Dr. Sun Yat Sen

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 | Dr. Sun Yat-senJonathan Spence, professor at Yale University; author of several acclaimed books on China TIME 100: AUGUST 23-30, 1999 VOL. 154 NO. 7/8
In the turbulent and tangled history of modern China, Sun Yat-sen holds a unique place. Claimed as a personal inspiration and political guide by the most bitterly opposed political parties, he is known to millions as "the Father of the Chinese Revolution." Yet his own life was a constant scramble for livelihood and influence, he spent much of his time in exile, and almost none of his cherished schemes came near to fruition. The twin strands of inspiration and failure define the relationship between his life and the history of his country. 

Born in 1866 to a farming family in southeast China, not far from Macau and Hong Kong, Sun received a few years of local schooling in traditional Chinese texts. At 13 he moved to Hawaii, where his elder brother had emigrated. Three years of study in a Honolulu boarding school run by the Church of England were followed by more than a decade in Hong Kong, where Sun was baptized a Christian and gained certificates of proficiency in medicine and surgery. He practiced medicine briefly in Hong Kong in 1893. 

Yet Sun was not typical of the rising class of Westernized Chinese intent on their own professional advancement within the swiftly changing tides of late 19th century imperialism and colonialism. He was a Chinese patriot of a more traditional kind, an admirer of rebels who had pitted their lives against the ruling Manchu dynasty (or Qing) and was at home within the conspiratorial worlds of Chinese secret societies. His head was filled with dreams of strengthening China from within by drawing on its natural resources in conjunction with new technologies, and he tried to interest powerful officials in his schemes for economic development. 

By 1894, however, China was sliding into chaos as the Manchu dynasty weakened and Japan defeated China in a brief and humiliating war. The main prize of victory for the Japanese was the island of Taiwan, which was ceded by China and made a Japanese colony. Sensing the time was ripe for an uprising, Sun returned to Hawaii, where he used his earlier contacts, along with some of his new friends in Hong Kong, to form an underground society dedicated to reviving China. Sun returned to Hong Kong in 1895 and attempted to lead an insurrection in southeast China. He failed. At the Chinese government's request, the British banned Sun from Hong Kong. For a time, Japan became his base for new revolutionary activities. After he was banned there, he lived in various countries in Southeast Asia. He also traveled widely in Europe, Canada and the United States, seeking funds for future uprisings, all of which failed because of faulty planning and lack of adequate weapons. 

By 1905, Sun began to develop a more coherent set of guiding principles. These became, in turn, the ideology of a broader-based revolutionary society that he founded at the same time. In this new ideology, which he termed the "Three Principles of the People," Sun sought to combine the fundamental aspects of nationalism, democracy and socialism. Over the years, Sun developed these ideas into a comprehensive plan for restoring economic and moral strength to his country, first by expelling the Manchus and then by curbing the foreign powers. He also hoped to free Chinese from graver forms of social exploitation by building a central government that would counter the rampant forces of capitalism in industry and of powerful landlords in the countryside. It was Sun's view that, in the early stages of China's regeneration, the country should be controlled by a rigorously structured central party, dedicated in loyalty to him personally as absolute leader. But through a carefully calibrated period of "tutelage," the Chinese people would be introduced to the principles and practices of representative government, until finally the tutelage...
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