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Soong Mei Ling's old residence attracts trendsetters
(China Daily)
Updated: 2004-07-14 08:53

Dotted with stylish eateries, period villas and decor shops, Dongping Road attracts Shanghai's trendsetters. But it is the red tiled house at No. 9 which has the real style and treasures.

The building used to be the "love nest" of a famous couple in Chinese modern history - the late Kuomintang leader Chiang Kai-shek and his wife Soong Mei Ling spent blissful times here.

It's a stunning, beautiful two-story villa wrapped with thick vines, which change with the seasons on the exterior of this building. Black, yellow and white oval-shaped pebbles grace the light gray wall.

Piano or flute music lingers in the pine-scented air of this once-glorious building. The house is now part of the Middle School Affiliated to the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. Students are practicing instruments in the former sitting room and bedrooms of the legendary couple, which are paved with teak floors.

"The house has been renovated twice," says Liu Yiqing, an official of the school. "But the grand fireplaces, nostalgic wide windows, patterned staircases and the floors on the second floor are original."

The lamps and ancient-style ceiling fans were added during the re-decoration and the furniture has been replaced with pianos.

Born in Shanghai, Soong was the youngest of the famous three Soong sisters, whose husbands were among China's most significant political figures of the early 20th century. They included Dr Sun Yat-sen, founder of the Republic China who married Soong Ching Ling, and Kuomintang senior official H.H. Kung who married the eldest sister Soong Ai Ling. All the three sisters went to college in the United States.

Chiang died in 1975. Described as "the one who loved power," Soong Mei Ling used to be Chiang's secretary and interpreter. Despite her parents disapproving, Christian Soong married Chiang, who was Buddhist, in 1927 in the Majestic Hall on Jiangning Road and promptly left for Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, for their honeymoon the next day. T.V. Soong, brother to the sisters, bought the house from a foreign owner as a dowry for his youngest sister. It was also Chiang's first home in Shanghai.

The couple mainly lived in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, and stayed in the house during their Shanghai trips. Chiang often met important political figures there and Soong brought her mother to stay.

"Chiang loved the German-style house so much that he gave it a sweet name 'Ai Lu' (love cottage) and wrote it himself in handsome scarlet calligraphy on a giant rock," says Gao Jun, deputy director of the City and Tourism Department of Shanghai Normal University. "Chiang also named his Lushan Mountain villa 'Mei Lu' (beautiful cottage) and Hangzhou villa aside the West Lake 'Cheng Lu' (clean cottage). There are 10 old villas around Dongping and Hengshan roads that used to belong to the Soong and Kung families."

"A rock previously stood in front of the house but it was broken in half during the 'cultural revolution' (1966-76)," says Liu. "We've repaired it and put it in the garden as part of the rockery. Chiang's grandson, Chiang Hsiao-yen, visited the house in 2002."

The "love cottage" rock with a symbolic scar in the middle now stands at the top of a tiny rockery. The 2,000-square-meter garden has a pebble path, a pond with spring and red fat fish, pines, camphor trees and magnolias. The garden is 10 times smaller than it was originally.

Soong's original bedroom on the second floor has platform that faces the garden. It's easy to imagine this inspiring woman looking out on the picturesque garden.

After 1949, Soong never returned to Shanghai, the place where she was born and grew up. She moved from Taiwan to New York in 1975 following the death of her husband. This legendary woman died in her Manhattan apartment last October at the age of 106.

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