Reviews & Endorsements

“Laura Tyson Li's incisive new biography… rises to the tall task of capturing this pivotal figure in all her splendor and humiliation, against a backdrop of war, revolution and unending political turmoil…. Madame Chiang personified the vaunted hopes, bitter disappointments and complex misunderstandings of the U.S.-China relationship, which vacillated wildly during her exceptional 105-year lifetime…. Li delivers a thoughtful portrait of a complex woman and resists the considerable temptation to crucify her.” —Los Angeles Times

“Madame Chiang Kai-Shek belongs with Eleanor Roosevelt and Eva Peron as three of the most politically influential women of the past century. In her comprehensive biography, Laura Tyson Li examines the extraordinary life of the Wellesley-educated Chinese aristocrat who married the Nationalist Party dictator of China. Toppled from power in 1949 by Mao, the couple later ruled Taiwan. Charismatic, charming, Christian, westernized, Madame Chiang-Kai Shek fascinated Americans in the 1930s and '40s. Many saw her inaccurately as a true symbol of her 450 million countrymen. Li presents both sides of this complicated woman.” —USA Today

"Madame Chiang Kai-shek... was the front woman for the Nationalist Chinese cause through World War II, the Chinese civil war, the Nationalist defeat by Mao Zedong and the resulting retreat to Taiwan. Madame Chiang, with her sharp intellect, towering ego and exquisite English, helped craft Taiwan's fiercely anticommunist image in the West. After her husband's death in 1975, she fell into obscurity, dying in 2003 in New York City. In "Madame Chiang Kai-Shek: China's Eternal First Lady"... journalist Laura Tyson Li has written a masterful portrait, pulling Madame Chiang out of the dustbin of history and, hopefully, restoring her to a prominent place in Chinese scholarship." —New Jersey Star-Ledger

“To admirers, the wife of the Nationalist dictator of China and later Taiwan was a symbol of resistance to Communist tyranny; to detractors, she was a crafty ‘Dragon Lady’ or a quisling of American imperialism. In this absorbing biography, Tyson Li, a former Taiwan correspondent for the Financial Times, manages a balanced portrait that situates Madame Chiang in an uneasy borderland between East and West. In her charm offensives to the United States seeking military aid during WWII, the author writes, the glamorous, Wellesley-educated Madame Chiang embodied a modern, Westernizing China that made her ‘a perfect focus for America's rescue complex.’ But Tyson Li also finds her ‘quintessentially Chinese’ in her submissiveness to her husband’s authority and ‘loyalty to clan and personality over principle.’ Amply conveying her subject's charisma without falling under its spell, Tyson Li . . . offers a well-researched, fluently written assessment of the life and impact of one of the 20th century's iconic figures.” —Publishers Weekly

“Petite, elegant, and mighty, Madame Chiang Kai-shek lived to be 105, but when she died in 2003, many Americans had no idea of how powerful a woman she was or of how much she suffered. First-time biographer Li is the first to tell Madame Chiang’s dramatic life story. . . . Sensational and indomitable, she infuriated Churchill; put Franklin Roosevelt on his guard; disappointed Eleanor Roosevelt with her narcissism, grandiosity, and insensitivity; and, Tyson Li theorizes, helped jump-start Washington’s anti-Communist witch hunts. With access to newly opened files, fluent insights into China’s convulsive transformation, and a phenomenal gift for elucidating intricate politics and complicated psyches, Li brilliantly analyzes a fearless and profoundly conflicted woman of extraordinary force.” —Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)

“A well-balanced biography of one of the most powerful women in Chinese history, Madame Chiang Kai-shek (nee Mayling Soong), wife of Nationalist leader Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek. Tyson Li carefully examines how the young Mayling's grounding in American culture and her fluency in English would prove vital for American-Chinese relations. . . . Tyson Li's prose becomes increasingly absorbing as she details Mayling's rise as advisor to and English interpreter for her husband as he trotted the globe to meet with various dignitaries. While Tyson Li shows great admiration for Mayling's staunch opposition to Communism and her enviable oratory skills, which often saw her digging deep into the English language to use words even native English speakers found puzzling, she is also highly critical of her unwillingness to truly break free of her conservative shackles. This criticism is most pointed when Tyson Li examines the decadent lifestyle Mayling indulged in, which sharply countered that of her fellow countrymen—a factor that appears to have been frequently overlooked by those infatuated with the glamorous, charming woman. . . . An interesting and detailed account.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Laura Tyson Li has written a fascinating and truly magnificent biography of Madame Chiang Kai-shek in which she gives a nuanced, balanced, and amazingly detailed look at one of the most admired yet polarizing women of the 20th century. Was Madame Chiang Kai-shek China’s eternal first lady or a corrupt dragon lady? Were her marriage and those of her remarkable sisters political matches of convenience or romantic matches of the heart? And stepping back from the individual woman, what about the complicated and convoluted relationships between the U.S., Taiwan, and the People's Republic of China that continue to haunt us to this day? Tyson Li lays it all out and allows the reader to come up with some interesting answers.” —Lisa See, author of On Gold Mountain

