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Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister: Three Women at the Heart of Twentieth-Century China

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They were the most famous sisters in China. As the country battled through a hundred years of wars, revolutions and seismic transformations, the three Soong sisters from Shanghai were at the center of power, and each of them left an indelible mark on history. Red Sister, Ching-ling, married the 'Father of China', Sun Yat-sen, and rose to be Mao's vice-chair. Little Sister, They were the most famous sisters in China. As the country battled through a hundred years of wars, revolutions and seismic transformations, the three Soong sisters from Shanghai were at the center of power, and each of them left an indelible mark on history. Red Sister, Ching-ling, married the 'Father of China', Sun Yat-sen, and rose to be Mao's vice-chair. Little Sister, May-ling, became Madame Chiang Kai-shek, first lady of pre-Communist Nationalist China and a major political figure in her own right. Big Sister, Ei-ling, became Chiang's unofficial main adviser - and made herself one of China's richest women. All three sisters enjoyed tremendous privilege and glory, but also endured constant mortal danger. They showed great courage and experienced passionate love, as well as despair and heartbreak. They remained close emotionally, even when they embraced opposing political camps and Ching-ling dedicated herself to destroying her two sisters' worlds. Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister is a gripping story of love, war, intrigue, bravery, glamour and betrayal, which takes us on a sweeping journey from Canton to Hawaii to New York, from exiles' quarters in Japan and Berlin to secret meeting rooms in Moscow, and from the compounds of the Communist elite in Beijing to the corridors of power in democratic Taiwan. In a group biography that is by turns intimate and epic, Jung Chang reveals the lives of three extraordinary women who helped shape twentieth-century China.


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They were the most famous sisters in China. As the country battled through a hundred years of wars, revolutions and seismic transformations, the three Soong sisters from Shanghai were at the center of power, and each of them left an indelible mark on history. Red Sister, Ching-ling, married the 'Father of China', Sun Yat-sen, and rose to be Mao's vice-chair. Little Sister, They were the most famous sisters in China. As the country battled through a hundred years of wars, revolutions and seismic transformations, the three Soong sisters from Shanghai were at the center of power, and each of them left an indelible mark on history. Red Sister, Ching-ling, married the 'Father of China', Sun Yat-sen, and rose to be Mao's vice-chair. Little Sister, May-ling, became Madame Chiang Kai-shek, first lady of pre-Communist Nationalist China and a major political figure in her own right. Big Sister, Ei-ling, became Chiang's unofficial main adviser - and made herself one of China's richest women. All three sisters enjoyed tremendous privilege and glory, but also endured constant mortal danger. They showed great courage and experienced passionate love, as well as despair and heartbreak. They remained close emotionally, even when they embraced opposing political camps and Ching-ling dedicated herself to destroying her two sisters' worlds. Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister is a gripping story of love, war, intrigue, bravery, glamour and betrayal, which takes us on a sweeping journey from Canton to Hawaii to New York, from exiles' quarters in Japan and Berlin to secret meeting rooms in Moscow, and from the compounds of the Communist elite in Beijing to the corridors of power in democratic Taiwan. In a group biography that is by turns intimate and epic, Jung Chang reveals the lives of three extraordinary women who helped shape twentieth-century China.

30 review for Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister: Three Women at the Heart of Twentieth-Century China

  1. 5 out of 5

    Veronica ⭐️

    Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister is the biography of the amazing Soong sisters who together made a huge impact on history. The three sisters became a modern Chinese fairytale. They were much talked about and fanciful gossip about them was often passed around. “In China there were three sisters. One loved money, one loved power, and one loved her country.” Charlie Soong being very forward thinking sent each of his daughters to an American boarding school at a young age. He made influential Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister is the biography of the amazing Soong sisters who together made a huge impact on history. The three sisters became a modern Chinese fairytale. They were much talked about and fanciful gossip about them was often passed around. “In China there were three sisters. One loved money, one loved power, and one loved her country.” Charlie Soong being very forward thinking sent each of his daughters to an American boarding school at a young age. He made influential friends who were then introduced to his daughters. The sisters were very intelligent and interested in the politics of their country. They also believed that women should be man’s equal and the three sisters all rose to positions of influence. Jung Chang divides the book into five parts spanning the years 1866 – 2003. It features the rise of Sun Yat-Sen and the overthrow of the Chinese monarchy to May-Ling’s marriage to Chiang Kai-Shek. I’m not normally a great fan of non-fiction, especially political tales, however this riveting biography is so well written it at no time becomes weighed down. The three sisters, their lives and loves, make for some fascinating reading. Moving from grand parties in Shanghai to penthouses in New York, from exiles’ quarters in Japan and Berlin to secret meetings in Moscow we read about power struggles, godfather style assassinations, secret talks and bribes making this a book that is compulsive reading. I received an uncorrected proof copy from the publisher

  2. 4 out of 5

    Lorna

    Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister: Three Women at the Heart of Twentieth-Century China by Jung Chang, was a sweeping and gripping account of the Soong family of Shanghai, not only of these three sisters that played a large part in the shaping of the history of China in the twentieth century, but it also tells about their three brothers, each making history in their own right, as part of the inner circle of the Chiang Kai-shek regime. This is a magnificent biography of the three Soong Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister: Three Women at the Heart of Twentieth-Century China by Jung Chang, was a sweeping and gripping account of the Soong family of Shanghai, not only of these three sisters that played a large part in the shaping of the history of China in the twentieth century, but it also tells about their three brothers, each making history in their own right, as part of the inner circle of the Chiang Kai-shek regime. This is a magnificent biography of the three Soong sisters, Ei-ling, Ching-ling, and May-ling. Each of the girls were sent, as young children, to be educated in the United States. Ei-Ling, known as "Big Sister," married H.H. Kung, a business man, and ultimately became the wealthiest woman in China. Ching-ling, known as "Red Sister," married the "father of China," Sun Yat-sen, and ultimately rose to be Mao Zedung's Vice-Chair. May-ling, known as "Little Sister," became Madame Chiang Kai-Shek and first lady pre-Communist Nationalist China. This is an extraordinary and riveting account of the life stories of the Soong sisters and their involvement and influence in the sweep of the turbulent history in China during the twentieth century. "Shanghai was then already of the most spectacular and cosmopolitan cities in the world. Situated near the place where the Yangtze, the longest river in China, flows into the sea, it had been marshland only a few decades previously, before the Manchu government allowed Westerners to develop it. Now solid European-style buildings rubbed shoulders with fragile bamboo houses, paved broad streets meshed with wheelbarrow-trodden mud alleys, and parkland jutted into rice paddies. Outside the Bund, the waterfront, under the still gaze of the skyscrapers, numerous sampans rocked with the waves, offering a stirring sight of the city's vitality."

