Democracy, Nationalism, and Economic Expansion: An Analysis of Western Influence on the Policies of Dr. Sun Yat Sen

134715-004-055B4C9CKnown for his leadership in China during the 1911 revolution and regarded as the father of China, Dr. Sun Yat Sen may be one of the most influential political leaders of all time. Being both well-traveled and well educated, Sun possessed insight about the world, particularly the Western world which others in China during this time did not. Being in exile for a number of years both before and after the revolution, his travels had given him an opportunity to witness life outside of China, a then isolationist country.[1] Although his efforts against the Qing government had at first failed, he never gave up. It was Sun’s time attending high school in Honolulu, Hawaii that made a lasting impression on his political ideology.[2] From then on Sun looked to idols such as Abraham Lincoln, Alexander Hamilton and later, iconic entrepreneurs such as Henry Ford who was transforming America before his eyes.[3] Philosophies such as manifest destiny and expanding the country by use of a coast to coast railway system, were just a few of the many American ideals Sun would later incorporate into his political rhetoric. These ideas and principles would endure long after Sun’s resignation as the president of the People’s Republic of China. Even after his death, Sun’s Three Principles of People alongside his Western style political influence has had a lasting impact on the Chinese government and its citizens.[4] Sun Yat Sen’s time abroad spanning from 1879 until the turn of the century was a key influence regarding his ideology, political and economic decisions which later helped to shape the government of People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Sun Yat Sen’s ideology never wavered however, his political savvy and the way he expressed his ideals, did. It wasn’t until after the revolution, and his resignation as president of the PRC, that he developed his Three Principles of People. In his principles, he focuses on three main ideas; livelihood, nationalism, and sovereignty. His principle of livelihood focused heavily on land distribution and ownership.[5] It could be inferred that this stems from the vast economic troubles of Chinese citizens due to lack of land or ability to farm the land. This was also a measure to ensure that citizens do not go hungry and could provide for their families.[6] The principle of nationalism was a main concern for Dr. Sun Yat Sen as he felt that all of China’s problems stemmed from its lack of unification.[7] This made the country more vulnerable to outside attack and led to the signing of unequal treaties, which left Chinese citizens poor and disadvantaged.[8] Sun felt that if he could fix this and unify China, there was a better chance of great military, political and economic growth and a lesser fear of invasion.[9] Sun’s principle of Nationalism not only including unifying China, but making the country a player on the world stage. In his 1923 political statement, The Fundamentals of National Reconstruction, Sun discusses his principle of Nationalism stating that China must “forge ahead with other nations towards the goal of ideal brotherhood.” [10] He also repels the idea of seeking revenge on the Manchus stating, “No vengeance has been inflicted on the Manchus and we have endeavored to live side by side with them on an equal footing.” [11]  While earlier revolutionaries such as Zou Rong, sought blood and revenge from the Manchus for the massacre of the Han people, Sun did not.[12] He sought to resolve ethnic conflict and being China together. Sun’s final principle, sovereignty, was based on the hopes of dismantling the monarchy and establishing a democratic Republic within China.[13] This also meant that China would shake the repercussions of wars such as the Opium War and the Sino-Japanese war whose unequal treaties split the country into several spheres of influence, introduced colonialism, and left China with massive war reparations.[14] Gaining control of foreign affairs was a major aspect of creating the China Sun dreamed about.[15] His vision was to unite China, embrace equal rights, promote economic expansion including industrialization, and the establishment of a democratic government, in hopes of developing a stronger nation. [16]

In order to achieve his goals, Sun set out to produce an economic plan for expansion which included plans for a coast to coast railroad much like that of the transcontinental railroad in the United States.[17] He believed the key to economic expansion meant expanding the railroad in China based on American success and economic growth due to the ability to move supplies and people coast to coast easily.[18] He also wanted to make sure that China’s railroad could compete or even outdo the transcontinental railroad in the United States.[19] In a speech given in July 1912 Sun Yat-Sen argued that the United States had 320,000 kilometers of Railway whereas, China only had a 9000-kilometer system.[20] Sun figured that since China was five times larger than the United States, China needed 1,600,000 kilometers of Railway to compete. [21] The timeline laid out for the railway project was over a 10 year span which was later changed to only 90,000 kilometers in 10 years. [22] Many people in China saw his plans as overzealous and unachievable, especially within his time frame, However, Sun’s calculation of the length of railway system needed was not unrealistic and by the 1980s, China’s railway spanned almost the exact length proposed by Sun in 1912. [23] It is not surprising that Sun may have been a bit overzealous with his planning. The American transcontinental railroad was completed in 1876, just a few years before Sun arrived in Hawaii. [24] Although it would be a few years before he got to ride it, he would use it to travel all over the United States. Ironically, it was a newspaper article read about the Wuchang Uprising, on an afternoon train ride from Denver to Kansas City in 1911, which prompted Dr, Sun Yat Sen to return to China and aid in the revolution.[25]

