paintings on San Mao. There were such huge crowds of viewers that it was reported the escalators malfunctioned several times. Broadcasting stations in Shanghai aired the event live and reported it in Mandarin, Cantonese and the Shanghai dialect. 

An interesting incident reported was about a Kuomintang army captain and several of his aides who came up the stairs and headed straight for the exhibition hall. They were stopped by the young doorkeepers who asked them to go and buy tickets first. The officer demanded, “We are the military. Do we have to buy tickets too?” The young doorkeepers explained politely, “This is not an ordinary exhibition. The purpose is to provide relief to homeless children like San Mao. We’re sure there are poor children in your hometown who need help and relief.” The officer backed down and smiled. “Well, let’s go and buy the tickets.”

The charity auction was a great success. The more than 30 watercolor paintings were sold out in no time. The highest bid for one fetched US$800, equivalent to 1,600 Chinese silver dollars at the time. The picture albums on “The Wanderings of San Mao” and the drawings of “San Mao Paradise”, all signed by Zhang Leping, also went quickly. More than 40 visitors offered to join the San Mao Paradise Club in order to offer more assistance where needed. Many students came with donations of books, writing brushes, pencils and even clothing. Other visitors later visited the office of the China Welfare Fund to offer monetary and various kinds of donations.

After the event, Zhang Leping had written in his memoir: “The charity auction exhibition organized by the China Welfare Fund led by Madame Sun provided great help and relief for children with the same fate as San Mao. My only regret was I could not have done more, as the 30 watercolor paintings were done while I was still in sickbed. But when I realized that thousands of children with the same fate as San Mao were able to have a better life because Madame Sun had thought of holding such an event, I couldn’t be happier it actually took place.”

Indeed Soong Ching Ling’s lifelong cause was to improve the lives of children, who always affectionately addressed her as “Grandma Soong.” After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, Soong Ching Ling was able to devote even more resources to the welfare of children. She was the one who founded China’s first Children’s Palace, the first exemplary kindergarten, and the first children’s magazine Children’s Epoch. And she had always celebrated Children’s Day on June 1 with children. The last article she wrote before passing was entitled “May Young Trees Grow Up Healthily”.


( Source: Shanghai Soong Ching Ling Foundation )