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jemima Pett

    This is an epic undertaking by an excellent writer and historian. Jung Chang brings the early twentieth century to life as she explores the world of Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-Shek. She shows their progress towards revolution, seen through the lives of the family who knew them. Taking the three sisters as the focal point is a clever way of exploring the twists and turns of Chinese society and politics as it moves from a monarchy through to communism. The author crafts the extraordinary story This is an epic undertaking by an excellent writer and historian. Jung Chang brings the early twentieth century to life as she explores the world of Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-Shek. She shows their progress towards revolution, seen through the lives of the family who knew them.  Taking the three sisters as the focal point is a clever way of exploring the twists and turns of Chinese society and politics as it moves from a monarchy through to communism. The author crafts the extraordinary story through writings of many people who knew them at the time. These include letters from lovers, teachers and acquaintances, and reminiscences of fellow-students. It seems well researched, with occasional footnotes to help you place subsidiary events in context. I wouldn't call it easy reading, although it is interesting. I definitely wouldn't call it gripping unless you are a real fan of political intrigue and China in particular. It's not one I'd place on the level of Wild Swans.  But it is definitely worth reading if it piques your interest.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Louise

    This is an ambitious undertaking, pruning the eventful lives of these 3 women to fit into one book. Jung Chang takes this on and covers all the highlights. The book is easily readable. The presentation is neutral to positive. The sisters's loyalty to one another is stressed. In each of the marriages, the Soong sister appears to be the better partner. It is fitting, given their roles in history, that Ching-ling and May-ling have the most text. Ei-Ling is in the background. Sun Yat-sen’s status as This is an ambitious undertaking, pruning the eventful lives of these 3 women to fit into one book. Jung Chang takes this on and covers all the highlights. The book is easily readable. The presentation is neutral to positive. The sisters's loyalty to one another is stressed. In each of the marriages, the Soong sister appears to be the better partner. It is fitting, given their roles in history, that Ching-ling and May-ling have the most text. Ei-Ling is in the background. Sun Yat-sen’s status as the Father of Modern China is shown to be dubious. He wasn’t even in China when it overthrew its monarch. He was said to be raising money in Hawaii and elsewhere but what funds he got for this seem to come from his Maui based brother. It was convenient for the Nationalists and later the Communists to use Sun as a symbol. He is shown to be a total cad towards his wife Ching-ling. She may have never found out that her Japanese marriage was a fake, but she figured out that he used her as a decoy and risked her life. The best thing about this marriage was Sun's death and the special treatment his role as a China’s”father” accorded her. Highlights of her life under Mao and her household, her alleged affair and her adopted daughters are page turners. While first lady of China, and later Taiwan, May-ling gets away (she loves New York) every chance she gets. As a translator and advisor she is important to her husband (he also seems co-dependent, with her, later his son and maybe his previous wife and concubines). She returns if her husband really needs her. She only modestly curbs his most authoritarian tendencies. Most interesting here is the story of Chaing’s son and his hostage days in the Soviet Union. Years ago I read Madame Chiang Kai-shek: China's Eternal First Lady which, overall, paints a very different picture of "Little Sister". Ei-ling brings Chaing Kai-shek into the family's orbit and into the family. Her husband, said to be one of the richest men in China, served as China’s premiere for two years. Ei-ling has the only children of the 3 sisters: two sons and a daughter, who served the family in various capacities and Louis, a paranoid TX oilman who married an American actress and produced the sole heir to the Kung-Soong wealth, now in his 70's with no children. While the book is fairly positive on this family you see the Soong's and Kung’s helping themselves to public funds. You see Sun-yat-sen only interested in being president and creating the civil war the ended China’s democracy (that he supposedly founded) to have this status/power. There is some description of Chaing and his 2 million nationalists taking over the 7 million people of Taiwan and how his dictatorship was set up. You see May-ling is only concerned about who will run Taiwan after Chaing’s death because she wanted to keep her large staff (in New York City). This will not be the last word on the Soong sisters. There are a lot of pictures and they are of the people and events you would like to see. The complicated story is easily presented for westerners and the index is very good. If you are interested in this topic it is a good place to start; for those who know the story of the Soong’s there is new information and perspective.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Mal Warwick

