Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the Man Who Brought China from Empire to Republic

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By Yang Liping

Sun Yat-sen (孫逸仙aka. 孫中山 or 孫文; 1866–1925) is a Chinese revolutionary and the leader of a series of armed uprisings that led to the downfall of China’s last imperial dynasty (Qing)dr-sun-yat-sen in 1911 and the founding of the Republic of China in 1912.   November 12 this year marks his 150th birthday.

A search for his name (“Sun Yat-sen” or “Sun Wen”) in the Gale primary source collection, China from Empire to Republic: Missionary, Sinology and Literary Periodicals (1817–1949), finds him fairly covered in this unique collection of 17 English-language periodicals published in and about China. Out of the 300-plus search results, The China Critic and Tienhsia Monthly—two periodicals run by Chinese intellectuals—account for over two-thirds. At the same time, his activities and ideas had also attracted the attention of Westerner- or missionary-established periodicals such as The Chinese Recorder, West China Missionary News, and The China Yearbook.

Sun’s name is often associated with the epochal Revolution of 1911. China Mission Year Book (1912) provided in Chapter 3 a detailed account of the background and the process of this revolutionary movement that overthrew the Manchu Qing dynasty. The Year Book also carried the full translation of Sun’s oath and proclamation as the first provisional president of the newly formed Republic of China.


However, the revolution was not complete with northern China still under the control of General Yuan Shikai, who was supported by the imperial government. To achieve a united China, Sun offered Yuan the presidency on the condition that the Manchu emperor abdicated and Yuan supported the Republican government. On April 1, 1912, Sun relinquished his presidential title and duties. However, what happened thereafter had run contrary to Sun’s hope because Yuan wanted to restore the imperial system by declaring himself emperor. To counter this, Sun and his Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) colleagues launched the Second Revolution to force Yuan to step down.

With Yuan’s death in June 1916, China plunged into a decade of social and political chaos when the revolutionaries and warlords fought one another for the control of part or whole of China. Never giving up his dream of building a united Chinese republic, Sun reformed his party and pushed for a nationalist-communist alliance. He also went to Beijing in December 1924 to discuss a possible accord with Marshall Duan Qirui and Zhang Zuolin, two powerful warlords controlling northern China. However, he was diagnosed with liver cancer and passed away on 12 March 1925 in Beijing.

Sun has left behind a very famous will and a modified quotation from it—革命尚未成功,同志仍须努力  / As the Revolution has not yet come to a complete success, my compatriots must continue to strive—has become a household phrase in mainland China and Taiwan.  The English translation was published in full in the Educational Review in January 1927.


His will was so influential and inspiring at the time that it was even read out to all the attendees, both Chinese and foreign, of a ceremony of laying the corner stone for a new building on the campus of the Catholic University of Peking in December 1930 by Mr. Chang Chi, President of the Board of Trustees.


Sun’s passing away had spawned a series of memorial and scholarly writings that lasted till the 1930s.  For instance, China Critic published two eulogies on Sun as well as a fairly detailed biography of him:



In comparison, The Chinese Recorder seems to be more interested in summarizing Sun’s intellectual legacy and published several lengthy essays researching Sun’s teachings (1926; 10 pages) and principles (1927; 5 pages). The second one is very unique in that the author compared Sun’s three principles of the people (三民主義) with the teachings of Jesus, probably due to the fact that Sun was a baptized Christian.



Today, ninety-one years after Sun passed away, he is still widely revered by the governments and people across the Strait of Taiwan. This respect can also be found among the Chinese communities across the world in the form of memorial homehalls and parks, statues, and portraits. Hope this shared legacy can help to ease the tensions between Beijing and Taipei and “beget blessings for the people” (as Sun swore a century ago in his oath as the first Chinese president).

Happy Birthday Dr. Sun Yat-sen!






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