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Encyclopedia > Sun Yat sen
Sun Yat-sen
Known in English as: Sun Yat-sen
Chinese: 孫逸仙
Pinyin: Sūn Yìxiān
Wade-Giles: Sun I-hsien
Known in Chinese as: 孫中山
Pinyin: Sūn Zhōngshān
Wade-Giles: Sun Chung-shan
Family name: Sun
Non-simplified Chinese:
Simplified Chinese:
Given names
Register name (譜名): Deming (德明)
Milk name (乳名): Dixiang (帝象)
School name (學名): Wen (文)
Courtesy name (字): Zaizhi (載之)
Pseudonym (號): Rixin (日新), later
Yixian (逸仙), both
Yat-sen in Cantonese
Alias (化名): Zhongshan (中山)
Styled: Guofu (國父), i.e.
"Father of the Nation"

Sun Yat-sen (November 12, 1866 - March 12, 1925) was a Chinese revolutionary leader and statesman who is considered by many to be the "Father of Modern China". He had a significant influence in the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty and establishment of the Republic of China. A founder of the Kuomintang, Sun was the first provisional president of the Republic of China in 1912 and de facto leader from 1923 to 1925. He developed a political philosophy known as the Three Principles of the People. Sun is uniquely admired by almost all Chinese. Yet, his life was one of constant struggle and frequent exile as few of his visions for his country materialized.



Sun Yat-sen was born to a peasant family in the village of Cuiheng (翠亨村), now located inside the territory of the town of Nanlang (南郎镇), depending from the prefecture-level city of Zhongshan (中山市), Guangdong province, in southern China. When Sun Yat-sen was born, Nanlang was inside the county of Xiangshan (香山縣), itself depending from Guangzhou prefecture (廣州府), Guangdong province. However, in 1925, at the death of Sun Yat-sen, the name of Xiangshan county was changed into Zhongshan county to honor his memory. Then in 1983 it was turned into the county-level city of Zhongshan, and in 1988 it was elevated and made the prefecture-level city of Zhongshan (probably again to honor the home region of Sun Yat-sen), so that today there is no structure remaining at the county level. The village of Cuiheng is located 20 km (12 miles) southeast of downtown Zhongshan, and only 26 km (16 miles) north of Macao.

After receiving a few years of local schooling, at age 13, Sun went to live with an older brother, who had immigrated to Honolulu, Hawaii as a laborer and had become a prosperous merchant. Sun studied at the Iolani School in Honolulu (1879-1882), Diocesan Boys' School (1883), and Queen's College (1884-1886) in Hong Kong. Ultimately, he earned a license of participate as a medical doctor from the Hong Kong College of Medicine for Chinese (1892), of which he was one of the first two graduates. He subsequently practiced medicine in that city briefly in 1893. He married fellow villager Lu Muzhen at age 20 and she bore him a son Sun Ke, who would grow up to become a high ranking official in the government, and two daughters, Sun Yan and Sun Wan.

His years in Hawaii, where he was taught by American Christian missionaries, caused him to develop a strong interest in the American System of economics, of which he became the foremost proponent worldwide during his life. Sun became the head of an organization devoted to these ideas, which met at the house of Frank Damon, whose father Rev. Samuel Damon ran the Hawaii delegation to the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. He attached particular importance to the ideas of Alexander Hamilton and Abraham Lincoln. Sun often said that the formulation from Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, "government of the people, by the people, for the people," had been the inspiration for the "Three Principles of the People." He incorporated these ideas, later in life, in two highly influential books: one, The Vital Problem of China (1917), analyzed some of the problems of colonialism: Sun warned that "…the British treat nations as the silk-worm farmer treats his worms; as long as they produce silk, he cares for them well; when they stop, he feeds them to the fish." The second book, International Development of China (1921), presented detailed proposals for the development of infrastructure in China, and attacked the ideology of laissez-faire, as well as that of Marxism.

Sun's admiration for these ideas filled him with dissatisfaction with the Qing government of China, and he began his political career by attempting to organize reform groups of Chinese exiles in Hong Kong. In October 1894 he founded the Xing Zhong Society to unveil the goal of prospering China and as the platform for future revolutionary activities.

