PEOPLE | CULTURE | HAPPENINGS
Patriarch of the powerful Soong dynasty of Chinese leaders
Charlie Jones Soong: Baptized in America
IF YOU WERE to visit Fifth
Avenue Methodist Church in
downtown Wilmington, there’s a
name you might encounter quite
a lot. It is engraved into plaques
and chiseled into monuments around the
church grounds; it is inscribed below photo-graphs
hung on the walls; it is spoken on the
BY MADDIE DRIGGERS
lips of proud congregation members.
The name is an Americanized version of
this church’s most famous and unexpected
member who attended more than 100 years
ago: Charles Jones Soong — a Chinese
Christian convert and missionary; a publisher
of Bibles; friend to Sun Yat-sen, founder of the
Republic of China; father of the famous Soong
sisters and patriarch of the Soong dynasty.
While most Wilmingtonians may have
never heard his name, there are some, like
Sue Hammonds, who understand Charlie
Soong’s impact on the world and who have
followed his history for decades. Hammonds
has been worshipping at Fifth Avenue for
70 years, and her father taught her all about
their church’s special member.
“He would stop and read that monument to me,” says Hammonds,
referring to the granite slab outside the sanctuary with a dedication to
Soong. “You don’t understand those things when you’re a teenager. You
have to be 50 years older for it to soak in. He would linger and think
about it. It meant a lot to him.”
Charlie Soong, a Chinese national, began his American journey in Boston’s
Chinatown at age twelve where he was sent to work for his maternal uncle
in 1878. After he left his uncle’s tea and silk business, he found his way onto
a U.S. Revenue Cutter Service ship as a cabin boy. Soong bonded with the
ship’s captain, Eric Gabrielson, and attending Christian worship services with
Gabrielson and his family at a Methodist church in Edgartown, Massachusetts.
The two formed such a strong connection when Gabrielson was trans-ferred,
Charlie Soong enrolled in Vanderbilt University
in 1881 and earned a degree in theology in 1885.
after about a year to another ship, Soong quit his job and went
searching for Gabrielson, who he located in Wilmington.
Upon arrival in Wilmington, Soong met Reverend Thomas Page Ricaud, the
pastor at (then) Fifth Avenue M. E. Church.
Many speculate about how Soong was intro-duced
to Ricaud. Writing for North Carolina
State University in 2013, Anthony Gutay sites
Captain Gabrielson as making the introduc-tions,
to Ricaud and Colonel Roger Moore, but
what is known for sure is the gospel message of
Christ’s love would change his life and the his-tory
On November 7, 1880, Soong was bap-tized
at the Fifth Avenue church. It was a
historic moment for both Soong and the
church, and it was the first step on his path
to becoming a Christian missionary.
Eventually, with the encouragement and
assistance of Wilmingtonians — and benefactor
Bull Durham tobacco magnate, Julian S. Carr,
a Methodist, Soong attended Trinity College,
which we know today as Duke University, to
study theology and religion. After transferring
to Vanderbilt University to finish his degree,
he received an English Theological Certificate
and was assigned to Shanghai in 1886 as a
Returning to China, after a few years, Soong met Sun Yat-Sen, also a
Christian, at a Methodist church service. He would later financially back
his friend Sun as a political leader during the Chinese revolution of 1911
and the overthrow of the Qing (Manchu) dynasty. Sun would become the
first President of the Republic of China.
In the meanwhile, Soong married and began having children. He
left the mission to begin printing Bibles in the Chinese language. This
endeavor — bringing the Bible to the Chinese people in their native
languages became a successful venture. All of Soong’s children were
educated in America and while all were influential, it was the marriages
of his three daughters that birthed the Soong legacy. In 1927, Soong
Mei-ling married Generalissimo Chaing Kai-shek, a military leader and
politician who governed the Republic of China from 1928 until 1975.
Soong Ching-ling eloped with Sun Yat-sen in 1915; and in 1914 Soong
Ai-ling married H. H. Kung, the richest man in 20th century China whose
family roots trace back to the ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius.
WBM december 2018