Will anyone be remembering Chung Shan (Sun Yat-sen) in China in 2011-2012?

Chung Shan (or Sun Yat-sen?), Republican Founding Father of China—and a Change in the Mandate of Heaven

By Kevin Stoda, Taiwan

I teach at Chung Shan Junior High School here on Beigan Island one day each week.  I had had trouble remembering the name for several weeks.  Today, I realized one reason why this is the case.  This reason is that the name Chung Shan, the founding father of modern republicanism in China has had his name transcribed using a variety of transcription methods.  However, in the West, his name is written in most western textbooks and history books as Sun-Yatsen.

I believe that this is difference in spelling and pronunciation of a very very popular Chinese name (and historical personage) is simply because the translation methods in the West at the turn of the 20th Century are no longer similar to what they commonly are now. In addition, some Chinese regions, such as Taiwan, cling to a variety of transcription methods, rather than the more popular, Hanyu Pinyin, method (adopted in the mid-20th Century in mainland China.)

This problem in transcribing modern Chinese can be seen as the rough equivalent to a modern Western Reader being given dozens of spelling differences (depending on region, countries, and township or local preference) to state the same thing, place, or name.

The best example I have of this in USA-English transcriptions is the town of Rolla (in Missouri) and the city of Raleigh, North Carolina. The pronunciation is essentially the same for both places.  However, the spellings are quite different. Similarly, the city of Worcester in England is sometimes spelled in different settings the way it is pronounced:  Wooster—as in Wooster, Ohio. (In the England, Worcester is always pronounced the same manner as is the name of the city in Ohio.)


China had no standard transcription system until the late 19th and the 20th centuries.  Finally, western Christian missionaries began to work on this issue in doing translations approximately two centuries ago. This is one reason why “[t]he second-most common [R]omanization system [for the Chinese languages], the Wade-Giles, was invented by Thomas Wade in 1859 and [later] modified by Herbert Giles in 1892. As this system approximates the phonology of Mandarin Chinese into English consonants and vowels, i.e. it is an Anglicization, it may be particularly helpful for beginner Chinese speakers of an English-speaking background. [Over the subsequent century,]Wade-Giles was found in academic use in the United States, particularly before the 1980s, and until recently was widely used in Taiwan.”


According to one Wikipedia author, “Today the most common romanization standard for Standard Mandarin is Hanyu Pinyin, often known simply as pinyin, [was] introduced in 1956 by the People’s Republic of China, and later adopted by Singapore and Taiwan.”  Wikipedia claims that “Pinyin is almost universally employed now for teaching standard spoken Chinese in schools and universities across America, Australia and Europe. Chinese parents also use Pinyin to teach their children the sounds and tones of new words.” However, in Taiwan a great variety of transcription methods are actually quite evident to me–and my fellow teachers at Chung Shan Junior High School.


In Taiwan, I observe many institutions with the name “Chung Shan”—named after the leader of China’s first and only republican revolution in 1911.


There are dozens of medical schools, technological centers, and innumerable other location names with Chung Shan on it throughout China, Taiwan, and Asia.


Interestingly, most Americans today do not know that this famous Chinese Republican had been trained to a great degree on American (and British) soil, i.e. in his preparation to overthrow five millennia of Emperorship in China.

Born on November 12, 1866 in a village near what today is Macau.  Sun Yat-sen (now more often known as Chung Shan—even in the West) “was sent to Hawaii in 1879 to join his older brother. There he enrolled in a college where he studied Western science and Christianity.”Later, he returned to China to study and then to practice medicine, but the Chinese regime refused to grant him a license. Soon he was involved in revolts, letter campaigns, and vocal agitation for change in his homeland.  By the 1890s, Yat-sen had established a lifelong pattern—a cycle of“unorganized plots, failures, execution of coconspirators, overseas wanderings, and financial backing for further coups (hostile takeovers).”

Next, “Sun grew a moustache, donned Western-style clothes, and, posing as a Japanese man, set out once again, first to Hawaii, then to San Francisco, and finally to England to visit a former school instructor. Before leaving England, he often visited the reading room of the British Museum, where he became acquainted with the writings of Karl Marx . . . .”By 1905 he was in Japan for a second time where he found “the Chinese student community stirred to a pitch of patriotic excitement. Joined by other revolutionists such as Huang Hsing and Sung Chiao-jen (1882–1913), Sun organized, and was elected director of, the T’ungmeng hui (Revolutionary Alliance). The T’ung-meng hui was carefully organized, with a sophisticated and highly educated membership core drawn from all over China.”