In 1895 a coup he plotted failed, and for the next 16 years Sun was an exile in Europe, the United States, Canada, and Japan, raising money for his revolutionary party and bankrolling uprisings in China. In Japan, where he was known as Nakayama Shō (Japanese: 中山樵, meaning The Woodcutter of Middle Mountain), he joined dissident Chinese groups (later became the Tongmenghui) and soon became their leader. He was expelled from Japan to the United States.

On October 10, 1911, a military uprising at Wuchang in which Sun had no direct involvement, began a process that ended five thousand years of imperial rule in China. When he learned of the successful rebellion against the Qing emperor from press reports, Sun immediately returned to China from the United States.

On December 29 at Nanking, a meeting of representatives from provinces elected Sun as the provisional President of the Republic of China and set the New Year's Day of 1912 as the first day of the First Year of the Republic.

The official history of the Kuomintang emphasizes Sun's role as the first provisional President, but many historians now question the importance of Sun's role in the 1911 revolution and point out that he had no direct role in the Wuchang uprising and was in fact out of the country at the time. In this interpretation, his naming as the first provisional President was precisely because he was a respected but rather unimportant figure and therefore served as an ideal compromise candidate between the revolutionaries and the conservative gentry.

After the swearing in, Sun Yat-sen telexed all provinces to elect and send new senators to establish the National Assembly of the Republic of China. Then the provisional government organizational guidelines and the provisional law of the Republic were declared as the basic law of the country by the Assembly.

The provisional government declared by Sun was in a very weak position. The provinces of southern China had declared independence from the Qing dynasty, but most of the northern provinces had not done so. Moreover, the provisional government did not have military forces of its own, and its control over elements of the New Army that had mutinied was limited, and there were still significant forces which had not declared against the Qing.

The major issue before the provisional government was to seek the support of Yuan Shikai who controlled the Beiyang Army, the military of northern China. After promising Yuan the presidency of the new Republic, Yuan sided with the revolution and forced the emperor to abdicate.

Opposition developed to Yuan's dictatorial methods. In 1913 Sun led an unsuccessful revolt against Yuan, and he was forced to seek asylum in Japan, where he reorganized the Kuomintang.

He married Soong Ching-ling, one of the Soong sisters, in Japan on October 25, 1915, without divorcing his first wife Lu Muzhen. This was due to the opposition from the chinese community. Lu pleaded with him to take Soong as a concubine but this was also unacceptable to Sun's Christian ethics.

He returned to China in 1917, and in 1921 he was elected president of a self-proclaimed national government at Guangzhou in southern China. In 1923, he delivered a speech in which he proclaimed his Three Principles of the People as the foundation of the country and the Five Yuan Constitution as the guideline for the political system and bureaucracy.

To develop the military power needed for the Northern Expedition against the militarists at Beijing, he established the Whampoa Military Academy (now Huangpu Military Academy) near Guangzhou, with Chiang Kai-shek as its commandant and with such party leaders as Wang Ching-wei and Hu Han-min as political instructors.

In the early 1920s Sun received help from the Comintern for his reorganization of the Kuomintang as a Leninist Democratic-Centrist Party and negotiated the First CPC-KMT United Front. In 1924, in order to hasten the conquest of China, he began a policy of active cooperation with the Chinese Communists.

By this time Sun was convinced that the only hope for a unified China lay in a military conquest from his base in the south, followed by a period of political tutelage that would culminate in the transition to democracy.

On November 10, 1924, Sun traveled north and delivered another speech to suggest gathering a conference for the Chinese people and the abolition of all unfair treaties with the Western powers. Two days later, he yet again traveled to Beijing to discuss the future of the country, despite his deteriorating health and the ongoing civil war of the warlords. Although ill at the time, he was still head of the southern government. He left Canton to hold peace talks with the northern regional leaders on the unification of China. Sun died of liver cancer on March 12, 1925, at the age of 60, enroute to Beijing.


His Political philosophy, known as the Three Principles of the People was proclaimed in August 1905 and was based strongly on the American System.

In his Methods and Strategies of Establishing the Country completed in 1919, he suggested using his Three People's Principles to establish ultimate peace, freedom and equality in the country.

Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall in Taipei

After Sun's death, a power struggle between his young protégé Chiang Kai-shek and his old revolutionary comrade Wang Jingwei split the KMT. At stake in this struggle was the right to lay claim to Sun Yat-sen's ambiguous legacy. When the Communists and the Kuomintang split in 1927, marking the start of the Chinese Civil War, each group claimed to be his true heirs. In addition, during World War II, both the anti-Japanese government of Chiang Kai-shek and the pro-Japanese puppet government of Wang Jingwei claimed to be the rightful heirs of Sun's legacy.