    The three sisters’s lives spanned three centuries of Chinese history. Born late in the nineteenth century, the youngest of them died at the age of 105 in 2003. Together, these three extraordinary women helped shape the destiny of the world’s most populous nation from the closing days of the Manchu dynasty to the dawn of China’s ascension into a superpower. In Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister, the acclaimed Chinese-British historian Jung Chang tells their story with compassion and an The three sisters’s lives spanned three centuries of Chinese history. Born late in the nineteenth century, the youngest of them died at the age of 105 in 2003. Together, these three extraordinary women helped shape the destiny of the world’s most populous nation from the closing days of the Manchu dynasty to the dawn of China’s ascension into a superpower. In Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister, the acclaimed Chinese-British historian Jung Chang tells their story with compassion and an obsessive attention to historical fact. In the process, she illuminates the story of twentieth-century Chinese history from a new perspective. Three sisters who were at the forefront of twentieth-century Chinese history In outline, the basic facts are these: ** The three sisters’s father, Soong Charlie, grew up poor but gained the advantage of a missionary education. Trained as a missionary himself in the United States, he found ways for all six of his children to gain American college degrees. They all became fluent English speakers. ** Soong May-ling (Little Sister) was the youngest of the three girls. (Their three brothers were all younger.) Having lived in the US from age nine to nineteen, she spoke English but was illiterate in Chinese, which she had to learn later in life. She married Chiang Kai-shek, the Soviet-backed soldier who became Generalissimo and later president of the Nationalist forces that dominated China until 1949. He then led the exodus to Taiwan, where he ruled until his death in 1975. ** Soong Ching-ling (Red Sister), married Dr. Sun Yat-sen, who has been credited as the “Father of China” for having played a leading role in the movement to overthrow the Manchu Dynasty. After his death in 1925, she sided against her family with the Communists. During the last three decades of her life she held an honored role in Red China as Vice-Chairman under Mao Ze-dong and Deng Tsiao-peng. ** Soong Ei-ling (Big Sister), the eldest of the children, was “the first Chinese woman to be educated in the United States.” She married an American-educated Christian banker named H. H. Kung. She guided him to an enormous fortune, much of it gained during the war with Japan when Kung served as finance minister and sometime prime minister in the Nationalist government. In fact, it was Ei-ling who was her brother-in-law Chiang Kai-shek’s most influential advisor, even though much of her advice had to be funneled through her husband or a younger brother who also served in Chiang’s cabinet. ** Ei-ling supported others in the family for many years through the fortune she and Kung had amassed, largely through commissions and kickbacks on weapons and other supplies from the US. “Eventually, the wealth amassed by the Kungs,” Chang reports, “may have reached, or even surpassed, $100 million” (the equivalent of at least $1.4 billion in 2019 dollars). And the corruption was anything but hidden. As President Harry S Truman famously said of the Soong and Kung families, “They’re all thieves, every damn one of them.” However, you can’t understand twentieth-century Chinese history without knowing about the role of this remarkable family. Updating an earlier biography of the three Soong sisters More than thirty years ago, I read an earlier biography of the three sisters: The Soong Dynasty by Sterling Seagrave, a bestseller published in 1985. That book, which “portrayed the Soong family in a highly unfavourable light,” shaped my views of some of the major figures in twentieth-century Chinese history, including Dowager Empress Cixi, Dr. Sun Yat-sen, Chiang Kai-shek, and Mao Zedong, as well as the three Soong sisters themselves. Jung Chang’s treatment, benefiting from several decades of additional documents that have come to light, conveys a somewhat different picture. The Dowager Empress emerges in Jung Chang’s book as a committed and effective reformer, not the greedy and self-indulgent figure portrayed in the Communists’s rewriting of history. Both Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek come across as scheming and amoral, the one incompetent at politics, the other disastrous as a military leader. And the three sisters, in Chang’s telling, are all fallible but believable human beings. Because of decades of propaganda on all sides, the three sisters came to be regarded as what Chang refers to as “fairy-tale figures.” She cites the “much-quoted description: ‘In China, there were three sisters. One loved money, one loved power, and one loved her country.'” The reference to Big Sister, Little Sister, and Red Sister (in the same order) is, of course, a gross oversimplification. They and their lives were anything but simple. Refuting the myths spread by propaganda Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister upends a great many myths that have been propagated both by the Chinese government in Beijing and the China Lobby in the US. Dowager Empress Cixi The subject of an earlier biography by Jung Chang, the Dowager Empress was in reality a far worthier person than she is generally portrayed as being. “A former imperial concubine, this extraordinary woman had seized power through a palace coup after her husband’s death in 1861, whereupon she had begun to bring the medieval country into the modern age.” After earlier efforts at reform that are generally credited to the men in her court, she doubled down on the effort after the turn of the century. “In the first decade of the twentieth century,” Chang writes, “she introduced a series of fundamental changes. These included a brand-new educational system, a free press, and women’s emancipation, beginning not least with an edict against foot-binding in 1902. The country was to become a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliament.” Sun Yat-sen Although Sun Yat-sen is typically referred to as the first president of China, in fact he was only acting president, and for a very short time. For more than a decade he struggled with opponents within the Nationalist Party (which he did not found) to gain the presidency. Allied with gangsters, Sun employed hardball tactics, including assassination, to gain power but was never successful. He was a womanizer and treated all three of his wives (Ching-ling was the third) very badly. “A friend once asked him,” Chang writes, “what his favourite pursuits were; he replied without hesitation: ‘revolution’ followed by ‘women’.” Chiang Kai-shek Chiang Kai-shek is one of the most controversial figures of the twentieth century, particularly in the United States, where he was lionized by the China Lobby advanced by TIME Magazine publisher Henry Luce. Although Chiang did in fact lead the resistance to Japan (1937-45) despite Beijing’s propaganda crediting Mao Ze-dong, senior American military officers assigned as his aides universally regarded him as an utterly incompetent soldier and blamed him for the loss to the Communists. And he was a violent man with a volcanic temper who frequently beat his first wife and concubines (Little Sister was effectively his fourth wife). Like Dr. Sun before him, he partnered with Shanghai’s notorious Green Gang; although Chiang was trained in the Soviet Union and controlled by Stalin for several years, he put the gangsters to work murdering Communists once he broke publicly with the Party in 1928. He was also himself a murderer who assassinated one of Sun Yat-sen’s opponents. (“He shot Tao dead in the bed at point-blank range.”) Mao Ze-dong Mao’s impulsive and brutal policies that led to the deaths of tens of millions of Chinese people are well documented and widely acknowledged. What is less well known are the facts surrounding the Long March and the Red Army’s performance in World War II. As Chang reveals, when Mao’s forces were holed up in the southeast, they were highly vulnerable. Chiang’s army might well have annihilated them when they drove them from the region. But Chiang was negotiating with Stalin at the time and dependent on Soviet arms; murdering the Reds might even have triggered a Soviet invasion. Thus, he was content to herd the Red Army into the arid far northwest where he might later bottle up and kill them. Chang relates a strange story that explains how Chiang managed to lose to Mao even though his armies were battle-tested and much stronger than the guerrillas who made up the Red Army. Chiang’s son, Chiang Ching-kuo, had been imprisoned in the USSR on Stalin’s orders to maintain leverage over the Nationalist leader. To secure his release after a dozen years, Chiang agreed to a meeting with Zhou En-lai at which the two men cut a deal “which led to the two parties forming a ‘united front’ as equal partners when the war against Japan started, within months.” The Nationalist cause quickly went downhill after that. About the author Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister is Jung Chang’s fifth biographical treatment of twentieth-century Chinese history. Her earlier subjects included Dowager Empress Cixi, Mao Zedong, Madame Sun Yat-sen, and her own family. Born in China, she lives in London with her husband, Jon Halliday, her coauthor on two of those books.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Anne M

