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The Late Madame Chiang Kai-shek's Ties to Meredith and the New Hampshire Lakes Region
By DEAN DEXTER
The passing of Madame Chiang Kai-shek at age 105 in New York City on October
23rd (2003), brought a smattering of remembrances of her long, if somewhat distant ties
to New Hampshire.
There were local newspaper stories about fancy property on Lake Winnipesaukee which she visited only occasionally and of her rare sightings in downtown Wolfeboro, browsing antique shops with her imposing Chinese military bodyguards. Also of note were the years a shy young Soong Mei-Ling spent with her sister, Ching-Ling, daughters of a Chinese Methodist missionary, spent at a summer school on Meredith Neck from 1908 to 1913.
With her husband, President Chiang Kai-shek, Madame Chiang created one of the modern world’s premier power couples. The two made Time Magazine’s "Man and Woman of the Year" in 1938. They were what Tracy and Hepburn were to the movies of that era, of what Franklin and Eleanor were to a nation working itself out of the Great Depression.
The U.S.-educated Madame Chiang dominated her nation’s international diplomacy with a warm, charming personality and sleek good looks, always dressed in body hugging oriental silk. Her beauty, intelligence, and access to money, proved irresistible to Washington’s most powerful figures, including New Hampshire’s own legendary Senator Styles Bridges, a vigorous champion of the Nationalists cause in Washington.
Madame Chiang Kai-shek with Eleanor Roosevelt,
the White House lawn, 1943
Madame Chiang’s personal assets, with her husband’s tough mindedness and billions of dollars of aid from Washington, fueled the Nationalists movement for a half century as it sought to over-throw Mao Tse-Tung’s Communist regime on the Chinese mainland.
"I had never saw a Chinese woman before," the late Belknap County Commissioner, state rep and town Selectman Joseph F. Smith told the Meredith Historical Society at a September 4, 1962 meeting.
Smith, who later became a prominent lumber dealer and owner of the Wicwas Lodge at Meredith Center, had taken a job at Fred Beede’s store on Meredith’s Main Street and delivered groceries by horse and wagon to customers around town.
One of Smith’s stops was at a school for girls operated by Hattie Moses on Pleasant Street on the Bay between what is now Meredith Mooring Condominiums and property stretching up the hill across from Gould Street.
Smith said he would often give rides on the delivery wagon to girls enrolled at the school as they walked to and from the village. Mei-Ling and her sister were among them. They were very pretty and quite a curiosity for a sleepy little village like Meredith at the turn of the century, he said.
It wasn’t until the1930s that Joe, with his brother Frederick Smith, longtime headmaster of New Hampton School, and their wives were at a movie at Laconia’s Colonial Theater when during the Pathe newsreel a clip was shown featuring China’s President Chiang Kai-shek and his beautiful young wife.
"Hey, that’s Mei-Ling," Fred said, elbowing Joe in the next seat.
"By gory. I can’t believe it. How could you forget her," Joe, said.
James J. Kiepper, Styles Bridges’ biographer, tells of the high Washington influence Chiang’s Nationalists movement held among key members of the U.S. Senate, including Bridges, New Hampshire Congressman Louis Wyman, a former Bridges aide, Sen. Joe McCarthy and others. At the center of these key players was one Ling-Chieh "Louis" Kung, nephew of Madame Chiang. Kung was the son of one of Madame Chiang’s sisters, who had married China’s premier banker, K.K. Kung.
"I guess you could say Louie Kung was the bagman for Chiang’s Nationalists movement in Washington," Kiepper says. "He funded the lobbying operations in Washington. He gave a lot of money to a lot people in support of Chiang’s cause."
It was Louie Kung, Kiepper says, who used the property on Lake Winnipesaukee the most. Kung was married to the 1950s movie star Debra Paget. The daughter-in-law of Styles Bridges, Marion, wife of Styles Jr., was close to Paget. She and the children would visit the estate often.
Kiepper says Wyman and Bridges owned property adjacent to the Kung/Chiang estate, then known as "Spruce Acres," although the Kung/Chiang estate was separated by a thick grove of trees, for privacy.
"There was always some question about the true ownership of that beautiful lakefront property and its links to the Nationalist government and the Chiang family," Kiepper says. "I bet there were 500 hundred feet of shorefront at ‘Spruce Acres.’ if not more." The old mansion was raised and the area redeveloped in the 1980s under the name Embassy Estates.
Kiepper says he was at Bridges House, the former home of the senator in East Concord (now the state-owned official residence of New Hampshire governors), a day or two after the death of the senator’s widow, Doloris, in November of 1969.
"Marion Bridges asked me to come down as Louie Kung was coming in. Louie flew into Concord Airport on a white Learjet and we all sat there by the fireplace talking and then suddenly Louie pulls out the biggest wad of hundred dollar bills I ever saw. He peels off a couple and tells the Bridges boys, ‘I want you to go out and buy every white rose in the City of Concord that you can find and take them up and put them on Doloris’s grave. And they did."
As for Joe Smith, as he told family and friends years later: "Well, you’ll never know how far a girl riding on a horse-drawn wagon in Meredith, New Hampshire can go in life. So be nice to ‘em all."
A resident of Meredith and Concord, Dean Dexter is a former Belknap County Commissioner and state representative who writes about history and politics
Generalissimo and Madame Chiang Kai Shek and Lieutenant General Joseph W. Stilwell, Commanding General, China Expeditionary Forces, on the day following Japanese bombing attack (Doolittle Raid). Maymyo, Burma., April 19, 1942.
U.S. Senator Styles Bridges, R-NH., Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, House Speaker Joe Martin, Vice President Richard M. Nixon, 1943.
This piece was first published in the The Citizen, Laconia, N.H., Thursday, November 6, 2003: Link to story
It also appeared on the OpEd Page of the (Manchester, N.H.) Union Leader, Monday, November 24, 2003: Link to story
Local story on Madame Chiang, The Meredith News, Thursday, October 30, 2003 issue: Link to story
Madame Chiang's obituary in the New York Times, Friday,
October 24, 2003:
Link to story
Access Dean Dexter's blog here.
Posted Thursday, November 6, 2003, 7:00 p.m, updated November 3, 2006
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