The official veneration of Sun's memory (especially in the Kuomintang) was a virtual cult, which centered around his tomb in Nanjing. His widow, the former Soong Ching-ling, sided with the communists during the Chinese Civil War and served from 1949 to 1981 and Vice President (or Vice Chairwoman) of the Communist China and as Honorary President shortly before her death in 1981.

Sun Yat-sen remains unique among 20th-century Chinese leaders for having a high reputation both in mainland China and in Taiwan. In Taiwan, he is seen as the Father of the Republic of China, and is known by the posthumous name National Father, Mr. Sun Zhongshan (Chinese: 國父 孫中山先生, where the one-character space is a traditional homage symbol). His picture is still almost always found in ceremonial locations such as in front of legislatures and classrooms of public schools (from elementary to senior high school), and he continues to appear in new coinage and currency. This stands in sharp contrast to Chiang Kai-shek, whose pictures were mostly removed from public places in the 1990s, and whose likeness has gradually disappeared from coinage and currency. Much of the difference may be attributed to the fact that unlike Chiang Kai-shek, Sun Yat-sen played no role in governing Taiwan, so invoking Sun Yat-sen produces much less of a negative reaction among supporters of Taiwan independence than invoking other figures of the Kuomintang.

Sun's portrait adorns Taiwan's NT$100 note.

On the mainland, Sun is also seen as a Chinese nationalist and pro-socialist, and is highly regarded as the Forerunner of the Revolution (Chinese: 革命的先行者). He is mentioned by name in the preamble to the Constitution of the People's Republic of China. In recent years, the leadership of the Communist Party of China has been increasingly invoking Sun Yat-sen, partly as a way of bolstering Chinese nationalism in light of Chinese economic reform and partly to increase connections with supporters of the Kuomintang on Taiwan which the PRC sees as potential allies against Taiwan independence. Significantly, a massive picture of Sun now appears in Tiananmen Square for May Day while pictures of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin no longer appear.

Sun is also one of the primary saints of the Vietnamese religion Cao Dai.


Like many other Chinese historical figures, Sun Yat-sen used several names throughout his life, and he is known under several of these names, which can be quite confusing for the Westerner. Names are not taken lightly in China, they are central to Chinese culture, something that goes as far back as Confucius and his insistence on using correct names.

The "real" name of Sun Yat-sen (the concept of real or original name is not as clean-cut in China as it is in the Western world, as will become obvious below), the name inscribed in the genealogical records of his family, is Sun Deming (孫德明). This "register name" (譜名) is the name under which his extended relatives of the Sun family would known him, this is a name that was used in formal occasions, such as when he got married. The first Chinese character of the given name, de (德), is the generation character which he shared with his brother and his relatives on the same generation line. Traditionally, this name was not used in intercourse with people outside of the family, and inside China or Taiwan almost nobody knows that his real name was Sun Deming (although other historical figures such as Mao Zedong are known by their "register name"), and even many Chinese people wrongly assume that Deming was his courtesy name (字).

This name, however, was not the name that he received when he was born. Traditionally, Chinese families would wait a certain number of years before officially naming their offspring. In the meantime, they used so-called "milk names" (乳名) which were given to the infant shortly after his birth, and which were known only by the close family. Thus, the actual name that Sun Yat-sen received at birth was Sun Dixiang (孫帝象), but again this is a fact rarely known among Chinese, and only his parents would have used the given name Dixiang when calling him. Dixiang literally means "Supreme God – Elephant". In China, it often happened that families dedicated their newly-born to a god or a buddha in order to offer them protection. Sun Yat-sen and his brother were dedicated to the Supreme God of Heaven by their mother, a supreme deity known as Shangdi (上帝) in Chinese, and so the first character of his milk name (and of his brother too) was di, in reference to Shangdi. As for "Elephant", allegedly his mother dreamed of a large elephant while she was pregnant, and so she called him "Elephant" when he was born.

