Xinhai Revolution

Hong Kong Philharmonic ‘awkwardly’ out of tune in debate over legacy of ‘father of modern China’ Sun Yat-sen

Symphonic work for revolutionary leader’s 150th birthday sparks debate over his legacy after orchestra calls him ‘one of the legendary fathers of modern China’

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 August, 2016, 11:22pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 August, 2016, 11:31pm

The Hong Kong premiere of a symphonic work to celebrate the 150th birthday of Dr Sun Yat-sen has sparked a debate over its creator’s decision not to use Sun’s universally accepted title as the “father of modern China”.

The Sun Yat-sen Symphonic Suite, which premiered in Guangzhou five years ago to mark the centennial of the 1911 revolution, will be staged in Hong Kong next month ahead of performances in Malaysia and Taiwan.

“For us on the mainland, Sun is a great national hero, a great patriot, and a great pioneer of China’s democratic revolution,” Qiu Shuhong, creator of the work and chairman of Zhongshan city’s Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, told the Post on Thursday.

“Sun as the founding father is a Kuomintang title, but we respect history and the way other people refer to him,” Qiu said.

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These so-called “three greats” to describe Sun, he said, were first mentioned in a speech on the centenary of the 1911 revolution by former president Hu Jintao. But it was not until last November that they became official in a CPPCC document.

Jonathan Choi Koon-shum, chairman of Sunwah Group, which is sponsoring the concert to the tune of HK$1 million, said he continued to call Sun the “founding father” while also going along with the “three greats”.

“For me, that’s what he is and will be. If you ask me again, I will say the same,” he said.

The issue took a twist in a July 28 press release by the Hong Kong Philharmonic that called him “one of the legendary fathers of modern China”.

“That was probably prepared by one of those Philharmonic expat staff who are not familiar with Chinese history,” said Janice Choi Kwan Wing-kum, Choi’s wife and a board member of the orchestra.

“They might want to play safe and think Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong could be other founding fathers.”

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Shen Zhihua, a history professor at East China Normal University in Shanghai, said he found it awkward to call Sun “one of the legendary fathers of modern China”.

“No one would argue over Sun being the founding father of modern China simply because there is no one else,” he said.

“As for Mao Zedong, he’s a great man in founding the new China. But no one calls him the founding father because that is a term for a bygone era.”

Despite the political debate, the work’s creator hoped the music would foster appreciation for Sun, who was born in 1866 and later found inspiration for his revolutionary ideas during his student days in Hong Kong.

“I hope this work will help reconnect young people with the great contributions of Sun, who we respect and revere regardless of the title,” Qiu said.

Additional reporting by Minnie Chan