Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Sun Yat-sen (孫中山 aka 孫逸仙) has been hailed as the Father of Modern China, is revered by both Communist and Nationalist Chinese governments, and is a saint in the Cao Đài faith (along with Victor Hugo and Nguyen Binh Khiêm).

He was born Nov. 12, 1866, in Cuiheng (Choy Hang) Village, Xiangshan county, Guangdong province. He died March 12, 1925, in Beijing of liver cancer. Chinese portrayals of Sun often mythicize his life and accomplishments, while the works of many Western academics have tried to minimize his contributions to the Chinese Revolution. Whatever the reality may be, I don't think that his legacy in Chinese politics can be denied.

Sun's register name (the name listed in the Sun family register, and by which his family would have formally called him) was Sun Deming (孫德明). Sun Yat-sen, the name by which he is known to most people, was derived from an alias which he took while living in Japan. It was purportedly taken from a plaque over the gates of the palace of Nakayama Tadayasu (father-in-law of the Meiji Emperor). Nakayama is written with the characters 中山, which is Yat-sen (Zhongshan) in Chinese.

At age 13, Sun was sent to live with his older brother in Honolulu, where he attended prep school at 'Iolani. In fact, two days ago (when I had originally wanted to make this entry, but couldn't due to a burned out power supply), a bronze statue dedicated to Sun was unveiled in honor of his 142nd birthday.

Like many Chinese students educated abroad, Sun was influenced by the ideals of equality and democracy. From these concepts, he derived his Three Principles of the People (三民主義). He was also open to a wide variety of other political and social concepts, which has lead some to label him as an opportunist, but that makes him seem like someone who jumped onto the revolutionary bandwagon at the last minute, which was anything but true. From at least 1894, he was involved in organizing groups to reform China, and continued his work abroad after going into exile in 1895 after plans for an uprising in Canton was leaked to the Qing government.

Sun was elected the provisional President of the Republic of China in 1911. It has been said that he was elected as a compromise candidate due to his lack of prominence in the various political camps among the revolutionaries. I think it can also be argued that he was selected because he was perceived as being impartial, due to not having actually been in China for so long.

He ceded the presidency to Yuan Shikai in return for the support of the Beiyang Army. Yuan forced the abdication of the last Qing emperor, but his increasingly dictatorial actions forced Sun to attempt a second revolution in 1913. The revolt against Yuan failed, and Sun was forced into exile again.

Sun married Soong Ching-ling, the middle sister of the (in)famous Soong Sisters in 1915, while in exile in Japan. He was still officially married to his first wife as he could not divorce her since it would have offended popular sentiment. In any event, after Yuan's death in 1916, China devolved into a familiar state of warlordism. Sun returned to China in 1917 to work on reunification. He established a military government in Canton in 1921, and embarked on what was his original plan of using the South as a base for the overthrow of the Qing, except this time it was for the overthrow of the various warlords.

It was during this period that Sun and the KMT received much needed support from the Comintern, and forged the CCP-KMT United Front. The PRC has honored Sun as one of the pioneers in the Communist revolution for this reason. I'm not particularly familiar with Sun's political theories, but I believe that though he subscribed to socialism, he was critical of Marxism.

Sun died before he could see the unification of China, but I wonder what China would have been like if he could have been alive to shape it's development?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Double Ten Day

Today is Double Ten Day (雙十節), marking the anniversary of the Xinhai Revolution (辛亥革命). On this day in 1911, there was an uprising in the city of Wuchang which led to the seccession of a number of provicial governments and signaled the end of the Qing dynasty. It was an important event that paved the way for the formation of the Republic of China.

There were many reasons for the uprising, but the main cause was the weakness of the central government. The decline of the Qing dynasty mirrored events that occurred during the fall of many earlier dynasties. In fact, just about everything that heralded the end of a dynasty happened to the Qing. A series of weak emperors resulted in a hierarchical diffusion of govermental inefficiency and corruption from the top down. This lack of leadership resulted in an inability to deal with the rebellions of the 1850's (Nian, Taiping), increasing population, a poor economic outlook, natural disasters, military defeats, and the depredation of colonial powers. About the only problem that they did not experience was a femme fatale qingguo (dynasty toppler), but arguments could be made for that as well.

The prestige of the Qing fell, and it became increasingly evident that the Tianming (Mandate of Heaven) had been withdrawn. Latent anti-Manchu sentiment emerged, and Chinese intellectuals had the luxury of blaming corrupt Manchu rule for all of China's problems. Faced with their own ineffectuality, the Qing rulers realized that they had to modernize. They reluctantly approved the organization of tuanlian (local militia) by local gentry to fight their battles, and sent students abroad to absorb Western learning. Modernization included building up infrastructure, including railways; the development of a New Model Army (新軍), with officers sent abroad for training; it also meant that constitutional rule was to be adopted.

Unfortunately for the Manchu, modernization resulted in increased local power, while students exposed to Western learning began to spread of the concept of Chinese nationalism. It did not help that in their reluctance to lose power, the Qing government delayed the establishment of constitutional rule, and sought to control the provincial railways by dissolving the provincial railroad companies. It was this last event that triggered the 1911 uprising. Merchants, gentry, and students protested the Manchu decree, and local tuanlian in Sichuan took over the provincial administration after the Qing viceroy tried to arrest the leaders of the protest.

The majority of the New Model Army was ordered to Sichuan to quell the rebellion, and it was at this time, that members of the Wenxueshe (Literary Society) in the officers corps decided to stage an uprising. By this point in time, a third of the New Model Army had joined either the Wenshe or Gongjinhui (Forward Together Society). Both were revolutionary organizations influenced by the teachings of Sun Yat-sen's Tongmenhui (Revolutionary Alliance). They informed the Tongmenhui of their intentions, but were told that the time was not right. However, they decided to go ahead with the uprising on October 16th. On October 9th, Sun Wu, founder of the Gongjinhui was making a bomb in the Russian concession in Hankow, when it exploded prematurely. Russian police arriving on the scene captured suspects and documents and informed the Qing viceroy.

Jiang Yiwu, founder of the Wenxueshe decided to launch the uprising immediately for fear that the Manchus had found lists containing the names of the revolutionaries. The command post of the revolutionaries was discovered, and several members arrested and executed. Sergeants of the 8th Engineering Battalion decided that they could not delay any longer, and went on a rampage, capturing the armory at Chuwantai. Realizing they needed better military leadership, Wu Zhaolin, a company commander was forced to become their leader, with the sergeant Xiong Bingkun acting as his staff officer. By this time, they were joined by the South Lake Artillery, and they attacked the viceroy's headquarters. The viceroy Duan Zheng ran off, leaving Hubei province in the hands of the rebels. Colonel Li Yuanhong of the 21st Mixed Brigade of the Hubei New Model Army was volunteered as governor of the new military republic with the edge of a sword to his neck. Other provinces began to secede in turn. On December 29, 1911 Sun Yat-sen was elected as the provisional President of the Republic of China.