Soongs of Fame and Fortune

Written by Apr 9, 2009 10:42
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Coconunt Plantation

Great family Dynasty’s are often born of providence or chance which ever you like to think. It is no surprise to learn the history of one of China’s most notorious and influential families is intricately woven into the fabric of Hainan Island’s sea-faring community. The island was for centuries the salvation of the political refugee, the famine starved and plague threatened from all over the mainland.

These immigrants to the southern provinces of China were originally called guests or ‘hakka’, in the local dialect. Today descendants of these southern Hakka are dispersed throughout the world having left initially to establish trading routes, many destined never to return.

Such was the case for the Han family clan after arriving in Hainan Island. Not to be confused with China’s majority population, this family by the name of Han, originally immigrants, turned merchants grew prosperous with their large fleet of junks, the Big-eyed Chickens as they were nicknamed, trading regularly and establishing connections in distant and exotic lands.

Milling Timber

At the tender age of nine, a young lad destined to great things, was circondered to an ‘uncle’, a rather loose term for a distant relative or close family friend. Young Charlie, later jumped ship so to speak, eventually finding his was to America, where he was educated and the rest is history and fascinating reading.*.

It could be said that Charlie Soong, the patriarch of the famous Soong Clan was born for such a time as his. When he left the shores of his small island home he doubtless had little idea that he and his six children would play such a significant role in the founding of what we now know as the New China.

Charlies Family Home

Hidden away in the plantations of north-eastern Hainan Island is young Charlie’s family home. About thirty kilometers from the county seat of Wenchang it is still an isolated farmhouse, miles from the sea that led a young Charlie to his destiny. A distance that took us less than an hour to cover would have taken nearly a day over dirt tracks through the overgrown sub tropical bush land more than a century ago.

It is marked on the local tourist maps and everyone in the area seems to know how to get there. Today it is the name and life of Soong Qing Ling, Charlie’s second daughter, wife of Sun Yat Sen, and honorary leader of the New China who is memorialized in a Museum that has been build in the grounds near the old house. Wenchang County has several other attractions and makes for an interesting day or two of sightseeing.

Hainan and especially Wenchang prides itself on its academic achievements which date back centuries. The birthplace of the city’s academic learning, the Confusion Temple today houses a small museum. It is also said that many of the district’s youth gain entrance to the countries most prestigious National Universities.

Riverside Boardwalks

The city heart, with her old decaying, colonial architecture stretches along the banks of the two rivers flowing through. Large purple flowered, broad leafed bauhinias overhang the rivers and the boardwalks, shading restaurants and cafes reminiscent of the canals of Europe.

There’s not much glamour here but you will find one of the local specialties, Wenchang Chicken. The tender, low fat chicken, raised on coconut and peanut bran is first boiled and served chilled with a tangy sauce of chopped ginger, limes and other spices. Our meal also included a bowl of delicious local flat beans and a clam soup. Eating here by the riverside is a good spot to get a feel for the place.

As the sun begins to set, the opposite bank is transformed. Stores begin to close for the night and flea market vendors open on the streets amidst the tables of casual outdoor café’s. All along the riverbanks, whatever the weather, another local noodle dish is served well into the night. A large inner city park with a small lake affords open space and a good landmark. It surprised us to discover that Wenchang is a popular destination for surrounding communities and as such has a remarkable quantity of excellent quality cheap boutique hotels.

Bauhinia Blossoms

Timber, coconuts and coffee plantations dominate the low coastal plains surrounding Wenchang and another of the areas popular tourists attractions are the coconut plantations, at Yelin on the East Cape. Beach side restaurants serve up the best from the sea. With one small resort and more scheduled to open in the coming years, Yelin is a great day trip from either Haikou or Wenchang Roads wind through villages, clusters of homes and small dusty sawmills well hidden beneath the old coconut plantations of tall skinny palms surrounded by rice paddies and colourful tropical flowers.

Like most of Hainan island, fishing is still one of the regions primary industries and some of the local fishing fleet can be found in the river at the ferry crossing to Dong Jiao. There may no longer be any Han Clan vessels venturing to trade in foreign lands these days but the East Cape Lighthouse still leads her local seafarers safely home.

Wenchang 文昌 or Wencheng 文成
Dong Jiao 东角
Yelin 椰林

'Soong Dynasty' A History of Charlie Soong by Stirling Seagrave

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