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Picture source: Next Journey

The list of reasons why we all love  Shanghai is quite long. One of them is  definitely the career opportunities it gives, no matter the age, gender or nationality.

Today, to celebrate the spirit of all the ambitious, hardworking and fantastic women living in Shanghai, we want you to meet 8 ladies that ‘made waves’ in Shanghai , China and the whole world  in the early years of 20th century.

1. 3 Soong sisters - 宋家姐妹 Sòngjiā Jiěmèi


3 Shanghainese ladies, daughters of   American-educated Methodist minister Charlie Soong, who made a fortune in banking and printing.

Soong Sisters were amongst China's most significant political figures of the early 20th century. Each  of them played a major role in influencing their husbands, who, along with their own positions of power, ultimately changed the course of Chinese history.

Throughout their lifetimes, each one of the sisters followed her own beliefs in terms of supporting the Kuomintang (KMT) or the Communist Party of China. In the 1930s, Soong Ai-ling and her sister Mei-ling were the two richest women in China.

In 1937, when the Second Sino-Japanese war broke out, the sisters got together after a 10-year separation (Ching Ling and Mei Ling’s husband choices effected in some serious clashes among the family members). Their goal was to unite the KMT and CPC against the Imperial Japanese army.

When the Japanese occupied Nanjing and Wuhan, the three sisters moved to Hong Kong. In 1940, they returned to Chongqing and established the Chinese Industrial Cooperatives, which opened job opportunities for people through weaving, sewing and other crafts. The sisters frequently visited schools, hospitals, orphanages, air raid shelters and aided war torn communities along the way. They made a fearless effort in financing and assisting in all national activities.

Soong Ai Ling  1888–1973


The eldest sister, married to the richest man and finance minister of China, H. H. Kung. Devoted herself to social work such as helping wounded soldiers, refugees and orphans. She donated five ambulances and 37 trucks to the army in Shanghai and the air force, along with 500 leather uniforms

Soong Ching Ling 1893–1981

Picture source:Soong Ching Ling's Children Foundation of Canada

The middle sister, married Sun Yat-sen, Father of Modern China and first President of the Republic of China, in Japan on 25 October 1915. She later broke with her family and supported the Communists, remaining on the mainland after the Communist takeover.  Became joint Vice President of the People's Republic of China with Dong Biwu from 1959 to 1972 and Honorary President in 1981, just before her death.

Soong Mei Ling -  1898–2003

The youngest sister. She was a prominent political leader in her own right, the wife and partner in power of Chiang Kai-shek, the leader of the Kuomintang (KMT), commander in chief of the Chinese armies and later President of the Republic of China.

Their marriages and alleged motivations have bee summarized in the Maoist saying:

"One loved money, one loved power, one loved her country" ( 一個愛錢、一個愛權、一個愛國;  Yīgè ài qián, yīgè ài quán, yīgè àiguó).

4.Zhang Ailing  张爱玲 1920 – 1995


One of the most influential modern Chinese writers. Her fiction writings focused on the tensions in relationships and  are considered by some scholars to be among the best Chinese literature of the period. Her most important works include “The Golden Cangue”, “Love in a Fallen City”  and “Lust, Caution” Chang's portrayal of life in 1940s Shanghai and Japanese-occupied Hong Kong is remarkable in its focus on everyday life and the absence of the political subtext which characterized many other writers of the period.

5.Pan Yuliang 潘玉良 1899 – 1977

Picture source:chinesenewart

A Chinese painter, renowned as the first woman in the country to paint in the Western style. She had studied in Shanghai and Paris. In 1926, Pan Yuliang won the Gold Prize for her works at the Roman International Art Exhibition and 1959, she won the Paris Gold Prize and the Belgium Silver Prize.

Because her modernist works caused controversy ( one reason was her focus on the nudes) and drew severe criticism in China during the 1930s, Pan returned to Paris in 1937 to live and work for the next 40 years. She taught at the École des Beaux Arts, won several awards for her work, had exhibits internationally in Europe, the United States and Japan, and was collected by major institutions.

Picture source:Wikipedia; Nude by Pan Yuliang

6.Emily Hahn 項美麗 1905 – 1997

American journalist and author. Considered an early feminist and called "a forgotten American literary treasure" by The New Yorker magazine, she was the author of 54 books and more than 200 articles and short stories. Her novels in the 20th century played a significant role in opening up Asia and Africa to the west.

Her years in Shanghai, China (from 1935 to the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong in 1941) were the most tumultuous of her life. Here she became involved with prominent Shanghai figures, such as the wealthy Sir Victor Sassoon. She had an eccentric  habit of taking her pet gibbon, Mr. Mills - dressed in a diaper and a small dinner jacket, with her to dinner parties

Emily Supported herself as a writer for The New Yorker and lived in an apartment in Shanghai's red light district ( near People’s Square). Her next romantic crush was Chinese poet and publisher Zau Sinmay (Ch 邵洵美;Shao Xunmei). He gave her the entrée that enabled her to write a biography of the Soong sisters

Hahn frequently visited Zau's house, which was highly unconventional for a Western woman in the 1930s. Zau introduced her to the practice of smoking opium, to which she became addicted. Hahn later wrote, "Though I had always wanted to be an opium addict, I can't claim that as the reason I went to China."

7.Hu Die 胡蝶 1908 – 1989

Picture source:Pinterest

Also known by her English name Butterfly Wu, was one of the most popular Chinese actresses during the 1920s and 1930s. She starred China’s first sound film “The Singsong Girl“.  Another movie with Hu Die – ‘The Burning of the Red Lotus Temple’ started a craze for martial arts films She had performed in more than 100 films during his half-century performing career. Her excellent performance earned her reputation of the first Film Queen in 1933 when she was 25.

Hu Die won the Best Actress Award at the 1960 Asian Film Festival for her performance in Rear Door.

8.Zhou Xuan 周旋 1920 – 1957

Picture source:Wikipedia

Iconic Chinese singer and film actress. When she was fourteen, she won second prize in a singing contest in Shanghai and was given the nickname "Golden Voice" (金嗓子) for her effortless high-pitched melodies.

Zhou Xuan recorded more than 200 songs and appeared in over 40 films in her career. She became one of China’s seven great singing stars in the 1930s and then began her acting career. Her major film “Street Angel” was called one of the top 10 classic Chinese films from the twentieth century. Zhou Xuan was also selected as China’s most outstanding actress. Her other major films include “Daughter of the Fisherman” and “Dream of the Red Chamber".

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