More than 90 years ago, when the most Chinese women were still struggling to free themselves from their 'foot-binding strips', Soong Ching Ling (SCL) and her sisters started playing tennis. On January 7, a reporter got a photo from He Dazhang, deputy director of the Research Center of China Soong Ching Ling Foundation. The photo, which shows SCL participating in a tennis activity during her study at Wesleyan College in United States, is never published by public media at home and abroad.
In a room on the second floor of the main building of SCL Former Residence (Beijing), He handed this photo and an introductory article written by him to the reporter. 'According to reference, this photo was taken in 1911 while SCL was then 18 years old, studying at Wesleyan College and found in a yearbook of Wesleyan College published more than 90 years ago,', said He.
The thirteen girls wearing tennis outfits in the black-and-white photo were all members of the college's tennis club. The one with Chinese face in the middle of the back row is SCL and then she was only a teenager.
In July, 2004, China Soong Ching Ling Foundation (CSCLF) and Wesleyan College jointly held an exhibition named ' Soong Ching Ling and Her Sisters at Wesleyan'. This photo was discovered by chance in the college's yearbook of 1911 while the foundation's staff sorted out the exhibits. And also her name was found printed in English under the photo.
'However I have studied her photos for 7 years and seen many of her photos at different period of time, yet I have never seen her single photo playing tennis,' He told the reporter. 'And SCL had never mentioned playing tennis in her life-time and also there was no record about her playing tennis recorded in history'. This photo was included in the yearbook of the college as an ordinary photo of students' activity. 'But it is great to find it,' said He, 'I guess the people in the photo are no longer alive as it was taken 90 years ago and even harder to find the photographer.'
He said he once considered to publish the photo in other media, but when he got to know that 'the First' is the newspaper especially for Beijing Olympic Games and started its publication on December 28, 2004. He changed his mind and said 'It is more meaningful to publish the photo in front of the tennis net in 'The First' as she was the Honorary President of the People's Republic of China'.
In 1911, China was in the midst of the '1911 Revolution' to overthrow the feudal rule system. Most women at that time were fighting to get rid of their 'foot-binding strips', and had no chance to participate in sports activities. Even professional women with western educational background in China were not able to participate in regular sports, not to mention playing tennis on standard courts.
At the Athens Olympics, Chinese athletes Li Ting and Sun Tiantian won the women's doubles gold medal in the tennis competition. They were the country's first world tennis champions. After that, China held its first international tennis open, which helped create a tennis craze nationwide.
Tennis was developed very late in China, and not many people were familiar with it, therefore, who were the first ones that played tennis in China? The photo could be the answer to the question. SCL was one of the 13 highly spirited girls holding the rackets in front of the tennis net. She was in the middle of the back row in the photo. Fortunately the name of Soong Mei Ling (the younger sister) was also found as a member of the college tennis club in another yearbook of the college.
According to the yearbooks, it was more than 90 years since SCL participated in the tennis activity. And Soong Mei Ling completed her studies from the college at latest in 1915. I wonder whether there were any other Chinese women participated in tennis activities before her, but I believe that SCL was one of the first Chinese women who participated in this kind of sport.