Soong Ching Ling through the Eyes of Israel Epstein

MAY 29, 2001 was the 20th anniversary of the death of Mme Soong Ching Ling. In commemoration of this great woman, and her significance in modern Chinese history, I interviewed eighty-six-year-old Israel Epstein, an old friend of Mme Soong. Mr. Epstein confirmed that he had known Soong Ching Ling since childhood, and that he started to work with her in his 20s. He is still involved in her great cause of introducing China to the rest of the world.

Reporter: Would you please say a few words about Mme Soong Ching Ling on this special day commemorating the 20th anniversary of her death?

Epstein: Soong Ching Ling was one of the greatest women of the 20th century. She was born in 1893 and died in 1981, and many important events in recent Chinese and world history occurred, and were influenced by her, during the course of her life. This year marks the 90th anniversary of the 1911 Revolution (the Chinese bourgeois democratic revolution led by Dr. Sun Yat-sen which overthrew the Qing Dynasty), the 80th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party, and the 20th anniversary of the death of Soong Ching Ling. Mme Soong was also a major factor in the former two events. She was the wife of Sun Yat-sen, leader of the Revolution of 1911, and stood by his side throughout the Chinese democratic revolution and the Nationalist/Communist alliance. After Sun Yat-sen died and Chiang Kai-shek betrayed the revolutionary cause, she joined hands with the progressives. When the People's Republic of China was founded in 1949, she was elected vice chairwoman of New China. Soong Ching Ling personally participated in all stages of the Chinese revolution, realizing the necessity for a revolution in China, and firm in her resolve, even at the most critical times. Rich experience and deep reflection led her to the knowledge that the future of China lies in socialism, and that only the Communist Party could lead the people to achieve this goal. The path Mme Soong Ching Ling walked represents that of all Chinese progressives in the 20th century.

Soong Ching Ling dedicated her life to the founding and development of New China. I would particularly like to mention her contribution to China's external publicity, which was a great and significant achievement in her life.

Reporter: How did Soong Ching Ling disseminate information about China to the rest of the world?

Epstein: When Madam Song was a student at the Wesleyan College for Women in Macon, Georgia, she began to introduce China's progressive undertakings through the English articles she contributed to the college paper.

We all shared the opinion that although Madam Soong wrote in English, she always wrote about China. With her sound knowledge of English and of foreign countries, Madam Soong dedicated her life to letting the outside world know about the Chinese revolution. She had a high reputation overseas as a staunch, courageous and honest revolutionary.

Premier Zhou Enlai was aware of Soong's world fame, rich experience and ability to disseminate information internationally. Consequently, after the founding of the People's Republic of China, he proposed that she set up a magazine. Madam Soong immediately took up this suggestion and zestfully commenced work. In 1952 her magazine ─ China Reconstructs ─ was founded with the aim of promoting friendship between China and other countries, on the basis of China's broad united front.

Reporter: Why do you call China Reconstructs (now China Today) her magazine?

Epstein: She founded the magazine. This is our pride and good fortune. We call China Reconstructs her magazine as a mark of respect. During the decades between 1952 and 1981 Madam Soong was deeply concerned about the magazine, despite holding several other posts, and her declining health. She wrote more than 30 articles for China Reconstructs, read each issue, and constantly offered suggestions and advice. Furthermore, she did her utmost to promote distribution of the magazine, mailing magazines to her friends abroad, personally addressing the envelopes in her own elegant handwriting. She introduced China through the magazine, and introduced the magazine through herself.

Soong Ching Ling was incredibly meticulous in her work for our magazine. At that time, the typewriter ribbons produced in China were of poor quality, quickly wore out, and made smudges. When she was visiting India and Pakistan, therefore, she made time to go out, find, and buy better quality typewriter ribbons for our office.

Speaking from the point of view of an editor, she wrote good articles, but she was always modest, thought deeply, and never put on airs. When she once heard someone say that she never allowed editors to revise her articles, even by a comma, she became angry, saying, "This is sheer nonsense." In fact, it was her habit to solicit opinions about her articles, which she always accepted. She once wrote a letter to an editor, saying, "The revisions are good, very well done indeed. It reads much better now."

"A Tradition of Truth" was an article she wrote for the tenth anniversary issue of China Reconstructs. It is 20 years since Soong Ching Ling left us. The magazine she founded and the tradition of truth she advocated continues. China Reconstructs, which was founded in 1952 and changed its name to China Today in 1990, has developed from an English language to a multi-lingual magazine (published in Chinese, English, French, German, Spanish, and Arabic) with readers in countries the world over. During these several decades, despite domestic and international changes and upheavals, we have been persistent in this tradition, because we need to give the people of the world a true picture of the Chinese people and China's goals through truthful reporting.

Reporter: Soong Ching Ling passed away 20 years ago. What do you think remains of her influence in contemporary China?

Epstein: In my opinion, Soong Ching Ling personifies modern China. She was a staunch patriot, and loved and respected her compatriots. This is the root of her strength and immortality, as it not only reflects her political stance and actions, but also her bodily and spiritual being. As a Chinese citizen, she held her head high and treated foreigners as her equal, while absorbing the advanced ideology and culture of the West. She skillfully interwove Eastern and Western culture. Although she has been gone for 20 years, she can still be called "modern." I think even in this new century she would still "modern", and never "behind the times."

(Source: China Today 08/24/2001)