Sun Yat Sen
Physician, Liberator, and Father of Modern China

Tsu-Min Tsai, M.D

 
Sun Yat Sen, the Father of modern China was born October 6 1866 in the Pearl River Delta village of Cuehong in Southern China near Macao and Hong Kong during turbulent times. The preceding decades had been semi-disastrous for China. It was racked by civil wars and split that divided the country into two frequently hostile a geographical regions the Northern and the Southern. In 1864 the Southern region was battered by strife, a great deal of local fighting, and revolts against the powerful Chin Dynasty that had been ruling China since the Opium Wars in 1640. Then, in 1884, during the war between France and China, the Southern navy was defeated by the French and the Northern navy by the Japanese. Viet Nam was lost to France and the Japanese made substantial inroads into Northern China. Open warfare began between China and Japan in 1894-95 and China lost Taiwan. China's losses continued with the Boxer Crisis in 1899. Western nations besieged Peking and forced China to accede to what amounted to partial occupations. Extra-territorial rights were granted to the Germans who took control of much of Shandong; to the Russians who did the same in Laiodong; to the British in the lower Yangtze Valley, and to the French in Guandong. The famous old seaport of Shanghai became a city of International Zones that the Westerners controlled and in which the Chinese were definitely second class citizens.

Some Chinese groups resisted and even rebelled against the foreign occupations. A Restoration Society was formed and in 1905 Sun Yat Sen founded the Revolutionary Alliance; its goals were his famous "Three Principles of the People"---Nationalism, Democracy, and Social Progress. He soon became the symbol and leader of the Chinese nationalist revolution, and in 1911, the first President of the new Chinese Republic that succeeded the overthrown Manchu Dynasty after it had ruled about three centuries.

As a boy in the Kwangtung Province in southern China, Sun had endured many of the hardships of peasant life but was inspired by stories of the heroic Chinese resistance to the foreign inroads and control that increased during the latter decades of the 19th century. His father had converted to Christianity under the influence of the London Missionary Society. Sun, who also became a Christian, was baptized in 1883. He continued to describe himself as a Christian until his death in 1925 for which he had given instructions that he should he buried with Christian rites.

In his youth Sun went to Hawaii to live with his older brother, Sun Mei who later became a wealthy businessman and helped fund some of Sun's revolutionary activities. On Oahu Sun was educated at the Missionary School where he studied the Bible and Christian rituals and also took courses in medicine and law. In 1887, he enrolled in the new medical college in Hong Kong that was directed by Dr. James Cantlie from London with whom he developed a lifelong friendship. Sun graduated in l892, second in his class of twenty, and although his medical diploma was not recognized in either Hong Kong or Macao, he developed a successful practice in Macao and later Canton in which he used both Western European and Traditional Chinese medicine. He diagnosed and treated as a general family practitioner.  However, he also was able to perform surgery, such as removal of kidney stones etc. His main interest was still political rather than medical.

But, Sun's basic revolutionary spirit continued to be kindled by associations with Chinese Medical students and a secret revolutionary society, and after China's losses to Japan in 1895, he joined a revolutionary plot against the government. The plot failed and a number of the revolutionaries were captured and executed, but Sun escaped and made a fateful decision. He gave up his medicine because he would rather help cure his country than individual patients.

Sun's political and social ideas were in opposition to many of the prevailing traditional beliefs and practices. For example, he opposed the binding of girls' feet and did not believe that parents had the right to sell their children as slaves. Even earlier, when he was just in his twenties, he renounced his birthright by giving up his share of the family wealth. He observed the government armies seizing the peoples' property and the poor, forced by necessity, to steal from the rich. In contrast to Chinese life that was pervaded by corruption and poverty, he saw life in Hawaii as stable, prosperous, and happy. Also, he read books about liberators, for example, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. His activities led to his being listed officially as the four bandits.

During the next few years, Sun lived in exile. In 1894, he went to Hawaii to form the Revived China Society and in 1895, when the Canton Rebellion failed, he fled to Japan to escape extradition. In 1896 he went to London at the invitation of his former Hong Kong teacher and friend, James Catlin. In London, he worked to gain support for his revolutionary plans. On one occasion he was kidnapped for a week and imprisoned because of his continuing revolutionary activities, mainly writing and seeking public support. In 1897, he published a book “Kidnapped in London" that recounted his experiences. In the early 1900s, Sun went again to live as an exile in Japan, Viet Nam, Hawaii, and Europe in order to gain increased support for his revolutionary activities. In 1905, he created the Revolutionary Alliance that advanced his ideology, especially The peoples' Three Principles. In 1911, events led to the successful Wuchang Revolution and the collapse of the Chinese Empire. Although neither Sun nor his party had sparked the revolution, he was elected President of the new Republic. But his presidency lasted for only a short time; within just six weeks, the military leader, Yuan Shikai seized power and became the dictator of China; Sun went to Japan in exile. After Yuan Shikai died suddenly in 1916 Sun returned to a leadership position China.  But, the next few years were marked by internecine strife. After World War I, in 1921, the Chinese Communist Party (The CCI) was formed and in 1923, Sun Yat Sen developed policy of cooperation with Russia and the Chinese Communists.  He allied with the Soviet emissary, Borodin, while civil wars continued. In 1924, Sun left Canton to set up headquarters in Shaogun but several colleagues and leaders, including his brother-in-law Chaing Kai-shek refused to go with him.

Sun became ill October 17, 1924 and died of inoperable liver cancer March 12, 1925. For the next twenty five years, there was continuing civil was in China, mainly between Chang Kai-shek's government forces and the CCP. During the 1930s, the communists proved to be the best defenders of the national interest, especially in the late 1930s when the Japanese brutally overran large areas in China and committed such atrocities as the terrible “Rape of Nanking."  After World War II, the Communists defeated Chang Kai-shek's government forces and he and many of big supporters found refuge in Taiwan.

 Sun Yat Sen, the physician who gave up medicine so that he could help cure all the people in China is immortalized as the “Father of his Country". The flag of China with its four small stars surrounding one big star, honors his ideas of the unity of the four classes of people: the working class, the poor and the peasants, the petty bourgeoisie and the intellectuals, and the national capitalists all under the leadership of the CCP.