Another aspect of Sun’s economic expansion of China involved bringing industry overseas. One of Sun’s idols was Henry Ford and he admired his work and entrepreneurship which led to the invention of the assembly line and most famously, his Ford motor vehicles. [26] In a 1924 letter written to Mr. Ford, Sun Yat Sen expressed his admiration of Ford’s work and urged him to bring his business to China for an opportunity to “express and embody (his) mind and ideas.” [27] He goes on to say, “I have read of your remarkable work in America and I think that you can do similar work in China on a much vaster and more significant scale”. [28] Sun also explained his worries about China’s economic and industrial stagnation citing the possibility of World War. He argues that if China remains economically underdeveloped, they were at higher risk of becoming the object of exploitation and international stripe on the part of the Great powers.[29] Realizing that he needed to spark industrialization in his county it was Henry Ford in which Sun turned to for alliance. Sun also cited the uselessness of fellow governments such as that of the United States, in assisting his economic expansion plans in China, as to why he called upon Ford. He explains that he first read about Ford’s accomplishments in America in through various outlets such as newspapers and magazines.[30]  In his letter Sun pleads his case,

“I now realize that it is more or less hopeless to expect much from the present governments of the powers. There is much more hope in my opinion, from a dynamic worker like yourself, and this is why I invite you to visit us and South China in order to study at first-hand what is undoubtedly one of the greatest problems of the twentieth century.” [31]

Although Mr. Ford rejected Sun’s proposal, Sun pushed on with the further crafting of his economic plan.

Although it is true that Dr. Sun Yat Sen admired and adopted certain American economic, political, and social policy ideals such as democracy and plans for a transcontinental railroad, ‘he never deviated from Chinese tradition.” [32] His dream was rather to expand and modernize China within its own tradition through his American inspired principles.[33] When writing about the principle of democracy and the structure of the government, Sun outlines a five-power Constitution which was to consist of five branches; executive, legislative, judicial, civil service examination, and censorate.[34] He explains the inclusion of the civil service examination and censorate as, “features (that) come from old China” and goes on to praise these two former systems of the Qing and Tang Dynasties arguing that “they were very effective (and) the selection of real talent and ability through examinations had been characteristic of China for thousands of years.” [35] Sun’s desire to preserve fundamental Chinese traditions such as the civil service examinations indicates his devotion to his homeland and highlights his desire to improve Chinese government while still preserving China’s cultural identity. He also ensures the Chinese people the reconstructed state will be divided into two parts; power of the government and popular sovereignty. Sun describes this as the government resembling a piece of machinery with the government being the tool and the people being the engineers.[36]  The idea of popular sovereignty is a principal directly coined from the Western world and specifically, the United States.[37]  It is clear the influence of the Western world on the principles of Dr. Sun Yat Sen however, Sun’s desire to preserve unique characteristics of Chinese tradition allow for the incorporation of American principles in a way that both honors and preserves old Chinese culture. This seen in Sun’s five power government and the desire to keep the civil service examination as part of the government structure as it had been for centuries while at the same time, incorporating American government ideals.[38]

