“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.”