    Published by: Random House UK, Vintage Publishing Jonathan Cape Pub Date 17 October 2019. Reviewed 20 October 2019. The official description: They were the most famous sisters in China. As the country battled through a hundred years of wars, revolutions and seismic transformations, the three Soong sisters from Shanghai were at the centre of power, and each of them left an indelible mark on history. Red Sister, Ching-ling, married the ‘Father of China’, Sun Yat-sen, and rose to be Mao’s vice-chair. Published by: Random House UK, Vintage Publishing Jonathan Cape Pub Date 17 October 2019. Reviewed 20 October 2019. The official description: They were the most famous sisters in China. As the country battled through a hundred years of wars, revolutions and seismic transformations, the three Soong sisters from Shanghai were at the centre of power, and each of them left an indelible mark on history. Red Sister, Ching-ling, married the ‘Father of China’, Sun Yat-sen, and rose to be Mao’s vice-chair. Little Sister, May-ling, became Madame Chiang Kai-shek, first lady of pre-Communist Nationalist China and a major political figure in her own right. Big Sister, Ei-ling, became Chiang’s unofficial main adviser – and made herself one of China’s richest women. Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister is a gripping story of love, war, intrigue, bravery, glamour and betrayal, which takes us on a sweeping journey from Canton to Hawaii to New York, from exiles’ quarters in Japan and Berlin to secret meeting rooms in Moscow, and from the compounds of the Communist elite in Beijing to the corridors of power in democratic Taiwan. In a group biography that is by turns intimate and epic, Jung Chang reveals the lives of three extraordinary women who helped shape twentieth-century China. My review: For a biography supposedly focussing on the three most famous women in Chinese history I found it strange that the initial chapters deal with men (Sun Yat-sen and the girls’ father). And this, I think, is the problem with the book. The sisters are viewed through the lens of their role relative to men, rather than in their own right. And so the book has become a history of Chinese politics and the roles the men in the sisters’ lives played, rather than a group biography of these three remarkable women. The book is meticulously researched and filled with page after page of facts and details. Unfortunately, so many irrelevant details left me emotionally unengaged and frankly uninterested. I kept skimming through pages to get to the bits that actually told me something about the sisters. Somewhere in these pages there is a good biography, if the book was re-focussed and irrelevant facts, details and chapters were trimmed off. Then what is a book on Chinese history might become what it promised to be: a biography of three most powerful Chinese women and their roles in shaping 20th century China. My rating: 3 stars Thanks to #NetGalley for eARC. #BigSisterLittleSisterRedSister #NetGalley

  7. 4 out of 5

    George1st

    Jung Chang is probably best known for her hugely successful family autobiography Wild Swans, however she has also written two historic books Mao: The Unknown Story and Empress Dowager Cixi. Now she tells the extraordinary story of three sisters who due to marriage and family association found themselves at the centre of the tumultuous events that engulfed 20th century China. We have Red Sister, Ching-ling who married the still revered ‘Father of China’, Sun Yat-sen and due to our allegiance to Jung Chang is probably best known for her hugely successful family autobiography Wild Swans, however she has also written two historic books Mao: The Unknown Story and Empress Dowager Cixi. Now she tells the extraordinary story of three sisters who due to marriage and family association found themselves at the centre of the tumultuous events that engulfed 20th century China. We have Red Sister, Ching-ling who married the still revered ‘Father of China’, Sun Yat-sen and due to our allegiance to the Communist cause went on to become Mao’s vice-chair and remain diametrically opposed to her nationalist supporting sisters. There is Little Sister, May-ling, who would marry the nationalist leader of pre-Communist China Chiang Kai-shek and as first lady insert much influence and there is Big Sister, Ei-ling who again exerted much influence over Chiang Kai-shek and controversially through undoubted corruption (ably supported by her husband who himself became President of the Republic of China) became one of China’s richest women. This is a fascinating, immaculately researched and referenced historical work that tells a gripping story of power, intrigue and shifting alliances together and with how personal relationships effected the political and historic outcome of one of the World's most important and enigmatic countries. We learn how the sisters from colonial influenced Shanghai grew up as Christians and were all educated in the USA and became so "westernised" that at times they struggled to speak their own native language. Like I suspect a lot of people my understanding and knowledge of pre-Communist 20th century China was until reading this book somewhat limited and I did not for instance know that for a time in the 1920's China was with limitations a functioning democracy, having a free press and a flourishing art scene and therefore it's subsequent history could have been so different. This was in part attributable to the malevolent and destabilising influence that Stalin's Soviet Union exerted. If you want to make sense of modern China and its policies then an understanding of its history is required and a book like this will help you towards this goal. A recommended read.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

