Story of Tang Wensheng

2010-12-14 11:37:00    China Soong Ching Ling Foundation

2006-03-12 12:33:28
As the country's top advisory body, the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference,or CPPCC, is a pool of outstanding individuals from all walks of life. They are experienced political figures, social celebrities, experts and scholars specializing in various fields. They contribute their talents to state policy-making that considers the interests of the Chinese people. Apart from their impressive professional background, many of the CPPCC members also have remarkable personalities and fascinating stories. In today's program we're going to meet one such person, Tang Wensheng, once the interpreter for the late Chinese leader Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai. Here is our reporter Wu Jia.


(CPPCC member, Tang Wengsheng, left, with CRI reporter Liu Lu at the Beijing Friendship Hotel on Monday, March 6, 2006, Photo:



Madam Tang Wengsheng has long been a contributor to public life in China. As well as being a member of the CPPCC, she is also Vice-Chairman of the Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan & Overseas Chinese Affairs Committee; Advisor to the All-China Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese; and Vice-President of China's Soong Ching Ling Foundation.

Born in New York, Tang Wensheng was the daughter of Tang Mingzhao, the first Chinese to be named Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations. In the early 1950s, when Tang was 9 years old, she traveled to China with her parents, as an overseas Chinese coming back to her roots.

After the founding of New China in 1949, many overseas Chinese returned in the hope of contributing their humble efforts to the rebuilding of their homeland, which had been wracked by strife for centuries.

"In the early 1950s, my family moved back to China. The reason is that it was a time when New China has just been established. And it was also the first time in a long history that there was actually peace in the land, and there was much to be done. Many Chinese, including overseas Chinese, were very excited about this. They wanted to come back to China and help build up the country with their own hands. That's why many renowned scientists, such as Mr. Qian Xuesen and Mr. Hua Luogeng came back to China, where they were to become some of the most outstanding scientists of our country."

After coming back to Beijing, Tang Wensheng entered elementary school. At that time she could speak very little Chinese, but she soon caught up with her classmates. She recalls how she would often sit alone in her parents' study, where she immersed herself in the joy of reading, particularly Chinese classical literature.

After graduating from high school, Tang Wensheng entered college, where it took her only 3 years to finish a 5-year course.

"After my family settled back in Beijing, I finished high school and then enrolled in the Beijing Institute of Foreign Languages, as it was called at that time – now it's the Beijing Foreign Studies University. When I first came to China, I couldn't speak, read, or understand Chinese. But my schoolmates all spoke Chinese – and it's very easy for a child to pick up a language. Fortunately, I could still read and speak English by keeping up on my reading -- I did not forget the language. That's how I was able to finish my college studies a bit faster than my classmates."

A bright and studious youth, Tang Wensheng graduated magna cum laude from university, and then entered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, working first in the translation department. This gave her the opportunity to work as an interpreter for many of China's top leaders. She thereby witnessed many important moments for China, such as the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with the United States in the early 1970s

"I have the good fortune to have witnessed and taken part as an interpreter at the re-opening of relations between China and the United States. And to have done interpretation for Chairman Mao Zedong, Premier Zhou Enlai, and at that time vice Premier Deng Xiaoping, as well as other leaders such as vice Premier Li Xiannian. I was part of that process which was very significant for the history of our country and foreign relations, and still has great impact on what we are doing today."

Later, Tang Wensheng worked in the Department of North American and Oceanian Affairs, and soon became the Deputy Director General of the department. She attributeds her knowledge of diplomatic relations to Chairman Mao, and Premier Zhou . 

"At that time we were just interpreters, and there were many things we didn't know much about. But they encouraged us to study, not to just settle for being a basic interpreter. They encouraged us to learn more about the people we translated for, the issues they were discussing, and the background and culture of the foreign guests. I think it was through being at these discussions -- and they also made us feel we were a part of it. I think it was great these leaders treated us young people in that way. That was actually how we grew up, how we later came to understand life and our responsibilities, how we should work through life -- we learned to do as they had done."

Throughout her work with these leaders, there were particular scenes involving them that left deep impressions in Tang Wensheng's mind. She says it was from such experiences that she gradually formed her worldview and came to an understanding of the meaning of her life. 

"Something that remains very clear in my memory is the character of the leaders of that time, the Chairman and the Premier. They not only had a sweeping perceptiveness, able to see both the long view and broad view, and to analyze the situation very perceptively -- They were also people of great vitality. At that time they were both in their 70s -- When you look at elderly people in their 70s nowadays, they are all mostly at home, just taking it easy. But these men were shouldering the fate of the nation at that time. When the Chairman met with President Nixon, at that time as well he had not fully recovered from a grave illness that had almost taken his life -- but still he held the meeting with President Nixon, for I believe about two hours. They covered a broad range of issues, and his mind was very sharp. You didn't sense it all that he was still recovering from a very serious illness. I think it is only someone who holds such strong interest in his nation and his people, who can stand up to such health challenges while orchestrating an event of that significance."

Like the other top advisors of the CPPCC, Tang Wensheng understands that she carries not only the responsibility, but also the hope of the people, for the improvement of life in China.

"When I attend this conference, and I believe it is the same for the other members of the CPPCC, we all realize we must shoulder great responsibilities, and we should conduct ourselves as our former leaders have done; we should carry on the work they started. We bring forward the hopes of our ancestors -- our forefathers and those before them – and the overseas Chinese; we must carry with us their hopes that life in China will improve, and that Chinese people will be able to stand as equals alongside the other societies of the world."

Tang Wensheng says though it has achieved remarkable economic progress, China is still a developing

country, and faces many problems along the road to development. At the outset of the 11th Five-Year 
Plan, she hopes people across China, especially the youth, will carry on the spirit of their ancestors in
striving to make people's life better. 


China Soong Ching Ling Foundation Read Building No.5 Yumin East Road, Xicheng District, Beijing 100029