Sun’s “conversion to Christianity, his familiarity with western philosophers and finally, (his knowledge of) the Western powers’ attitude toward China”, greatly affected his political ideas.[39] This was a direct reflection of his Western education which he received while residing in Hawaii.[40] Sun’s introduction to Western style living first began when he went to live with his brother, Sun Mei, who was a wealthy merchant on the island of Oahu.[41] The idea of democracy, not first practiced in America but rather an institution of Britain and France due to the influences of John Locke and Montesquieu, Sun’s first taste of this type of government structure, was in Hawaii.[42] Sun Yat Sen experienced American life and politics at an influential age attending first Iolani School and then Oahu College in Hawaii, he spent his adolescent years, 1879-1883, in the states.[43] Not having any knowledge of English upon his arrival to Hawaii, Sun flourished and ultimately received an award for his outstanding performance in English.[44] . He then studied at Oahu College for one year and it was here that Sun Yat Sen strengthened his understanding of Western democratic ideas and American History and focused on the political and economic thought of Alexander Hamilton and Abraham Lincoln.[45] Sun immensity enjoyed his time in Hawaii and cherished his new found political ideals proclaiming, “This is my Hawaii. Here I was brought up and educated; and it was here that I came to know what modern civilized governments are like and what they mean”. [46] Sun stating that he came to understand what civilized governments were like only after his schooling in Hawaii, implies that American ideals were taught in Hawaii at the time even as it was then. not part of the United States. This also implies that the Qing government was vastly different from the American government both in structure and ideology based on Sun’s implying that China was uncivilized. After being educated about democracy and American government structure during his schooling in Hawaii, Sun was unhappy with the Qing government and their rule over China.[47]

His disappointment in China may have been influenced by the progress of American economy, nationalism and expansion during this time. Commonly called the Gilded Age, the production of steel and iron, the influx of immigrants, and the expansion of the railroad, made America a force to be reckoned with. Factories sprung up everywhere and industries boomed. Men such as Andrew Carnegie (steel) and John D. Rockefeller (oil) otherwise known as robber barons, monopolized the industries and made massive fortunes.[48] The abundance of gold, silver and land induced movements like the gold rush and the land rush in which thousands left their homes and headed West with the prospects of getting rich.[49] It was an exciting and adventurous time in United States history, and Sun Yat Sen noticed. With the steadfast notion of manifest destiny, railroad travel and economic expansion, it is no wonder Sun saw wasted potential in his home country.[50] America was full of possibilities and opportunities whereas China’s existence revolved around the traditions and protocols of the ancient Qing dynasty. After graduating in 1882, Sun spent the next two years in Queen’s College in the British Colony of Hong Kong and in 1892 he graduated from medical school.[51]

Although Dr. Sun Yat Sen may not have accomplished his goals during his lifetime, all of these elements came together long after his death with the writing of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China and the completion of the railroad in 1987. There are many similarities between the Chinese Constitution and the American Constitution. This is no surprise because as early as 1901 the American Declaration of Independence was translated and “appeared in the first four issues of the Guomin Bao, a monthly journal published in Tokyo in 1901 by Chinese students.” [52] Although Sun Yat Sen was experiencing life in America during this time, it is important to note that at least some of China was also aware of the idea of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, if only on paper. The ideas outlined in the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution such as sovereignty and democracy are directly stated in the Chinese Constitution.  Inalienable rights and life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are directly listed in the document, ideas all coming from the American Constitution or further, the ideology of John Locke and Montesquieu.

In conclusion, Dr. Sun Yat Sen’s time spent in the United States, especially during the gilded age, greatly influenced his political policies and beliefs. His economic plans such as the expansion of the Chinese railway system and attempting to bring American industry to China, all directly reflects the economic expansion of America. Western ideology also made its way into Sun’s political policies as democracy and nationalism became top priorities. His influence in China was immense and his love for his homeland showed in his preservation of ancient Chinese traditions. Leaving a legacy even decades after his death, Dr. Sun Yat Sen may not have gotten to see his goals through, but they are reflected in Chinese society even today.

****

Bibliography

Primary Sources

Cheng, Pei-Kai, and Michael Lestz. “Zou Rong on Revolution, 1910.” In The Search for Modern China, 195-202. N.p.: Norton & Company Inc., (1999).

Sun Yat-Sen, Fundamentals of National Reconstruction, (Taipei: China Cultural; Service, 1953), pp. 76-83, as excerpted in Mark A. Kishlansky, Sources of World History, Vol. 2 (New York: HarperCollins, 1995), p. 281-285.

