After Honorary President Soong Ching Ling's state of illness was made public, I visited Zhang Leping, the creator of "San Mao", a well-known Chinese cartoon character, and asked him about how Soong Ching Ling had cared for poor "San Maos", a term referring to poor street children represented by the cartoon character before liberation. Zhang said he had only met Soong once. However, this unusual meeting that took place 32 years ago has remained fresh in his memory.
Speaking of the meeting, Zhang Leping said, "There were more and more street children in Shanghai in the spring of 1949 and Soong Ching Ling felt very uneasy about it. Following the victory of the War against Japanese Aggression, Shanghai newspapers successively published my cartoon work "Wanderings of San Mao". San Mao became a popular cartoon character. Therefore, Soong Ching Ling decided to ask China Welfare Institute to contact me, hoping that I could hold an exhibition of the original works of San Mao and the proceeds from the charity sales at the exhibition could be used to help the street children. I was touched by her idea and immediately said yes. Within a month, I drew more than 30 pieces of water paintings featuring San Mao. Soong attached great importance to the exhibition which was scheduled to open on April 4. She arranged a pre-exhibition in the former HSBC hall (now the building of Shanghai Municipal Government) at the end of March. She invited friends from home and abroad and attended the exhibition to meet the guests.
Then, Zhang Leping described his meeting with Soong in details: On that day, Soong Ching Ling sat beside me. She was nearly 60 years old at that time but looked like a forty-year old. She wore plain clothes and was elegant and dignified. She spoke fluent English when she talked with foreign friends. When she talked to me, she spoke pure Shanghai dialect. She was friendly and asked me where I was from, how my family was, how I started to draw San Mao, so on and so forth…all family-style conversations. When foreign friends talked to me, Soong Ching Ling interpreted for me. I felt uneasy at the beginning, but seeing how amiable she was I soon relaxed. She thanked me repeatedly, telling me "You've done a great thing for the street children. I really appreciate your hard work." I was very moved.
Talking about how Soong Ching Ling cared for "San Mao Paradise" and the exhibition and charity sales of the original works of San Mao, Zhang Leping took out a collection of newspaper clippings he had treasured for 32 years, and gave detailed descriptions of their background. In fact, after China won the Resistance War against Japanese Aggression, Soong Ching Ling established the China Welfare Institute (CWI) with the help from the Communist Party of China. The main purpose of CWI was to help poor children. Three children welfare centers were set up on Jiaozhou Road, Huishan Road and Zapu Road in Shanghai. There were frequent activities like literacy classes or distributing free milk and donations. At the beginning, the number of beneficiaries was no more than 80. But by March 1949, the number increased to more than 30,000. CWI became the most effective charity organization in Shanghai. Right before the liberation, there were more and more street children in Shanghai. Soong Ching Ling and the staff at CWI decided to use San Mao's influence to organize "San Mao Paradise". According to the rules, whoever donated 3 silver dollars every month to sponsor one "San Mao" could become a member of the organization (according to the living standard at that time, three silver dollars a month could cover the basic living expenses of one child); whoever donated 15 silver dollars every month to sponsor five "San Maos" could become a credited member; whoever donated clothes, food and toys could become an associated member. The cost for starting "San Mao Paradise" was covered by the income from the exhibition and charity sale of the original works of San Mao. Zhang Leping said, "As a result of Soong's direct concern and appeal, people from all walks of life in Shanghai responded with enthusiasm. At the opening ceremony on April 4, the gallery on the fourth floor of Daxing Department Store (now Shanghai No.1 Department Store) was crowded with people. It was unprecedented." On the opening day, more than 30 watercolor paintings were soon sold out. The highest price was 800 U.S. dollars, equivalent to 1,600 silver dollars. Besides these watercolor works, a great number of the "Wanderings of San Mao" with the signitures of Zhang Leping and badges of "San Mao Paradise" were sold too. And on that day, over 40 people expressed their willingness to sponsor a "San Mao" and join "San Mao Paradise". After the event, Soong Ching Ling wrote to Zhang to express her appreciation.
Stopping here, Zhang Leping said sadly, "Now that the Honorary President has passed away, I feel the deep grief just as many children do. Though she has left us, her care and teachings for me and the children will always remain in our hearts and inspire us to aim for the better every day!"
(Originally published in Hong Kong's Ta Kung Pao on June 9, 1981.)
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