'Big-mouth' Sun got credit for others' toil

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 October, 2011, 12:00am


Four years before he co-founded the South China Morning Post, Hong Kong revolutionary Tse Tsan-tai (also known as James See), drew what is widely regarded as the first political cartoon by a Chinese national and had it published in Japan in 1899.

'My father told me when I was young that his uncle, an extremely smart guy, was extraordinarily confident of his ability,' said Tse's 78-year-old grand-niece Joy See, a retired professor at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing.

'He drew a cartoon featuring the predicament faced by China, which was surrounded by numerous strong powers from the Western world and Japan.'

Tse himself described the cartoon as an attempt to 'arouse the Chinese nation, and to warn the people of the impending danger of the partitioning of the empire by the foreign powers'.

Tse was reprimanded by Hong Kong's colonial government for expressing his political views, but the cartoon was widely circulated on the mainland in the 1920s.

But while sharing with Sun Yat-sen similar political views and ambitions to overthrow the Qing dynasty and establish a Chinese republic, he did not think much of the man later dubbed the father of the nation, referring to him as 'Cannon-mouth Sun'.

One of the key members of the Revive China Society, or Xing Zhong Hui, when its headquarters were established in Hong Kong in 1895, Tse ranked behind only Yeung Kui-wan, its inaugural president, and Sun. But he followed Yeung rather than Sun and refrained from joining the Tong Meng Hui, or Revolutionary Alliance, which was later formed by Sun.

'According to my dad, my grand-uncle hated Sun deep inside for talking hollow words from time to time rather than being a practical leader, aside from attempting to sell Chinese territory and failing to repay the money he took from many overseas Chinese,' See said.

'My grand-uncle was the first to label him with the sobriquet 'Cannon-mouth Sun'. My family have never called him Sun Yat-sen since my grandfather's time; all of us called him 'Cannon Mouth'. That's why I did not recognise who Sun Yat-sen was in my childhood.'

Dr Joseph Ting Sun-pao, a former chief curator of the Hong Kong Museum of History, said he partly agreed with See, saying that Sun must have been an eloquent orator and excellent persuader to raise huge amounts of funding from overseas Chinese people for the revolutionary cause.

The allegation that Sun tried to trade Chinese territory for overseas support remains controversial even today.

A journalist on the Guangzhou-based Window on the South magazine, Zhao Lingmin, was suspended from her post in August for repeating a Taiwanese historian's charge that Sun tried to offer northeastern provinces, plus Beijing and Tianjin , to Japan in return for Tokyo's political and military support for his revolution.

Ting said that later versions of the history of the late Qing dynasty and early republican eras, which portrayed Sun as perfect and faultless, had, to a certain extent, underplayed the efforts of some unsung heroes in Hong Kong, such as Yeung, Tse and Yau Lit, another senior member of the Revive China Society.

Yeung was assassinated by a Qing agent in Hong Kong in 1901.

His grand-nephew, Dr Yeung Hing-on, said: 'As one of the most prominent revolutionary leaders in the late Qing dynasty, Yeung Kui-wan left nothing to his family when he died. Worse still, no one dared to mention how he died under the huge political pressure exerted by the neighbouring Guangdong government under the Manchu regime.'

Ting said: 'Yeung Kui-wan was a very pitiful example because his family led a poor and hard life after his death. His only son died soon afterwards while one of his daughters became a nun later on.'

As one of Sun's closest friends for years, according to Dr Yeung, Yau was also ignored, receiving little help from the Kuomintang government, particularly after the death of Sun in 1925. 'Yau lived in a small hut in Mong Kok and led a life on a tight budget before his death in Nanjing in 1936,' Dr Yeung said.

Tse retreated from active involvement in politics following the failure of the Guangzhou uprising in January 1903, and founded the South China Morning Post on February 6, 1903, with journalist Alfred Cunningham.

He used the newspaper as a platform to preach revolution by constantly writing and publishing commentaries. He died aged 66 in 1938 and was buried in the Hong Kong Chinese Christian Cemetery in Pok Fu Lam.

His younger brother, Tse Tsan-yip (also known as Thomas See), was killed with poison by the Kuomintang at a banquet in Shanghai in 1933, Tsan-yip's granddaughter Joy See said.

Also a patriot and revolutionary, he committed himself to the abortive uprising in Guangzhou in 1903 and went into exile in South Africa afterwards. His family was terrorised and faced immense political pressure in Shanghai for years after his death, his granddaughter said.

'It is unfair to us, the Tse family, who made plenty of contributions to the establishment of the republic but ended up suffering a lot from it,' she said.