Reviewed by Heather O’Connor
Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister: Three women at the heart of twentieth-century China
This fascinating book tells the story of the Soong sisters, each of whom helped to shape 20th century China, and each of whom deserves a biography of her own. Their story has always reminded me of the Mitford sisters in England in terms of how differently their views of the world and their values were.
The Soongs were unusual in that they were sent to America for their education and were raised as Methodists. The eldest, Ei-Ling, married the richest man in China; the youngest, May-Ling, married Chiang Kai-shek, leader of the Nationalist Party, arch foe of Mao and president of Taiwan; middle sister was the wife of Sun Yat-sen and later rose to be Chairman Mao’s vice-chair.
Their lives spanned three centuries, and for most of their adulthood they were at the centre of society and of the political and social upheavals that led to the transformation of China into an emerging world power. Lavish lifestyles, entertained and feted by world leaders in the west, in Japan and in Russia, the Soongs shaped history.
As an introduction to this turbulent time in China’s history, you can’t go wrong by beginning here, though you will want to question some of the author’s interpretations of the struggle for supremacy waged by the men in their lives.