“Sun’s ideas had developed into the ‘Three People’s Principles’—his writings on nationalism, democracy, and people’s livelihood. When Sun returned from another fundraising trip in the fall of 1906, his student following in Japan numbered in the thousands. However, under pressure from the government in China, the Japanese government [finally] threw him out.” Worse, still, “failure[s] of a series of poorly planned and armed coups relying upon the scattered forces of secret societies and rebel bands had reduced the reputation of the T’ungmeng hui in Southeast Asia. However, Sun found that Chinese opinion in the United States was turning against his rivals. Sun visited the United States and was on a successful fundraising tour when he read in a newspaper that a successful revolt had occurred in the central Yangtze Valley city of Wuchang, China.”

Sun had learned his English by studying with missionaries in China and in Hawaii, so it is an important coincidence of history that Sun arrived back in China in 1911 on Christmas Day (December 25).  Then, on January 1, 1912 Sun officially called for the founding of a Republican China. “Though the guiding spirit of the Chinese revolution, Sun was widely criticized during his lifetime. After his death he became the object of a cult (a following) that elevated him to a sacred position.”




I share this tale because China and Chinese have historically been interested in a concept called “the Mandate from (of) Heaven”.  Sun Yat-sen’s arrival in China in 1911 marked the end of the imperial era and a new Mandate from (of) Heaven took form in China—following centuries of social decay, decadence, underdevelopment, and colonialization from Europe–and elsewhere.


The Mandate of Heaven is based on four principles:


  1. The right to rule is granted by Heaven.
  2. There is only one Heaven therefore there can be only one ruler.
  3. The right to rule is based on the virtue of the ruler.
  4. The right to rule is not limited to one dynasty.


What are the positive and negatives sides to the Mandate of Heaven for a dynasty?

  1. It gives the ruler prestige and religious importance.
  2. It gives the ruler supreme power.
  3. It allows a new ruler to gain power quickly because everyone believes he has the ‘Mandate of Heaven’.
  4. The rulers power must be kept in check by virtue.
  5. It justifies rebellion as long as the rebellion is successful.

As 2011 approaches–the 100th anniversary of Sun’s last return to China– I am certain that the so-called Communist Party of China will worry daily about the fact that calls for greater Republicanism will arise again in their land.  Will calls for reform in greater China turn again to revolution and a new mandate from Heaven?[1]


Will it all end again as sadly as the Tiananmen Square events of 1989 or will things turn out differently in 2011-2012?



[1] As the selection from a writing by James Dorn (below) concerning the Communist Party’s handling of topics from the Cultural Revolution below shows, the CCP in China is not into public discussions on the past.

The CCP’s monopoly on power leaves little scope for independent thought or freedom of expression, especially in the political realm. Open criticism and discussion are a threat to the CCP’s supremacy. The Party’s powerful propaganda department, headed by a politburo member, hides the truth by distorting both facts and language. Orwellian “Newspeak” is pervasive, from the “Cultural Revolution” and “market socialism” to the very name of the nation — the “People’s Republic of China.”

The CCP does not want people, especially young people, to openly examine its past. Although the Party has called the Cultural Revolution a serious mistake and a national disaster, it has not allowed full disclosure of the facts or publication of critical accounts of that period. The reason is obvious: the Party’s legitimacy would be tested and found to be fraudulent. The “mandate of heaven” would dictate a new political order based on the consent of the people — a constitutional order of liberty. Nien Cheng, in her best-selling book Life and Death in Shanghai, describes how Party officials dodged responsibility for the violent tactics used by the Red Guards: “When there was excessive cruelty that resulted in deaths, the officials would disclaim responsibility for an ‘accident’ resulting from ‘mass enthusiasm’.” The truth about the Cultural Revolution, as historian John King Fairbank wrote, is that it “fed upon … public dependence on, and blind obedience to, authority. There was no idea of morality’s being under the law.” That truth must not be forgotten.

The CCP’s deliberate attempt to hide the truth about the Party’s role in the Cultural Revolution, by banning books by Cheng and others and by romanticizing Mao, may protect the Party’s hold on power in the short run but not in the long run. Eventually, economic liberalization, a growing middle class, and the global flow of information through the Internet will generate increasing pressure for political reform. China’s new mantra should be “Seek truth from freedom.” Global competition has driven China’s economic development since 1978; now it is time to apply that same force to politics and to constitutional change. Truth cannot come from facts if the facts remain hidden by a supreme CCP. What China needs is freedom and transparency: a government whose power is strictly limited and whose fundamental purpose is to protect life, liberty, and property.

The major lesson of the Cultural Revolution is not that it was “fun,” as a former Red Guard recently told his college-aged son. Rather, in the words of Cheng, “Unless and until a political system rooted in law, rather than personal power, is firmly established in China, the road to the future will always be full of twists and turns.”

From http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=3206

So, perhaps this reticence to talk-about-the-past by the CCP will lead to the downplaying of the 1911-1912 revolution’s anniversary (over the next 26 months).

About eslkevin

I am a peace educator who has taken time to teach and work in countries such as the USA, Germany, Japan, Nicaragua, Mexico, the UAE, Kuwait, Oman over the past 4 decades.
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