    Let's not pretend this is a light read, it does cover almost to 150 years of modern Chinese political history, but it's impressively accessible and not particularly dry or dense either. Partly, this is due to the perspective Chang approached it from - focusing on the three Soong sisters, part of one of the "Four big families of the Republic of China". The sisters are summarized by a Maoist saying, "One loved money, one loved power, one loved her country". This book clearly shows that's a fairly Let's not pretend this is a light read, it does cover almost to 150 years of modern Chinese political history, but it's impressively accessible and not particularly dry or dense either. Partly, this is due to the perspective Chang approached it from - focusing on the three Soong sisters, part of one of the "Four big families of the Republic of China". The sisters are summarized by a Maoist saying, "One loved money, one loved power, one loved her country". This book clearly shows that's a fairly superficial take on these rich characters in Chinese history, although it's also to see how that became a convenient shorthand for the communist government. For me, this book was fascinating. Much of the information I come across relating to China is very academic. Chang's work brings a level of humanity to these periods, opening up views I've not come across before. This book starts with Sun Yat-Sen's early years, including time in the USA and London, and his early attempts to foment revolution. Then, the fates and fortunes of various individuals as China put the old dynasties behind it and reestablished itself. The sisters, the middle of whom married Sun, lived through significant change, and, most interestingly, took different paths. All were educated in the USA, and all forged lives of power and prominence. The latter a large part of what ended up keeping them apart, especially once the Nationalists retreated to Taiwan at the end of 1949. The book gave me an insight into various individuals and events I didn't know enough about. Despite the weighty subject, it doesn't get bogged down. It finds a good balance between ensuring you have enough background and information to not get lost, but it doesn't throw excessive minutia at the reader - confident that if you've picked the book up you're likely someone who can add to the information should you desire, and I've certainly found myself doing that! If you have any interest in China or Taiwan this feels like a great book to pick up, and likely share with others so you can talk more about the subject with them. It's a well-written insight into some truly fascinating events in moidern history.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Inken

    A fascinating insight into the lives of three of China’s most famous women. Sisters Ei-ling, Ching-ling and May-ling Soong were at the heart of China’s political history in the early years of the 20th century and are renowned even today. Born into comfort and some wealth, the sisters were modern women. Educated in America, they were cosmopolitan, politically aware, fashionable and glamorous. Two of the sisters (Ching-ling and May-ling) married men who became the heart of China’s revolution and A fascinating insight into the lives of three of China’s most famous women. Sisters Ei-ling, Ching-ling and May-ling Soong were at the heart of China’s political history in the early years of the 20th century and are renowned even today. Born into comfort and some wealth, the sisters were modern women. Educated in America, they were cosmopolitan, politically aware, fashionable and glamorous. Two of the sisters (Ching-ling and May-ling) married men who became the heart of China’s revolution and ultimate move to a republic: Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek. Ei-ling (the eldest) married a successful businessman and they both enjoyed enormous influence during these volatile years. Ching-ling (aka Red Sister) married Sun Yat-sen when she was 19 and he was close to 50. Her family (especially her parents) were appalled and it wasn’t until her beloved father Charlie fell seriously ill that any reconciliation happened. Initially Ching-ling was head over heels in love with Sun, a man of truly epic ambition and arrogance and who, it must be said, was a singular driving force in turning China from a monarchy into a republic. Sun was also colossally selfish, treating his first wife and children with utter indifference, willing to use and manipulate anyone to achieve his ends. When Ching-ling endured a days-long bombardment of their home and suffered a miscarriage during her incredibly dangerous escape, she realized Sun had left her there deliberately as bait for his enemies. Their relationship never entirely recovered until he was dying of liver cancer. Sun came to be known as Father of China, but Ching-ling was no longer merely Sun’s wife and widow: she became a highly regarded member of the communist movement in China and the Soviet Union. Sadly, her increasing loathing of Chiang Kai-shek and his Nationalist movement resulted in a lifelong rift between herself and the rest of her family, despite their intense loyalty and affection for each other. In 1950, after Mao’s victory over Chiang Kai-shek, Ching-ling never spoke or wrote to or met with her sisters again. May-ling (the baby) married Chiang Kai-shek, a man of equally colossal ego and ambition. Raised in poverty by his utterly devoted mother, Chiang was essentially a mummy’s boy, used to women waiting on his every need. May-ling, however, was independent and strong-willed and she became internationally famous for her diplomatic skills, as well as her bravery and leadership during the Japanese invasion. Chiang subsequently enjoyed a real partnership with his wife (who was greatly admired by his colleagues and supporters.) The couple became the leaders of China until Chiang’s regime utterly mishandled their supposed victory over the Japanese and Mao’s forces in 1945, turning many former supporters into enemies. Chiang alienated most of his immediately circle, made mistake after mistake (almost causing the failure of their marriage) and they were ultimately forced by Mao to flee to Taiwan in 1950, where Chiang set up a dictatorial Nationalist government. Their relationship endured many highs and lows over the next 25 years until Chiang’s death, at which point May-ling left for America, never to return. Ei-ling married millionaire businessman H H Kung. She was the only one of the sisters to have children and she and her husband were close friends and political allies of Chiang. Despite many generous acts during the wars of the 1930s and 40s, Ei-ling’s reputation suffered as she and HH were implicated in several government corruption scandals. Enormously wealthy, the Kungs were mostly protected by Chiang and May-ling until they fell from power, at which point Chiang did his best to blame them for all the country’s ills. Eventually the Kungs moved to America, where they had many contacts and business relationships, and stayed there. The story of the Soong sisters (as well as their brothers and other relatives) is extraordinary. A family that almost accidentally became the centre of some of the most volatile and significant events in the early to mid-20th century. Three women tied by blood and whose intelligence, skills and beliefs lay at the heart of almost everything they did, how they treated each other, the decisions they made that affected the lives of millions.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Vanessa

