First Lady Faina Chiang, Russian Wife of President Chiang Ching-kuo

Faina Chiang with her husband Chiang Ching-kuo and their son in Gannan Prefecture. (By Unknown –, Public Domain,

Faina Chiang (nee Vahaleva) and Chiang Ching-kuo were one of the few AMWF couples known as a First Lady and President. But while researching this couple for the blog, I found myself continually drawn to the story of Faina herself, for reasons such as this quote from the Taipei Times:

Chiang Fang-liang lived her life with the weighty crown of first lady. While she never enjoyed the glamour associated with the title, she will be remembered for her stoicism.

Faina and Chiang met and married in the former Soviet Union in the 1930s. In 1937, Stalin permitted Chiang to return to China, so the couple moved there. As many of us in international and intercultural marriages know, it can be tough to settle in a foreign country. Yet as the Taipei Times noted, “the Russian bride followed her husband to China.” They added:

Perhaps Vahaleva had thought little of the different language, culture and traditions in China that would no doubt be a great barrier to her, or perhaps her love for her husband gave her all the courage needed.

Reminds me of how many Western women I’ve known have chosen to move to Asia to be with their boyfriends and husbands, despite the challenges.

Faina Chiang and Chiang Ching-kuo in the Soviet Union. (By Unknown –, Public Domain,

Speaking of which, Faina encountered another one all too familiar to me – the parental objection, as described in the Taipei Times:

Chiang Kai-shek was reportedly at first dismayed to have a Communist Russian daughter-in-law. But after the two met, Vahaleva — who has been described as possessing the virtues of a traditional Chinese woman to a greater degree than a Chinese woman — soon won the approval of her father-in-law and was given the name Fang-liang.

She even learned Ningbo dialect and forged a good relationship with her mother-in-law, Mao Fumei (Chiang Ching-kuo’s mother and Chiang Kai-shek’s first wife).

Faina Chiang with Chiang Ching-kuo, his mother Mao Fumei, and their first son Chiang Hsiao-wen in 1937. (By Unknown –, Public Domain,

As first lady, Faina rarely appeared in public, preferring a simple life behind the scenes:

She was used to doing all the household chores herself instead of employing servants. She would ask for her husband’s approval for everything. Private household expenses, such as water and electricity bills, as well as salaries for servants, were all paid directly by Fang-liang from Chiang Ching-kuo’s paycheck, instead of being deducted as public expenses.

At the same time, Faina never entirely lost her foreign customs, as the LA Times reported:

…she often spoke Russian with her husband and preserved several traditions from her homeland.

“Faina regularly greeted her husband at the airport with a hug and a kiss, to the wonder and embarrassment of Chinese spectators,” Jay Taylor wrote in his biography of Chiang Ching-kuo, “The Generalissimo’s Son,” published in 2000.

She braved many tumultuous years in China with her husband, reflected in the fact that three of her four children were born in different cities in China.

Faina Chiang, Chiang Ching-kuo and their family. (By Unknown – [1], Public Domain,
And, unbeknownst to her until after his death, she also endured an adulterous husband whose mistress in China bore him two sons. Imagine how heartbreaking it was to discover the truth through media reports of her husband’s death:

After Chiang Ching-kuo died, Fang-liang reportedly asked her second son Hsiao-wu, “I only have three sons, why are there reports saying I have five?”

Hsiao-wu, who had publicly reconciled with his half-brother Chang Hsiao-yan (章孝嚴/John Chang) chose to respond with silence.

On top of that, she suffered the loss of her three sons in the years after her husband passed away. The China Daily called her “the loneliest woman in Taipei”:

She had no real friends and no descendants close to her. Her closest relatives all lived overseas and even after her death, her only daughter was unable to attend the funeral because she herself was seriously ill.

How tragic.

Faina Chiang Fang-liang in 1944, cropped from the image at

Faina died of complications from lung cancer on December 15, 2004 at the age of 88. Even though she eschewed the public spotlight, she’ll always be remembered for her hard work, modesty and devotion to her family.

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13 thoughts on “First Lady Faina Chiang, Russian Wife of President Chiang Ching-kuo

  • October 3, 2016 at 12:07 pm

    So, what’s up with not being clearer about the fact that she spent the latter part of her life in Taiwan, not China?

    (Also it is fairly well known that Chiang Ching-Kuo also had mistresses in Taiwan, not just one in China – which I had not known about. But his philandering in this country is well-documented and few people see them as an ideal couple because of it.)

    In Taiwan she might be the only one of the Chiangs who is remembered fondly. Chiang Kai-shek is hated – for good reason – across most of the political spectrum despite his still having a few statues around and a memorial hall (which looks very nice, you can almost forget that it was built to honor a brutal dictator and mass murderer). Chiang Ching-Kuo has a few admirers still, but it’s becoming more clear now that he was not the father of Taiwanese democracy the KMT painted him to be – it was the people of Taiwan who insisted on democracy and took it by force against KMT resistance who brought about democracy years after the younger Chiang’s death. Soong Mei-ling is pretty much hated by everyone – she hated Taiwan, so Taiwan hates her (also the Grand Hotel – built to please her – was built on the site of the main Japanese shrine in Taipei, which was a massive cultural loss though that loss is only being felt now). CCK’s children have mostly stayed out of the picture, and his great-grandchildren…well, of the ones well-known in Taiwan, one is well-liked, the other one has some serious problems and is something of a national joke.

