Charlie Soong--A Beaufort Connection?


Local Beaufort history has told us that Charlie Soong was "adopted" by Robert and Mary Chadwick who built the Chadwick House circa 1858. It has been written that the Chadwicks raised him and saw to it that he got a good education, helping him attend Trinity College.

Research to verify this connection revealed no documention to connect the Chadwicks with Charlie Soong. But, since Robert Chadwick was customs officer in Wilmington, NC around the time Charlie arrived there as a stowaway, it seems that Charlie may have spent a lot of time in Beaufort—with the Chadwicks taking part in caring for this young boy.

D.G. Martin wrote an article in the Chatham Journal WeeklyMonday, April 18, 2005—as part of a Chinese language course he was taking at the Kenan-Flagler Business School at UNC-Chapel Hill. One of his assignments was to prepare a business project and then give an oral summary to his classmates in Chinese. Martin wrote in Charlie Soong – North Carolina’s link to China’s History, that “Although Charlie Soong was born in China in 1866, he made his way to Wilmington, North Carolina as a young boy. There he converted to Christianity and announced his intention to return to China as a missionary. A minister in Wilmington persuaded Durham tobacco and textile manufacturer, Julian Carr, to take an interest in Soong. Carr brought Soong to Durham and then arranged for him to enroll as the first foreign student at Trinity College (Duke) in Randolph County.…. Carr and Soong developed a ‘father-son’ lifelong friendship, despite Charlie Soong's serious flirtation with Carr's niece, which resulted in Charlie's "exile" to Vanderbilt University for more religious training.”

The following history at chinatoday.comCharlie Soong and Wilmington by Zhang Yan, also contradicts the original Beaufort story.

“In front of the Fifth Avenue Methodist Church in Wilmington, North Carolina stands a monument erected in 1944 which reveals an unusual historic connection with China. The engraved plaque states that Charlie Jones Soong, father of the famous Soong family of modern China, converted to Christianity in this church on November 7, 1880.

Charlie Soong, was born Soong Yaoru in 1863, to a poor farming family in Wenchang County of China's southern Hainan Island. His life and the lives of his six children sketch an incredible picture of modern Chinese history.

Soong Ching Ling, one of his three daughters, married revolutionary leader Dr. Sun Yat-sen…..Charlie Soong's youngest daughter, Mei Ling, married Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek…. Soong's first daughter, Ai Ling, married H. H. Kung, finance minister of the Nationalist government who, together with three other large families, dominated the fate of the Republic of China for a long period of time. Soong's three sons were likewise influential leaders in China during that period. T. V. Soong was minister of foreign affairs and later prime minister of the Nationalist government. T. L. and T. A., his two other sons, held responsible positions in the financial structure of war-torn China.

Charlie Soong's story began late in the 19th century, when China was flagging after the two Opium Wars under the reign of the declining and corrupt Qing (Manchu) Dynasty. There at that time was an outflow of impoverished immigrants to other lands seeking a livelihood no longer possible at home. At the age of nine, Soong became part of it when he went to Java, Indonesia to work as apprentice for a relative. Soon after his arrival, he was given up for adoption to his aunt's younger brother who had a shop selling silk and tea in Boston, Massachusetts. This was the turning point in Soong's life.

It was indeed a long physical journey for this Chinese lad to travel from Java to Boston. Even longer was the cultural, social and psychological distance to late 19th century Boston. The shopkeeper uncle wanted to keep his promising kinsman tied to the store. For the boy, the attraction of new horizons far outweighed the comfort and security of family relations. Frequent contacts with Chinese students sent by the Qing government to learn modern ideas and techniques inspired him enormously. After a year behind the counter at the Chinese grocery, Soong was ready to quit and go to school. When his uncle objected, he ran off and stowed away on a U.S. Revenue Service cutter.

Luckily for him, the Norwegian-American captain of that ship, Eric Gabrielson, was a generous person who took an immediate liking to this enthusiastic young Chinese and offered him a paid position as 'cabin boy' on his crew. Over the ensuing months, Soong became attached to the captain and his family, who treated him kindly and took him along when they moved to Wilmington, North Carolina, along the Atlantic coast. In 1880, he was hired as mess boy for a steamship used by the U.S. Revenue Service to track down smugglers. He also took Gabrielson's advice and joined the Methodist Church.