    Here is a book I just had to go out and Purchase when it came out, to have sitting next to her other books I have by this author. Yes, I am a big fan of her's. Jung Chang is famous for her famous and best known book called "Wild Swans" which I loved and have read several times over the years. So when "Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister": came out to read and review It was like Christmas had arrived. Jung's books are all full of history, always written beautifully and full of great Here is a book I just had to go out and Purchase when it came out, to have sitting next to her other books I have by this author. Yes, I am a big fan of her's. Jung Chang is famous for her famous and best known book called "Wild Swans" which I loved and have read several times over the years. So when "Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister": came out to read and review It was like Christmas had arrived. Jung's books are all full of history, always written beautifully and full of great illustrations throughout. So much research has been done to write this new fantastic book. This new book is a biography of the Soong sisters. They were three Women who were at the Heart of Twentieth-Century China. These sisters became the modern fairy tale that made a great impact on history today. They are much talked about with in the community and still are spoken about today. "Red Sister" Ching-ling, married the 'Father of China', Sun Yat-sen, and rose to be Mao's vice-chair. "Little Sister" May-ling, became Madame Chiang Kai-shek, the first lady of pre-Communist Nationalist China and a major political figure in her own right. "Big Sister" Ei-ling, became Chiang's unofficial main adviser - and made herself one of China's richest women. I was gripped from the first few pages and wanted to learn more about the Soong Sisters. It's a very gripping story of Love, war, bravery, glamour and betrayal which all put together makes a brilliant book and I know I will sit and read it again in the future. Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister takes us on a sweeping journey from Canton to Hawaii to New York, from exiles' quarters in Japan and Berlin to secret meeting rooms in Moscow, and from the compounds of the Communist elite in Beijing to the corridors of power in democratic Taiwan. WoW......I highly recommend this new book by Jung Chang. 5 star read.......... Jung has also written these historic books as-well: 1. Wild Swans 2. Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China 3. Mao: The Unknown Story 4. Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister

  11. 5 out of 5

    Glen U

    An amazing book about three amazing sisters who were the driving force behind the 20th century history of modern china. All three sisters married men who were to become immensely important to the development of this vast Asian country. Ei-ling, eldest sister, married an industrialist, H. H. Kung, and became the un-official adviser to Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek. Many of China's decisions were attributed to nudgings from Ei-ling to these two pre-communist leaders. Red Sister, Ching-ling, who An amazing book about three amazing sisters who were the driving force behind the 20th century history of modern china. All three sisters married men who were to become immensely important to the development of this vast Asian country. Ei-ling, eldest sister, married an industrialist, H. H. Kung, and became the un-official adviser to Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek. Many of China's decisions were attributed to nudgings from Ei-ling to these two pre-communist leaders. Red Sister, Ching-ling, who was the second eldest, married Sun Yat-sen, and after Sun died, became a high ranking minister for Mao Tse-tung. May-ling married Chiang Kai-Shek, the leader of the Nationalists during the 20th century, and had a great deal of influence and input into the pre-war, war and subsequent exile to Taiwan of Chiang's regime. Researched relentlessly, Chang does a great job of connecting the sisters to the paths and policies that China went through. And although insights into the women and their personalities are there, I was disappointed that most of the book was still about the men they married and their influences on them, then the women themselves. Perhaps a bit too much like a history book and not a memoir. It would have given the reader more of an insight to the collective force and resiliency of the people of China and not just the programs and pathways they were forced to follow. Nonetheless, a great look into a nation that was and is one the prime forces on the Earth today. An excellent read.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Marlou Castillo

    A well-researched work on the lives, loves and foibles of the three Soong sisters, this book is a fascinating read and extremely helpful in understanding the history of modern China. All American educated, two of the sisters married ambitious, powerful and ruthless men. Ching-ling (Red Sister) married Sun Yat-sen, who helped overthrow the Chinese monarchy and is dubbed “Father of China.” She went on to become Vice Chair of Communist China under Mao Ze-dong. May-ling (Little Sister) married A well-researched work on the lives, loves and foibles of the three Soong sisters, this book is a fascinating read and extremely helpful in understanding the history of modern China. All American educated, two of the sisters married ambitious, powerful and ruthless men. Ching-ling (Red Sister) married Sun Yat-sen, who helped overthrow the Chinese monarchy and is dubbed “Father of China.” She went on to become Vice Chair of Communist China under Mao Ze-dong. May-ling (Little Sister) married Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek and was the first lady of Nationalist China for two decades until 1949 when the communists under Mao drove the government of Chiang to Taiwan. Ei-ling (the eldest and thus, Big Sister) had the best political acumen and was a trusted adviser of her brother-in-law, Chiang. She made herself one of the richest women in China by helping herself to the coffers of the government led by the Generalissimo. Despite their political differences and the resulting physical estrangement, the love of the sisters for and their devotion to each other never diminished. The scheming and power struggles, the brutality of war, the machinations of international leaders at the time, the greatness and frailties of the major characters who shaped modern China –both the People’s Republic and the Republic of China on Taiwan-- all come alive in this book.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Vette M,

    I picked this book up out of curiosity for the Soong sisters, I grew up in Georgia and almost attended the same college as these extraordinary women. I'm glad the author decided to focus on the women instead of her original subject, Sun Yat-Sen. I did learn a lot about Sun Yat-Sen just from the first chapter and realized he was not the altruistic revolutionary willing to make any sacrifice for his country. Instead, I see he was a self promotor willing to use anyone who could advance his position I picked this book up out of curiosity for the Soong sisters, I grew up in Georgia and almost attended the same college as these extraordinary women. I'm glad the author decided to focus on the women instead of her original subject, Sun Yat-Sen. I did learn a lot about Sun Yat-Sen just from the first chapter and realized he was not the altruistic revolutionary willing to make any sacrifice for his country. Instead, I see he was a self promotor willing to use anyone who could advance his position as the "Father of China". I had always heard about the Soong sisters, but it was more in relation to their spouses so it was nice to see a book focused mainly on their contributions to history and China. Ei-Ling the Big Sister was almost unknown to me, which is surprising since she was the more domineering of the siblings. It was also nice to understand their history with their parents and their strong religious background that influenced the siblings' choices in life. The book goes in chronological order with even some plugs for the author's other books for reference to certain events or political figures. It was a pleasure to read and highly recommend for anyone curious about these strong willed women.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Charles

