“News of the death of Dr Sun Yat-sen reached Hongkong at noon yesterday,” announced a story in the South China Morning Post on March 13, 1925.

While Sun’s life is well documented and posterity would be his judge, commentary by the Post‘s editorial writer offers a window on how he was viewed in the moment.

“Without him China will seem for a time ‘the play without Hamlet’,” they wrote. “In all the capitals of the world to-day, pens will be busy appraising him. Orthodoxy will dictate adherences to that old adage ‘De mortuis nil nisi bonum’; but therein will lie the test of [his] greatness. It is only of the incon­sider­able that the biographers say nothing but good [...]

“We have before us appreciations and condemnations of him, varying as widely as the poles stand apart. ‘A born intriguer,’ says one, ‘one of the great adventurers of the ages, a Borgia born late and born yellow. An intriguer by instinct, a revolutionary by profession and a muddler by habit, Sun has never yet struck a decisive blow for any cause, and it is safe to say he never will.’

“Against that, we have this from another pen: ‘Father of the Revolution, Sun is a statesman, a hero and a martyr. Alone in all the contesting leaders in China he has no axe to grind. He asks nothing for himself: he is of the people and for the people.’ The true estimation of him probably lies between those extremes, and nearer the latter. […]

“Much derogatory of Sun has been written in Hongkong during the last few years – at best he was an impractical dreamer; at worst, a fraud. His chief fault, however, would seem to have been that he failed so pathetic­ally: [...] it has been said no reformer in any country had such opportunities as Sun, nor made less use of them. Ourselves, however, have ven­tured to question whether, in like circum­stances, Napoleon, Cromwell, Garibaldi, Washington would not have failed. […] We can, therefore, judge Sun kindly and concede that the dice were against him, driving him to the despera­tion of a man who plays a losing game.”