Colonel Roger Moore, a Civil War veteran and friend of Gabrielson, became Soong's close friend shortly after his arrival in Wilmington and took him 'church-shopping.' On Soong's third Sunday in town, they landed at Fifth Street Methodist Church where the Rev. T. Page Ricaud took Soong under his wing. On November 7,1880, a notice in the local Wilmington Star announced Soong would be 'the first Celestial' (as Chinese immigrants were then known) that has ever submitted to the ordinance of Christian baptism in North Carolina.

Impressed with Soong's intelligence, both Col. Moore and Rev. Ricaud determined that he should receive a formal education in religion. Paying his tuition was the only problem. Col. Moore sought help from his old friend Julian Shakespeare Carr, one of the richest men in the South and a founder of Duke University. Carr asked Moore to send the young Chinese over, saying that if he liked him he would foot his educational bill. Fortunately Carr was immediately won over by young Charlie's enthusiasm and ambition. He not only agreed to pay Soong's tuition but also invited him to stay in his home. In the following years, Soong took Bible courses at Trinity College in Wilmington and was later dispatched to Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, to complete his training. He was awarded his certificate in theology in 1885.

By the 1880s, Charlie's personality and outlook were becoming more complex, as was the era in which he lived. Having arrived as a poor immigrant, he had broken the mold by seeing and getting a Western education. He was more over immersed in the everyday life of Americans and was preparing to launch a 'self-made man' career with skills he has learned as a farm boy, shop apprentice, sailor and printer. He knew how to use his hands and liked to do so. But he always maintained his Chinese identity, in his own eyes as well as those of others.

Despite the kindness and affection of many Americans whom he would warmly remember, Charlie Soong could not have been oblivious to anti-Chinese sentiment in the US after Congress passed the racist Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. Back in his own country his awareness was sharpened. In 1886,the year of his return, an anti-missionary movement broke out in China as retaliation against mistreatment of Chinese in the US.

When Soong was sent back to Shanghai to bring the gospel to his people, he came up against a domineering Methodist sponsor who insisted he be appropriately treated as a 'native' and paid just US $15 a month, not enough to keep a family. Protests proved useless. This led Soong to switch, in 1892, from missionary to businessman, though he still worked as lay preacher. Using techniques learned in Wilmington, he started his first venture -- a printing press of Bibles in Chinese- - with financial support from Julian Carr. It was this press that drew attention of China's republican revolutionaries headed by Dr. Sun Yat-sen. Later he became publisher of their political literature and assisted them in many ways, including raising money for their cause. What actually drew Soong to the revolutionaries was his belief in modernism and nationalism. In Shanghai, he was constantly irked by China's obviously inferior international status and its effect on Chinese people.

In 1905, Soong set sail for the United States for the second time in his life. He soon began to enroll his daughters at the Wesleyan Women's College in Macon, Georgia. and also spent long hours at the Wilmington Men's Club discussing finance and politics. Despite his resolve to give all his children Western college educations, Soong never encouraged them to settle in the US. He always tried to keep them well informed about matters in China by regularly sending letters and press clippings. He wanted to imbue them with a sense of China's great past, dissatisfaction with her current humiliation and backwardness, and belief in her great future if progress could be made. Right after the victorious 1911 Revolution in China, Soong sent the national flag of the newborn Republic to his second daughter Ching Ling at the Wesleyan. She jubilantly pinned it up on her dormitory wall and stamped on its predecessor, the yellow dragon of the Manchu emperors. She immediately wrote an article lauding the victory of the revolution as: 'The Greatest Event of the Twentieth Century.'

In 1914, when Carr visited Shanghai on a voyage around the world, Soong was already a wealthy businessman deeply involved in China's revolutionary movements. Dr. Sun Yat-sen, provisional president of the new Republic of China and now Soong's son in-law, joined the rest of the family in a lavish welcoming celebration when Carr arrived. According to Carr's grandson, Austin, his grandfather was then 'treated like a king.' At Duke University, a reading room is dedicated to Soong and his family, and in every history of the Soong family, there are footnotes about Charlie's years in Wilmington. When Austin Carr made his own journey to China he was amazed to find that his young guide in Guangzhou knew all about Charlie Soong and his time in North Carolina."

Charles Jones Soong (1863-1918), born Han Jiaozhun (教準) in Hainan as the third son of Han Hongyi (韓鴻翼), changed his surname after a sonless uncle adopted him, at age twelve, while he worked in Boston—Wikipedia Encyclopedia.