THE SOONG DYNASTY by Sterling Seagrave
Kirkus Star

THE SOONG DYNASTY

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KIRKUS REVIEW

More fabulous than fiction--because the sinister and shameless doings that Seagrave recounts, with kaleidoscopic historical detailing, involve the celebrated, idolized-and-reviled Soongs. Founding father Charlie Soong (1866-1918), thinks Seagrave--son of Burma doctor Gordon, author of Bitter Rain--became an inspirational legend (thanks to 1920s missionaries, Henry Luce, and Emily Hahn) without due note, by historians, of his part in financing Sun Yat-sen's aborted 1911 Revolution. So Seagrave reconstructs--through intriguingly assembled bits of evidence--the checkered American sojourn of the gregarious young Chinese runaway, his Shanghai rise (via still-shadowy tong connections) to wealth and prominence as ""that unusual commodity, an American-trained Chinese preacher turned comprador."" Then there were the daughters: eldest Ai-ling, plain and smart and ""iron-willed""--who set off for American schooling at 13, later rejected the advances of the much-older, unsteady Sun (""He was a dreamer. She was a realist"") and captured instead homely merchant-prince H.H.Kung; beauteous, softer second daughter Ching-ling--who returned from America when Sun was in the ascendant and, to her father's horror, eloped with him; and ""vain,"" ""haughty,"" ""high-strung"" youngest daughter May-ling--who would of course marry ""a young, ill-tempered bravo by the name of Chiang Kai-shek."" Seagrave's snide-to-venomous portrayals would be the book's undoing if he didn't also have vast chunks of history to impart and myriad tales to tell--most especially about Comintern agent Borodin and Chiang, eldest son T.V. Soong and Kuomintang finances, and the Luce role in glorifying family-and-regime. ""American policy was thus based upon the personalities of the Chiangs, the Soongs, and the Kungs, rather than upon the events, the nation, or the people. It was a tribute to the Soongs' extraordinary stagecraft."" Whether or not historians agree in every particular, Seagrave depicts that stagecraft with chapter-and-verse, color and flair.

Pub Date: March 6th, 1984
Publisher: Harper & Row