Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Saturday, December 08, 2012


Fascinating lecture last night by George Wong, the great grandson of Sun Yat-sen. I have wondered many times about the significance of Sun in the history of China in the 20th Century. He is known as the first president of China, but in fact, he was only president for three months, after which Yuan Shikai took over. After that three month period, Sun Yat-sen never weilded actual power anywhere in China, but he seems to have had an extraordinary influence over the history of this country.

After the lecture, I was talking with Mr. Wong, and he said, "Mao is not the father of modern China. Sun Yat-sen is the father of modern China." It's a question I have wondered about myself many times. Americans tend to think of Deng Xiao-ping as the father of modern China. His economic policies lifted 400 million people out of poverty. But here in China, there are still plenty of people who view Mao himself as the father of modern China. Despite his weaknesses, and the bad press he has been getting all over the world in recent years, there are two things Mao accomplished that no leader before him had been able to. He made China an independent entity. No colonialism after Mao came to power. And he pacified the countryside. Before Mao came to power, the countryside was full of bandits and other ne'er-do-wells who frequently terrorized the local populace. Now you can travel all over China with very little difficulty.

But regardless who your choice is for the "father of modern China," it is clear that Sun is the one unifying figure to emerge from the maelstrom of twentieth century Chinese history. I remember going to Tiananmen Square on National Day when I first came to China. The first thing you notice when you go to Tiananmen on National Day (aside from the crowds) is the giant portrait of Sun Yat-sen. The first time I saw it I found myself asking, "What are you doing here?" But after thinking about it for awhile, I realized that it had to be Sun Yat-sen. No one else would do. A giant portrait of Mao would alienate Taiwan. And of course a giant portrait of Chiang Kai-shek (Jiang Jieshi) would be out of the question.

If you are ever in Nanjing, I encourage you to go to the Sun Yat-sen mausoleum. When Sun Yat-sen died, his body was taken to Fragrant Hills outside of Beijing, but was later moved to a huge mausoleum in Nanjing.

Interestingly, the name "Sun Yat-sen" is not his original name. It's not even Chinese. The "Sun" part is Chinese. But "Yat-sen" (Cantonese) and Zhongshan (Mandarin) are the Cantonese and Mandarin pronunciations of his Japanese name, Nakayama, given to him by revolutionary Japanese philosopher Toten Miyazaki

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