Taiwan's 'first lady' dies at 105

Saturday, October 25, 2003

— She was born into one of modern China's most remarkable families, married one of China's most powerful men and -- at his side -- helped rule China and later Taiwan during decades of war, upheaval and Cold War tension.

Madame Chiang Kai-shek, the glamorous, U.S.-educated "eternal first lady" of Taiwan, died at her New York City home. She was 105. After battling cancer and other illnesses for years, she caught a cold Wednesday and died the next day.

Madame and President Chiang Kai-shek were once one of the world's most famous couples -- a dashing general married to a beautiful, urbane woman in a tight Chinese silk dress. Time magazine publisher Henry Luce named them the "Man and Woman of the Year" in 1938.

President Chiang's Nationalist government ruled China during World War II when the Japanese occupied much of the country. Fluent in English, Madame Chiang served as her husband's diplomat, successfully persuading the U.S. Congress to help China fight the Japanese.

But there was far less sympathy when Madame Chiang returned after the war to ask for U.S. help in a civil war with the Communists. The corrupt Nationalists squandered large amounts of aid, and America lost faith in them.

The Nationalists lost the war in 1949 and retreated to this tiny island 100 miles off China's coast. President Chiang ruled Taiwan with an iron grip, jailing dissidents and opposing democratic reforms that ultimately came after his death.