    But, of that fond remembrance of Chiang Fangliang, she is mostly remembered for putting up with her philandering no-good husband, and people do question whether she knew of the campaign of mass arrest, torture and murder perpetrated on the Taiwanese people by her family. She is, however, better than the rest of them. I hope they burn in hell, but may she rest in peace.

    • October 3, 2016 at 5:29 pm

      Thanks for sharing that Jenna — it’s nice to hear from someone in Taiwan more familiar with the couple and local sentiment towards the Chiang family overall.

      When I was working on this, I relied on media reports to help tell the story and I was particularly drawn to the most tumultuous years of her life and happened to quote from those years before she ended up in Taiwan and Taipei, where she did live out most of her life. I guess my fascination with those years caused me to lose sight of the obvious, my apologies!

      • November 6, 2016 at 3:53 am

        Ms Eikenburg you really do not need to apologize, Taiwan is a part of China, “Republic of China”! It’s fact! I’m Taiwanese myself but I also consider the majority of Taiwanese as Chinese decedents, Taiwan is Chinese territory, NOT American or Japanese soil! This is also fact! Our political business don’t need American(like this Jenna Cody here) or any outsiders to interfere!!

        This “Jenna Cody” is obvious a radical Taiwanese separatist(or their American sympathizer), they’re famous for anti-Chinese propaganda and racism slanders against Chinese people(including Taiwanese Chinese of course), typical ideological manics who are full of delusions and lies! Unlike her lies, Soong Mei-ling was not hated by everyone, and she didn’t hate Taiwan, she even built schools and hold charity here, and she lived rest of her life in America, why should she hate Taiwan? And unlike others, I have a LOT of problems with these self-hating traitorous separatists who betray their Chineseness and want Taiwan independence, this is TREASON in our law! So you really need NOT to apologize, you made no mistake.

        Taiwan is not a country, “Republic of China” is. If some lunatics want independence and overthrow China, perhaps they should prepare to die first, first to face the force of “ROC”, then “PROC” and CCP. But personally I hope every traitorous separatists can burn in hell!

        • November 6, 2016 at 3:58 am

          Correction: “Chinese *descendants”

          • November 23, 2016 at 4:42 am

            Thanks, Bro. I have viewed a documentary about Soong Mei-Ling, “Extraordinary Women – Madame Chiang Kai-Shek” on TV a few months ago, and she is definitely a great women, even my education is completed in mainland China, I still respect her very much for her contribution to Chinese’ victory in WWII, I don’t know what kind of idiots would hate her.

            Too bad this documentary is not complete on youtube.

  • October 5, 2016 at 12:56 am

    while i have no problem with jenna being pro taiwan independence. i find it offensive when she wrote “…built on the site of the main japanese shrine in taipei, which was a massive cultural loss…” i find this statement would upset even some pro independent taiwanese. after all, taiwanese is not japanese and japanese was a colonial ruler. this statement implies that they were a benign ruler and loved by the taiwanese?? really??? i am sure if you ask taiwanese about this, the opinion is as diverse as the sentiment about taiwan’s relationship with china.
    with regard to chiang fangliang, i have read quite a bit about her. i feel really sorry for her because she had no contact with her russian families (not through offical channel anyway), husband was unfaithful, sons passed away before she did. it would be sad for any woman.

  • October 5, 2016 at 2:17 pm

    Interesting to read more about AMWF history! I hope you managed to interview Carolijn Visser about Selma Vos. If so, I look forward to reading that story here on your blog soon. 🙂

    • October 6, 2016 at 9:55 pm

      Thanks Judith! I did send Carolijn questions and am anxiously awaiting her answers — hope to be able to publish that soon!

  • October 5, 2016 at 8:40 pm

    Very few leaders are married to foreigners these days, let alone a member of a different race. The last one I heard about was Cheddi Jagan of Guyana whose wife Janet was a white American. A movie on Sir Sereste Khame of Botswana who married a white woman is going to be released later this month.

    • October 6, 2016 at 9:56 pm

      This is true that very few leaders marry foreigners. That movie sounds fascinating, will have to check it out.

  • October 7, 2016 at 11:27 am

    The India’s Ghandi family seemed to have married an Italian woman a while back, and the royal family of the Netherland to have tied knots with a Serbian or Austrian or a country which is independent from the former Yugoslavia, and the would-be American President Donald Trump has his younger wife from Europe, Barrack Obama could most probably have changed his nationality before he married our dear Michelle.

  • October 12, 2016 at 6:01 am

    The India’s Ghandi family seemed to have married an Italian woman a while back, and the royal family of the Netherland to have tied knots with a Serbian or Austrian or a country which is independent from the former Yugoslavia, and the would-be American President Donald Trump has his younger wife from Europe, Barrack Obama could most probably have changed his nationality before he married our dear Michelle.

    Rajiv Gandhi looked as white as Sonia if not whiter! The rest of the stuff you are talking about are marriage among white people. And Barrack Obama was born in the US. I hope you are not a Trump-style birther!

    • October 13, 2016 at 11:30 am

      I do not really understand what “birther” means, but your style is more like Donald Trump, at least that is my impression. I was the fan of The Apprentice, by the way.

      Difference in this context means cultural difference rather than biological difference, if everybody agrees.

      An Italian is as white as an Indian? I don’t know how you can make such a judgment. I think it is ridiculous, geographically, ethnically or culturally.

      Another similar case is the Korean ethnic groups living on either side of the that ceasefire line.


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