    This book details the central role that the Soong family daughters(a well to do upper class Shanghai family) played in the history of modern China.-Ei-ling(big sister), May-ling(little sister) & Ching-ling(red sister) . All 3 were educated in the USA. Ching-ling was Sun Yat Sen's wife(he being recognized as the founder of the Chinese republic which replaced the previous monarchy), and after his death a Communist sympathizer who alienated the rest of the family & played a symbolic role in This book details the central role that the Soong family daughters(a well to do upper class Shanghai family) played in the history of modern China.-Ei-ling(big sister), May-ling(little sister) & Ching-ling(red sister) . All 3 were educated in the USA. Ching-ling was Sun Yat Sen's wife(he being recognized as the founder of the Chinese republic which replaced the previous monarchy), and after his death a Communist sympathizer who alienated the rest of the family & played a symbolic role in Mao Zhedong's red China& lived in Beijing. May-ling married the Nationalist leader & Mao opponent Chiang Kai Shek & after his defeat by Mao moved to Taiwan where the Nationalists had taken refuge & were protected by the US who feared the reds. She took frequent trips back to New York often for prolonged periods but always came back to Chiang. Ei-ling married HH Kung who acted as finance minister in the Chiang administration-she was very clever & very successful in business & built up a large fortune from which she supported her relatives. She also ended up in the US. There is a lot about the husbands ruthless ambitions & their responsibility in the deaths of many of their opponents & also about all their political & financial maneuvering.

  15. 4 out of 5

    jean

    Goodness - where to start a review of this epic book?! I don't read a lot of non fiction, but this caught my attention having read and enjoyed "wild swans" and this book also features 3 strong women. Coupled with their lives being irrevocably entwined in the history of modern China with its warring factions and their own sibling rivalries an explosive narrative is assured. As Ms Chang outlines in her introduction, a lot of material is available about their stories and she has obviously done a Goodness - where to start a review of this epic book?! I don't read a lot of non fiction, but this caught my attention having read and enjoyed "wild swans" and this book also features 3 strong women. Coupled with their lives being irrevocably entwined in the history of modern China with its warring factions and their own sibling rivalries an explosive narrative is assured. As Ms Chang outlines in her introduction, a lot of material is available about their stories and she has obviously done a huge amount of research - evidenced by 16% of my e- book being notes on her sources and further references. Although I feel almost ungrateful saying this, I felt that as an ordinary reader there was so much information and quotes that, for me, it stopped my full immersion in the book. Hence 3 stars, but I feel sure other readers will really enjoy it. Thank you to netgalley and Random house for an advance copy of this book

  16. 4 out of 5

    Dawn

    Chang's research, as always, is astonishing. In this intimate portrait of the Soong sisters, you get a real sense of who they were. I've seen one or two reviews be critical about the fact that the book focuses a fair bit on the men in sisters' lives. I can understand that - I think Chiang Kai-Shenk was given more prominence than "Big Sister" Ei-Ling. But, all three sisters were in the positions they were because of who they were married to (or in Ei-Ling's case, who her sister May-Ling was Chang's research, as always, is astonishing. In this intimate portrait of the Soong sisters, you get a real sense of who they were. I've seen one or two reviews be critical about the fact that the book focuses a fair bit on the men in sisters' lives. I can understand that - I think Chiang Kai-Shenk was given more prominence than "Big Sister" Ei-Ling. But, all three sisters were in the positions they were because of who they were married to (or in Ei-Ling's case, who her sister May-Ling was married to). The reality was a woman would never have power without some connection to a powerful man at that time in China's history - though all three certainly played fundamental roles in helping the men in their lives gain and keep power. Overall, an interesting read but one that was a bit of a slog at times. Possibly a good book to read on holiday when you have time to devote it.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Lucy

    An interesting account of the three Soong sisters, born in Shanghai at the end of the 19th century, and influential throughout the whole of 20th century Chinese politics. A combination of biography and political history, the book explores the lives of the three sisters, how their politics, beliefs, faiths and passions diverge and reunite. I did find this fairly heavy-going (Iet’s face it, political history isn’t the lightest topic!) but worth sticking at. The sisters are fascinating characters; An interesting account of the three Soong sisters, born in Shanghai at the end of the 19th century, and influential throughout the whole of 20th century Chinese politics. A combination of biography and political history, the book explores the lives of the three sisters, how their politics, beliefs, faiths and passions diverge and reunite. I did find this fairly heavy-going (Iet’s face it, political history isn’t the lightest topic!) but worth sticking at. The sisters are fascinating characters; although I really didn’t like them – spoilt, with a feeling of entitlement, and able to pull strings for their loved ones while the general populace suffered. A long, hard, but interesting insight into some generally unknown but major characters in the recent history of China.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Raza

    For a non chinese , this book really serves as a window into the first half of 20th century China. Our conduit is the Soong family, esp the three sisters : Eli, Ching and May. Ching and May feature predominantly in the book. The narrative is flowing, the sisters are a hoot and the the supporting cast adds tragedy and comedy into the mix. Sun Yat Sen, who wanted to be president more than anything else, comes across as needy and opportunistic. Chiang , married to the youngest sister, tried to stay For a non chinese , this book really serves as a window into the first half of 20th century China. Our conduit is the Soong family, esp the three sisters : Eli, Ching and May. Ching and May feature predominantly in the book. The narrative is flowing, the sisters are a hoot and the the supporting cast adds tragedy and comedy into the mix. Sun Yat Sen, who wanted to be president more than anything else, comes across as needy and opportunistic. Chiang , married to the youngest sister, tried to stay in power as much as he could (using violence as well) but eventually lost the war to Mao because of his uninspiring leadership. The sisters lost most power in mainland China (through Sun/Chiang) after 1949, though no one could deny their influence (both good and bad) for decades before that.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Dominique Wilson

    Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister is the fascinating collective biography of the Soong sisters of Shanghai – three strong-willed, passionate, and independent women who influenced the development of modern China and Taiwan, often from opposing political camps. Jung Chang's research is impressive, delving into archives in the US, the UK, Taiwan, Russia and Hong Kong, as well as diaries, interviews with the Soong's family and friends, and eye-witness accounts of various events. The result is a Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister is the fascinating collective biography of the Soong sisters of Shanghai – three strong-willed, passionate, and independent women who influenced the development of modern China and Taiwan, often from opposing political camps. Jung Chang's research is impressive, delving into archives in the US, the UK, Taiwan, Russia and Hong Kong, as well as diaries, interviews with the Soong's family and friends, and eye-witness accounts of various events. The result is a vivid and detailed historical book that is easily accessible, entertaining and truly interesting. Thank you to Better Reading and Jonathan Cape for this ARC

  20. 4 out of 5

    Sharyn

    I have to admit to struggling with this book. I am a fast reader but five days in and I am still only half way through it. It is not the 'biography' I was expecting and hoping for but a detailed history of Chinese politics. The actual story is just 84% of the unproofed download but I am abandoning it for now and may come back to finish it at a later date.. Three stars as the writing is readable and the research is amazing. But it's not the biography I was expecting, it's more about the men in I have to admit to struggling with this book. I am a fast reader but five days in and I am still only half way through it. It is not the 'biography' I was expecting and hoping for but a detailed history of Chinese politics. The actual story is just 84% of the unproofed download but I am abandoning it for now and may come back to finish it at a later date.. Three stars as the writing is readable and the research is amazing. But it's not the biography I was expecting, it's more about the men in their lives than the sisters. With thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for the opportunity to read and review an unproofed e-ARC of this book

  21. 4 out of 5

    Patricia

    Couldn't put it down, perhaps because I've read so many books on Chinese history that have covered the Soong sisters or the period in which they they lived (Republican China to end of the 1980s) to discover that most of what I had read of them before was white-washed or only told snippets of the story. Jung Chang's story of the Soong sisters AND the men they married, their friends, their enemies, and as important, their earlier biographers is not another Soong sister biography. Prepare to be Couldn't put it down, perhaps because I've read so many books on Chinese history that have covered the Soong sisters or the period in which they they lived (Republican China to end of the 1980s) to discover that most of what I had read of them before was white-washed or only told snippets of the story. Jung Chang's story of the Soong sisters AND the men they married, their friends, their enemies, and as important, their earlier biographers is not another Soong sister biography. Prepare to be surprised.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Angie

    With the publication of "Wild Swans", Jung Chang lit a fire in my belly for Chinese culture and I've been fascinated and intrigued by it ever since. Her latest offering, "Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister" is an excellent piece of work. The Soong sisters' lives make for fascinating reading. One of the things I love most about Chang is that she makes history accessible for layfolk. The bibliography attests to the sheer volume of research undertaken, and the wealth of information imparted to With the publication of "Wild Swans", Jung Chang lit a fire in my belly for Chinese culture and I've been fascinated and intrigued by it ever since. Her latest offering, "Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister" is an excellent piece of work. The Soong sisters' lives make for fascinating reading. One of the things I love most about Chang is that she makes history accessible for layfolk. The bibliography attests to the sheer volume of research undertaken, and the wealth of information imparted to the amount of work put into pulling it together. 

  23. 4 out of 5

    Heitor Faro de Castro

    The story is captivating because it reveals an unusual perspective on the paths of power, starring elegant feminine cunning, rich in the details of feelings and customs drawn from testimonials and letters exchanged between faithful sisters among themselves and their spouse heroes, amidst profound changes of a country of unthinkable extremes, between centuries of great transformation. Gentle reading adds beauty and authenticity to the story. The reading was done in Audible.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Barbara White

    I found this book very enlightening. My knowledge of Chinese history is limited, so I learned much. How amazing the influence one family can have in a country.......although we've seen it occur in other places besides China. I recommend this book. Thanks to Goodreads First reads for my copy of Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister:.....

  25. 4 out of 5

    cindy_b

    I can't believe what I was reading: this is supposed to be about history and facts, and let readers judge the characters; it feels like I was reading "Enquire" gossip magazine. This book the best is an unauthorized biography, -- and full of gossips and dubious and presumptuous statements. A total waste of time and a disappointment. Painful to read.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Beth Stackhouse

    I read this in 3 nights. I was quite interested in and it was a great read. Not a type of book I would normally read but am glad I did. The women it’s about were strong willed and knew what they wanted. They lead an interesting life of lots of ups and down. It was so interesting to read about this era and country and all that happened and is still happening. I would recommend to this book.

  27. 4 out of 5

    katy ktp

    I have read all Jung Chan's previous books and loved them. This one however proved heavy going. In the foreward she says that she didn't empathise with the 3 sisters and hadn't previously wanted to write about them. This was born out in the book where their characters never really came to life. I rather wished she hadn't changed her mind.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Ann

    I’ve wanted to read a history of modern China and this fit the bill. I found many of the assumptions made about the emotions or motivations of key parties to be designed to fit the author’s external goals. Nonetheless, and despite skimming much of the final third (too much detail about trivia), I found this book worthwhile for my intended purpose.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Ann

    Having enjoyed The Wild Swans, I was looking forward to reading this book. What a disappointment! I found it boring and all the people are detestable. I mistakenly thought this was historical fiction, but it is just badly written, biased 'history. These people changed the course of history and should be so much more interesting.....

  30. 5 out of 5

    Deborah Dobrin

    This is a great read If you love your books historically accurate and full of facts. I found it a little heavy going and unwieldy in parts but it was all essential. It’s not wild swans it’s not a sweeping family saga but it is interesting, well researched and for all that enjoyable. Thank you Net Galley for the opportunity to read this book.

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