Call for reassessment of Sun Yat-sen from 'pioneer' to 'father of the nation'

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 March, 2011, 12:00am

Beijing is implementing many of the ideas of Dr Sun Yat-sen and should hang his image, instead of that of Mao Zedong, over Tiananmen Square in Beijing as the founder of a republican China.

That is the audacious proposal of Alexander Pann Han-tang, chairman of the Asia Pacific Taiwan Federation of Industry and Commerce, a classmate and close friend of Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou and a fervent admirer of the man who led the overthrow of the Qing dynasty.

'China calls him a 'pioneer of the revolution'. I strongly urge them to designate him as 'the father of the nation' and use his image instead of that of Chairman Mao. Sooner or later, there will be a consensus. It will greatly help to bring together the people of the two sides,' he said.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Republic of China, the first democratic republic in Asia, which Sun created. Taiwan is celebrating the event with concerts, films, seminars, fireworks and a grand parade National Day, October 10.

For its part, Beijing is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Xinhai revolution and ignoring the RoC; it says the republic ceased to exist in 1949, when it defeated the Kuomintang in the civil war.

Sun remains the only political leader revered on both sides. Beijing hangs his portrait in Tiananmen Square on May Day and October 1, facing Mao; many cities have streets and buildings named after him and Zhongshan University is one of the leading colleges of Guangzhou.

In Taiwan, he is called 'Father of the Nation', a title given to him by a law passed in 1940, and is similarly honoured in streets, buildings and institutions. His 'Three Principles of the People' - nationalism, democracy and livelihood - remain the ideology of the ruling Kuomintang.

Pann said the 'Chinese-style socialist market economy' practised on the mainland nothing other than the 'Three Principles of the People'.

'Mainland leaders, including Hu Jintao , say they are continuing Sun's legacy,' he said. 'When I attended ceremonies for major infrastructure projects, like the port of Lianyungang and its railway to Europe, the Three Gorges Dam and the deep-water port of Yangshan in Shanghai with its 33-kilometre bridge to Pudong, officials said that they were carrying out Sun's blueprint. It is the same with the railways from Xining to Lhasa and Beijing to Kowloon.'

Sun outlined these projects in The International Development of China, which he published in 1921; it envisages an ambitious network of railways, highways, ports and other infrastructure. At that time it was impossible to realise the projects. But, during the past 20 years, the government has completed many of them.

'What China practises now is a mixture of capitalism and socialism,' Pann said. 'All the major countries in the world, even the United States, follow such a mixed economy. Sun originally called the third of his principles 'socialism' but changed it to 'livelihood' - minsheng - to bring it into harmony with the first two - also beginning with min .

'Of the three principles, China has come a long way with two - nationalism and livelihood - but has a great deal to do with the third, democracy. That needs to come step by step. It should see Sun as a great leader in the country's modernisation, the founder of the republic.'

Pann graduated from National Taiwan University in 1972 in international economics; Ma was studying there at the same time in the law faculty. After obtaining an MBA in banking and finance from New York University, Pann went into business. A resident of Hong Kong for 20 years, he was a founding director of the HK Policy Research Institute and adviser to the Straits Exchange Foundation. He has written five books.

Students on the two sides of the Taiwan Strait are taught different histories. While Sun and his philosophy have an important place in classes in Taiwan, students on the mainland are taught the 1911-49 Nationalist period was one of chaos and civil war, and failure to address the key issues of poverty, land reform and foreign intervention. Sun is presented as an important figure in bringing about the 1911 revolution and advocating co-operation between the KMT and the communists but as a person unable to realise his ideals.

'Sun was an idealist who had lived abroad for many years,' National History, a mainland magazine, said in its November edition. 'When he took the oath of office as the first president of the republic in Nanjing on January 1, 1912, he had no money, no army and the support of no foreign government.'

The mainland view is that Sun's work was only the first step towards the real revolution in 1949, when the communists set up a truly independent state, expelled the foreigners and built a military and industrial power. As a result, most mainlanders have limited understanding or appreciation of him.

Pann sees Sun as a figure of global importance. 'Xinhai was the first global revolution, supported by Chinese around the world. [Sun] visited the United States seven times and Europe many times. He was greatly respected by Ho Chi Minh, Lee Kuan Yew and Sukarno.

'There are two kinds of revolutionaries. One is a philosopher and thinker, the other an activist. Sun was both. He had his own theory and he put it into practice. He was a very good organiser and had the charisma to inspire people to donate money and continue the struggle.'

It was a long revolution that cost the lives of many who took part. It began with the first uprising in Guangzhou in 1895, which failed, and Sun became an exile; he lived the next 16 years in Europe, the United States, Canada and Japan.

In 1896 in London, Sun was arrested by agents of the Qing dynasty and taken to Portland Place, still home to the Chinese Embassy today. The government planned to execute him. But a campaign launched by The Times, the Foreign Office and Sun's friend James Cantlie, a Scottish physician, forced the embassy to let him go unharmed. Newspapers around the world reported the release, making him a global name.

In 1900, Sun launched the second uprising in Huizhou , Guangdong province, which also failed. Over the next decade, eight more failures cost the lives of many outstanding people and exhausted the patience and funds of many supporters.

Only in October 1911 did a military uprising in Wuchang succeed, bringing down the dynasty. In Denver, Colorado, Sun learnt of it from a newspaper and rushed back to China. On December 29, a meeting of provincial representatives in Nanjing chose Sun as provisional president.

'In most revolutions, if you are not in the country, you will not play a big role,' Pann said. 'But the representatives waited for him to come back, which shows what a good reputation he had ... He spoke Mandarin with a heavy Cantonese accent, but it was much better than most senior officials of the [Hong Kong] government, who only started learning it after 1997. He wrote very well. There were revolutionary societies in Hunan and Zhejiang , very proud people, but both agreed to merge with the one Sun established.'

Sun held the post of president for only three months, before ceding it to Yuan Shikai , the Beijing warlord who controlled the country's most powerful army. Critics see this as a sign of his weakness and lack of military and political support.

But Pann said it was the right decision to avoid confrontation. 'Sun's aim was not to become a high official but change the entire Chinese political system. To overturn a system that had been in place for thousands of years was extremely difficult. He knew much hard work lay ahead.'

Yuan then declared himself emperor, persuading Sun to launch a second revolution. After Yuan's death in 1916, the country fell under the control of different warlords, without a central government.

This persuaded Sun to set up the Huangpu Military Academy near Guangzhou in 1924, headed by Chiang Kai-shek, to prepare an army to unite the country.

Sun, who died of liver cancer on March 12, 1925, aged 59, did not live to see the unification of most of China by Chiang's KMT army in 1927.