Sen, Sun Y. “When the Father of Modern China Offered Henry Ford a Job.” The Atlantic, edited by Heather Timmins, 21 Oct. 2013, https://www.theatlantic.com/china/archive/2013/10/when-the-father-of-modern-china-offered-henry-ford-a-job/280730/. Accessed 19 Apr. 2017.

Sen, Sun Y. “The Principle of Democracy.” (1924). Web.

 

Secondary Sources

America’s Library.gov. “Gilded Age (1878-1889).” Accessed April 22, 2017. http://www.americaslibrary.gov/jb/gilded/jb_gilded_subj.html.

DeKorne, John C. “Sun Yat-Sen and the Secret Societies.” Pacific Affairs 7, no. 4 (1934): 425-33. doi:10.2307/2751370.

Edmonds, Richard Louis. “The Legacy of Sun Yat-sen’s Railway Plans.” The China Quarterly, no. 111 (1987): 421-43. http://www.jstor.org/stable/653299.

Li, Frank. “East Is East and West Is West: Did the Twain Ever Meet? The Declaration of Independence in China.” The Journal of American History 85, no. 4 (1999): 1432-448. doi:10.2307/2568264.

Lubin, Gus, Michael B. Kelley, and Rob Wile. Business Insider, March 20, 2012 http://www.businessinsider.com/americas-robber-barons-2012-3.

Munholland, J. Kim. “The French Connection That Failed: France and Sun Yat-Sen, 1900-1908.” The Journal of Asian Studies 32, no. 1 (1972): 77-95. doi:10.2307/2053179.

Pearson-Prentice Hall. “The West Transformed (1860–1896).” http://www.phschool.com/atschool/ahon09/chapter17/web_extra.html.

Punahou School. “Sun Yat-Sen (1883).” http://www.punahou.edu/alumni/news/alumni-profiles/sun-yat-sen/index.aspx. Accessed April 17, 2017.

Rahman, Dr. A.F.M. Shamsur, and Dr. Ferdousi Khatun. “Impact of American Political Ideas on Dr. Sun Yat Sen’s Principle of Democracy: An Analysis.” University of Rajshahi. EbscoHost. Web.

Shotwell, James T. “Sun Yat-Sen and Maurice William.” Political Science Quarterly 47, no. 1 (1932): 19-26. doi:10.2307/2142700.

“Sun Yat Sen,” The Famous People website, http://www.thefamouspeople.com/profiles/sun-yat-sen-71.php (accessed Apr 22, 2017).

Zanella, William. “Sun Yat-Sen and Hawaii.” 2010. http://sunyatsenhawaii.org/index.php?view=article&catid=52%3Aa-humanities-guide&id=101%3Asun-yat-sen-and-hawaii&option=com_content&Itemid=101&lang=en.

 

 

[1]  Rahman, Dr. A.F.M. Shamsur, and Dr. Ferdousi Khatun. “Impact of American Political Ideas on Dr. Sun Yat Sen’s Principle of Democracy: An Analysis.” University of Rajshahi. Web.

[2] Ibid.

[3] William Zanella. “Sun Yat-Sen and Hawaii.” 2010.

[4] Rahman, Dr. A.F.M. Shamsur, and Dr. Ferdousi Khatun. “Impact of American Political Ideas on Dr. Sun Yat Sen’s Principle of Democracy: An Analysis.” University of Rajshahi. Web.

[5] Fundamentals of National Reconstruction, (Taipei: China Cultural; Service, 1953), pp. 77.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Rahman, Dr. A.F.M. Shamsur, and Dr. Ferdousi Khatun. “Impact of American Political Ideas on Dr. Sun Yat Sen’s Principle of Democracy: An Analysis.” University of Rajshahi.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Rahman, Dr. A.F.M. Shamsur, and Dr. Ferdousi Khatun. “Impact of American Political Ideas on Dr. Sun Yat Sen’s Principle of Democracy: An Analysis.” University of Rajshahi.

[10] Sun Yat-Sen, Fundamentals of National Reconstruction, (Taipei: China Cultural; Service, 1953), pp. 80.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Pei-Kai Cheng, and Michael Lestz. “Zou Rong on Revolution, (1910).

[13] Fundamentals of National Reconstruction, (Taipei: China Cultural; Service, 1953), pp. 77.

[13] Ibid.

