Madame Chiang Makes Rare Appearance With AM-Taiwan
TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) _ Madame Chiang Kai-shek, one of the most influential women in Chinese history, made a rare public appearance Friday to bid farewell to her aging Nationalist Party comrades who will soon retire.
The nearly 1,200 delegates attending the morning session of the ruling party’s 13th congress gave Madame Chiang an emotional standing ovation as she stepped onto the stage at the Chung Shan Building in the hills of suburban Taipei.
Wearing a white traditional Chinese gown covered by a black vest, Madame Chiang walked slowly with a cane as a bodyguard and nurse accompanied her. Government publications say she was born in 1901 but local newspapers report she is at least 90.
″How are you, comrades?″ she said in a strong voice before asking party secretary-general Lee Huan to read her 15-minute statement.
The strong-willed second wife of Chiang Kai-shek wielded power that was considered second only to her husband’s when he led the Nationalist government on the Chinese mainland and, after losing a civil war to the Communists in 1949, in exile on Taiwan.
Madame Chiang left Taiwan for a mansion on Long Island in New York soon after her husband died in 1975 but returned in 1986 to attend ceremonies marking his 100th birthday.
She since has lived in seclusion at her estate in the Taipei suburb of Shihlin, leading to intense speculation she was trying to influence Taiwan’s future from behind the scenes.
In her statement today, Madame Chiang urged the Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang, to use Taiwan as ″a starting point to rescue our 1 billion compatriots on the mainland.″
The Nationalists still claim to be the rightful ruler of all China, and Madame Chiang attacked Taiwanese who seek to declare the island a separate nation.
Invoking the names of her husband and of Sun Yat-sen, who founded the party 94 years ago, Madame Chiang told the congress delegates not to forget the party’s ″glorious history.″
″We are facing a critical moment as our senior members are retiring and are succeeded by the new blood,″ she said, adding that the old guard’s ″contribution to the party and the state should never be ignored.″
Many of the elderly members, who theoretically represent districts on the mainland, are retiring.
The senior party members led Taiwan to economic prosperity during the past 40 years but generally have viewed with concern the democratic change introduced by her late stepson, Chiang Ching-kuo, who eased authoritarian one- party rule.
″We should make innovations without forgetting the past and move ahead without forgetting our roots,″ Madame Chiang’s statement said. ″The development of our party rests on the observance of discipline and the introduction of younger people with integrity.″
Madame Chiang, her black hair tied back, waved a white handkerchief to acknowledge the applause of congress delegates. Newly elected party chairman Lee Teng-hui approached her and they shook hands.
Local media reported that Madame Chiang participated in an unsuccessful last-ditch effort to block Lee’s appointment as acting party secretary after Chiang Ching-kuo’s death in January. But she was quoted this week as saying Lee, a native Taiwanese, was the best man to be party leader.
Political observers in Taiwan generally view Madame Chiang, who attended the congress as chairman of the party’s Central Advisory Committee, as maintaining strong influence over the elderly Nationalists loyal to her husband.
Wellesley-educated Madame Chiang was adviser, confidante, amabassador and English interpreter to her husband and was sometimes called ″the brains of China.″ She once headed the Chinese air force.
Her eldest sister, Ai-ling, married H.H. Kung, later a Nationalist Chinese premier and governor of China’s central bank. Sister Ching-ling married Sun, who died in 1925, and eventually split ideologically with the rest of the family by remaining in China after the civil war and taking a post equivalent to vice president in the Communist government.