Author Conversation The Last Empress and the Publisher: America and the Birth of Modern China.

Authors Hannah Pakula (The Last Empress: Madame Chiang Kai-shek and the Birth of Modern China) and Alan Brinkley (The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century) talk about the complex ties between American publishing giant Henry Luce and the charismatic Chinese leaders Madame and Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek. The discussion will be moderated by Orville Schell, Arthur Ross Director of the Center on US-China Relations.

Followed by a book sale and signing.

Please note: this event will also be a free live video webcast at 6:30 pm ET at Online viewers are encouraged to submit their questions to

'A rare combination of brilliant writing and insightful scholarship, it captures the complexities of an extraordinary woman in a turbulent time, who influenced the course of China's history in the 20th century.'
'Henry A. Kissinger on Madame Chiang Kai-shek and the Birth of Modern China

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Join the discussion: Was Luce right or wrong to support Chiang Kai-Shek and his wife?


During May 1941, Henry and Clare Boothe Luce paid a thirteen-day visit to China. The son of missionaries, born in Tientsin in 1914, Luce was primed to be impressed with the country and the Chiangs. As one of his writers and old friends put it, 'The trouble with Harry is that he's torn between wanting to be a Chinese missionary like his parents and a Chinese warlord like Chiang Kai-shek.' An ardent political reactionary, Luce had already taken on the Chinese Nationalist cause, spearheading a new organization call United China Relief, which could raise $7 million for aid to China. The Luces stayed with the Kungs in Chungking and had tea with the Chiangs, affording Henry Luce opportunity to declare Chiang Kai-shek 'the greatest ruler Asia has seen since Emperor Kang Hsi 250 years ago.' Having heard that Madame's pantry had been destroyed by a bomb, the guests brought a huge supply of cigarettes, which they presented to the Chiangs along with a portfolio of photographs of their host, his wife, and leaders of KMT. 'An hour later we left,' Luce wrote, 'knowing that we had made the acquaintance of two people, a man and a woman, who, out of all the millions now living, will be remembered for centuries and centuries.' In August, May-ling wrote Mrs. Luce to thank her 'so much for what you and Mr. Luce have done to help China since your return to America. Since you left,' she added, 'I have been having malaria and lately dengue fever.'

Four months after their trip, Luce devoted most of Fortune magazine to China. 'The time has come for Americans to awake to the realization that further appeasement in the Pacific will be just as fatal as appeasement was in Europe,' the magazine announced. The message was timely. The month after the Luce's visit, on June 22, 1941, Hitler had invaded Russia without warning. Stalin asked the Chinese Communists to go to battle against the Japanese in northern China, thus enabling the Soviets to concentrate on defending European Russia, but Mao refused.


Suddenly, on December 7, 1941, Japan attacked the U.S. Navy at Pearl Harbor, sinking five battleships and three cruisers, and destroying 177 planes. More than 2,000 American sailors were killed, over 1,200 injured, and nearly 900 men were missing. Japan also attacked the British in Hong Kong and Malaya. The next day both the United States and Britain declared war on Japan. China, which had waited for the United States' declaration, followed suit. No longer alone, Chiang sent the following wire to President Roosevelt: 'To our new common battle we offer all we are and all we have, to stand with you until the Pacific and the world are freed from the curse of brute force and endless perfidy.' The wire was clearly written by May-ling.
'from The Last Empress: Madame Chiang Kai-shek and the Birth of Modern China by Hannah Pakula

Event Details

Wed 21 Jul 2010
2:30 PM - 4:30 PM
725 Park Avenue, New York, NY
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Please note: this event is now SOLD OUT (live webcast available; see left).
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