 

[14] DeKorne, John C. “Sun Yat-Sen and the Secret Societies.” Pacific Affairs 7, no. 4 (1934), pp. 445.

[15] Rahman, Dr. A.F.M. Shamsur, and Dr. Ferdousi Khatun. “Impact of American Political Ideas on Dr. Sun Yat Sen’s Principle of Democracy: An Analysis.” University of Rajshahi.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Richard Louis Edmonds. “The Legacy of Sun Yat-sen’s Railway Plans.” The China Quarterly, no. 111 (1987)

[18] Ibid.

[19] Richard Louis Edmonds. “The Legacy of Sun Yat-sen’s Railway Plans.” The China Quarterly, no. 111 (1987)

[20] Ibid.

[21] Richard Louis Edmonds. “The Legacy of Sun Yat-sen’s Railway Plans.” The China Quarterly, no. 111 (1987)

[22] Ibid.

[23] Richard Louis Edmonds. “The Legacy of Sun Yat-sen’s Railway Plans.” The China Quarterly, no. 111 (1987)

[24] Pearson-Prentice Hall. “The West Transformed (1860–1896). Web.

[25] Richard Louis Edmonds. “The Legacy of Sun Yat-sen’s Railway Plans.” The China Quarterly, no. 111 (1987)

 

[26] Sun Yat Sen, letter to Henry Ford, June 12, 1924.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Sen, Sun Y. “When the Father of Modern China Offered Henry Ford a Job.” The Atlantic, edited by Heather Timmins, 21 Oct. 2013.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Sen, Sun Y. “When the Father of Modern China Offered Henry Ford a Job.” The Atlantic, edited by Heather Timmins, 21 Oct. 2013,

[31] Ibid.

[32] Ibid.

[33]Fundamentals of National Reconstruction, (Taipei: China Cultural; Service, 1953), pp. 76.

[34]  Ibid,

[35] Fundamentals of National Reconstruction, (Taipei: China Cultural; Service, 1953), pp. 80.

[36] Sun Yat-Sen, Fundamentals of National Reconstruction, (Taipei: China Cultural; Service, 1953), pp. 77.

[37] James T. Shotwell. “Sun Yat-Sen and Maurice William.” Political Science Quarterly 47, no. 1 (1932): 19-26.

[38] Sun Yat-Sen, Fundamentals of National Reconstruction, (Taipei: China Cultural; Service, 1953), pp. 77.

[39] Rahman, Dr. A.F.M. Shamsur, and Dr. Ferdousi Khatun. “Impact of American Political Ideas on Dr. Sun Yat Sen’s Principle of Democracy: An Analysis.” University of Rajshahi.

[40] The Famous People. “Sun Yat Sen.” Web.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Rahman, Dr. A.F.M. Shamsur, and Dr. Ferdousi Khatun. “Impact of American Political Ideas on Dr. Sun Yat Sen’s Principle of Democracy: An Analysis.” University of Rajshahi.

[43] Punahou School. “Sun Yat-Sen (1883).

[44] Zanella, William. “Sun Yat-Sen and Hawaii.” 2010.

[45] Punahou School. “Sun Yat-Sen” (1883).

[46] Ibid.

[47] Rahman, Dr. A.F.M. Shamsur, and Dr. Ferdousi Khatun. “Impact of American Political Ideas on Dr. Sun Yat Sen’s Principle of Democracy: An Analysis.” University of Rajshahi.

[48] America’s Library.gov. “Gilded Age (1878-1889).”

[49] Ibid.

[50] Rahman, Dr. A.F.M. Shamsur, and Dr. Ferdousi Khatun. “Impact of American Political Ideas on Dr. Sun Yat Sen’s Principle of Democracy: An Analysis.” University of Rajshahi.

[51] Ibid.

[52] Frank Li. “East Is East and West Is West: Did the Twain Ever Meet? The Declaration of Independence in China.” The Journal of American History 85, no. 4 (1999).

2 thoughts on “Democracy, Nationalism, and Economic Expansion: An Analysis of Western Influence on the Policies of Dr. Sun Yat Sen

Add yours

  1. Interesting article.

    One point though “Sun’s resignation as the president of the People’s Republic of China”

    It was just the Republic of China no? The Peoples Republic of China was Maos creation.

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