Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek 1943 Watercolor, 25 1/2" x 20" © James D. Lea

Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, 1943 Watercolor, 25 1/2" x 20" © James D. Lea


Madame Chiang, 1943 Watercolor, 25 1/2" x 20" © James D. Lea

Madame Chiang, 1943 Watercolor, 25 1/2" x 20" © James D. Lea



…Dr. Tong said, "The Generalissimo and Madame will receive you at four o'clock this afternoon. Be sure and wear your uniform and see that you're well policed. The Generalissimo likes to see smart military turnout." So I polished up my little war correspondent thing and put the wire back in my hat…And here came Dr. Tong in his official car and we went up the hill to the residence.


It was really quite impressive for a country boy. And we went in and we didn't wait for five minutes in this rather sinister office 'til the Generalissimo came in with a Big Ben alarm clock, tick-tick-tick-tick. And he set it right in front of him as he sat at the desk and then…He wouldn't speak any English. Tong did all the interpreting and asked him to sit in a certain way for Mr. Lea and I sat on the other side of the desk. I got what I thought was a pretty good drawing. I was having trouble with placing the ear or something and I asked him for ten more minutes. And he grumpily tood out a little notebook, I guess "The Orders of the Day," and granted the ten minutes, looking at the alarm clock and working on his book. And then got up and he left.


And Dr. Tong said, "Now you will wait and Madame will receive us in her apartments upstairs." And so after a little while we went upstairs. We were held at the doorway and we could see through this long hall in this apartment. And here came the Generalissimo in a long gown, not in uniform. Tong explained later that he had come into the apartment to be there when I first saw his wife; that would make [my appearance] proper and correct. Isn't that something?


We were met by this very charming woman, who was ill disposed and was on a white chaise longue with a pale lilac-colored satin coverlet and a white sort of a gown and great big gold earrings and a perfect American accent. When the Generalissimo walked out, she very casually said, "You know, my husband would be a very handsome man if he'd keep his teeth in."…Anyway, they let me do the portrait [alone with Madame Chiang], just the two of us…


And when I got up and thanked her and said, "Oh, I can't take any more of your time, Madame Chiang," she said, "Well, stay a moment. I've prepared something for you." And her amah [maidservant] came in with a tray, the most wonderful tea I ever tasted. There was a lid and no handle on the cup. Marvelous, and a whole walnut cake with lemon icing on it. And she said, "It's one of my old recipes." And I had walnut cake and tea with Madame Chiang Kai-shek in her apartment in Chungking!...


Her [portrait] was very easy because she was so decorative, but his was difficult. He wouldn't hold still worth a darn and I had a very limited time with him…I was told later that when Luce came to see my China pictures, he said, "Tom Lea is a good portraitist, I know he is, and he's done some very nice thngs about China but he has missed the character of Chiang Kai-shek."


Tom Lea talking to Adair Margo in Tom Lea, An Oral History, El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1995, pps. 82- 83.