When he was 10-year-old he entered the village Confucian school, and he received a so-called "school name" (學名). The "school name" was actually the formal name of a person, the name used by older people to call the person, so it was the name that the person would use the most in the first decades of his life (as the person grew older, younger generations would have to use one of the courtesy names instead). Colloquially, the "school name" is called "big name" (大名), whereas the "milk name" is known as the "small name" (小名). The "school name" chosen for Sun Yat-sen was Wen (文, meaning "literary"). Unlike the other names above, this name is very well-known among Chinese, and the vast majority of people even wrongly assume that the original name of Sun Yat-sen was Sun Wen, whereas in fact his "original" name is Sun Deming. This is not surprising however, as many families dispensed with choosing a "school name", and so the "register name" was the one used by people of the older generations to call the young man. In the case of Sun Yat-sen, it seems nobody ever used the "register name" outside of his family. When he became known by Chinese authorities for his revolutionary activities, he was listed as Sun Wen.

In 1883, 17-year-old Sun Yat-sen was baptized Christian, and he started his studies in Hong-Kong. On that occasion, he chose himself a pseudonym (號): Rixin (日新, meaning "renew oneself daily"). Allegedly he chose this name in reference to a sentence inside the Confucian classic book The Great Learning: "If you renew yourself for one day, you can renew yourself daily, and continue to do so" (「苟日新,日日新,又日新」). This is the name he used while a student in Hong Kong. Later, his professor of Chinese literature changed this pseudonym into Yixian (逸仙). Unlike in Mandarin, both pseudonyms are pronounced the same in Cantonese: Yat-sen. As this was the name that he used in his frequent contacts with Westerners at the time, he has become known under this name (with Cantonese pronunciation) in the West. In the Chinese world, however, almost nobody uses the Mandarin version Sun Yixian, nor the Cantonese version Sun Yat-sen.

Later, Sun Yat-sen chose a courtesy name (字) which was Zaizhi (載之, meaning "conveying"). Allegedly, this courtesy name was chosen as a reminder of his "school name" Wen ("literary"), based on the Chinese philosophical saying "literature as a vehicle to convey the Tao" (文以載道). Courtesy names in China often tried to bear a connection with the personal name of the person. His courtesy name, however, was apparently seldom used, and is rarely known in the Chinese world.

In 1897, Sun Yat-sen arrived in Japan, and when he went to the hotel he had to register his name. Desiring to remain hidden from Japanese authorities, his friend wrote down the Japanese family name Nakayama (中山) on the register for him. Allegedly, on their way to the hotel they had passed by the Palace of Marquis Nakayama (one of the highest ranking daimyo of Japan) near Hibiya Park in central Tokyo, and so his friend chose the family name which they had seen hanging at the door of the palace. During his entire stay in Japan, he was known as Mr. Nakayama. Nakayama is pronounced Zhongshan in Mandarin Chinese. After his return to China in 1911, this alias became popular among Chinese republican circles, and so it was that a Japanese family name became his new Chinese given name. This was aided by the fact that Nakayama/Zhongshan literally means "central mountain" (and can even be interpreted as meaning "China's mountain"), which holds very positive and dignified connotations in Chinese. Today, the overwhelming majority of Chinese people know Sun Yat-sen under the name Sun Zhongshan. Often it is shortened to Zhongshan only, and inside China one can find many Zhongshan Avenue, Zhongshan Park, etc.

In 1940, the Kuomintang party officially conferred on the late Sun Yat-sen the name Guofu (國父, meaning "Father of the Nation"), and this name is still frequently used in Taiwan (in Taipei the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall is actually officially called Guofu Memorial Hall), but is seldom used in mainland China, where the title "Forerunner of the Revolution" (革命先行者) is encountered instead sometimes.

On top of all these names, Sun Yat-sen also chose many aliases while he was a revolutionary in exile. According to one study, he used as many as thirty different names!

See also

  • History of the Republic of China

External links

  • ROC Government Biography (http://www.president.gov.tw/1_roc_intro/e_xpresident/index.html)
  • Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Foundation of Hawaii: A virtual library on Dr. Sun in Hawaii including sources for six visits (http://sunyatsen.hawaii.org)
  • Dr. Sun Yat-sen's "immigration" into the US with his successfully claimed (but of course illicit) "Certificate of Hawaiian birth" NARA Government documents (http://www.naatanet.org/separatelivesbrokendreams/sunintro1.html) cf. also Dr. Sun Yat-sen Foundation Hawaii, 5th visit (http://sunyatsen.hawaii.org/english/visits/fifth/index.html)

Preceded by:
Provisional President of the Republic of China
Succeeded by:
Yuan Shikai



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