"Laura Tyson Li paints a memorable portrait of one of the 20th century’s most intriguing women in her book, Madame Chiang Kai-shek. Beautifully written, paced like a thriller, full of new revelations, Tyson Li’s work illuminates the turbulent and controversial life of Madame Chiang whose influence, for good or ill, helped to shape modern China. Tyson Li’s tale encompasses Madame Chiang’s extraordinary sisterhood, her marriage to China’s supreme warlord, her dazzling public role in America and her bitter exile. Tyson Li’s narrative reminds readers that, even today, Sino-US oft-troubled relations are part of Madame Chiang’s legacy. This is a story as topical as it is historical. Tyson Li has produced an unforgettable book." -Stephen Schlesinger, former Director of the World Policy Institute at the New School and author of Act of Creation and coauthor of Bitter Fruit.

“A riveting story, written with beautiful clarity and full of fresh information and startling anecdotes. Warm in her human sympathies yet stern in her criticisms, she presents an impeccably balanced portrayal of this weird compound of Joan of Arc and Marie Antoinette. The book is also, of course, of very great importance to anyone trying to understand the vagaries of United States policy towards modern China, so heavily influenced by the indefatigable efforts of this one woman. This is the story of the American China that never was - and I suspect never will be.” —Philip Snow, author of The Fall of Hong Kong: Britain, China, and the Japanese Occupation

“Li's life story of Madame Chiang Kai-shek is a stunning achievement. Readers will be mesmerized by how she became one of twentieth century China's most powerful leaders and was so influential in winning America's support for Nationalist China. But her utopian-transformative thinking and behavior to solve problems, shared by most Chinese leaders and elite of that time, also explains why Nationalist Government leaders failed to craft and implement a winning strategy for unifying China. Yet, from the ashes of Nationalist Government defeat in 1949, Ms. Soong continued to be one of the key players, along with Chiang Kai-shek, responsible for why Taiwan's authoritarian regime modernized and democratized that part of China referred to as the Republic of China.” —Ramon H. Myers, Senior Fellow Emeritus, Hoover Institution and Stanford University

“An amazing book. Madame Chiang Kai-shek is clearly one of the great characters of history, and Laura Tyson Li does her great justice, coloring her portrait with every hue imaginable. Madame Chiang Kai-shek is outstanding history, full of details that have eluded others, couched in a broad perspective that gives Madame more humanity, more uniqueness, and more depth than anything I have ever read. I am pretty familiar with Chinese history over the past century, but this book opened my eyes in many places. Bravo.” —Seth Faison, former Shanghai bureau chief for the New York Times and author of South of the Clouds

"Your book is an astonishing achievement, in its openness and many-sidedness. One can't write a good book without loving the subject in some way, but you have managed to love the whole subject and not just take sides. I found myself again and again wondering you managed to keep such an even keel and keep me interested and fascinated the whole way. You tell a good story. And I think waiting till the Epilogue to pass a complex judgment was an inspired move." -Robert D. Richardson, Jr., author of acclaimed biographies of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau

"The product of extensive research.... an account of the enigmatic Madame Chiang, admired by American men for her exotic beauty and who was an example of strength to American women breaking out of the traditional roles of wives and mothers during the 1940s." —Republican-American

“Through the controversial life and turbulent times of Mayling Soong, China's original icon of 'New Womanhood,' Li explores the story of modern China's chaotic rise and compelling future. Breathtakingly researched and richly drawn, this is a fascinating portrait of one of contemporary history's most enduring and colorful boldfaced names.” –Jeff Yang, author of Once Upon a Time in China: An Enthusiast’s Guide to Chinese, Taiwanese and Hong Kong Cinema

"Madame Chiang Kai-shek... is a fantastic book as it lets me really get to know more about this controversial and extraordinary woman. It exposes the historical and political insights as to how her husband lost mainland China, and how she influenced the American attitude towards Chinese communism. The book would also allow a Westerner to understand China and its government better." —Diana Lu, author of Daughter Of The Yellow River