Sun Yat-sen, Part II
Having helped to establish the first democracy in Asia in 1912,
the Chinese Republic, Sun Yat-sen stepped down in March of
that year, voluntarily turning over power to General Yuan Shi-
kai. It was hoped that Yuan would be able to unify all of China’s
warlords into a cohesive state, but that wasn’t to be.
Instead, with the warlords failing to cooperate, Yuan soon sought
to establish a monarchy and become emperor himself. Sun Yat-
sen decided it was time for Yuan to go and he led a second
revolution against him in August 1913, but, as per part one of our
story, Dr. Sun’s efforts in this regard often failed and this time
would prove to be no exception.
Yuan consolidated his power, as much as one could in a land
where it is estimated some 1,300 warlords plied their trade.
[Echoes of Afghanistan?] Then in 1915, he accepted Japan’s
Twenty-One Demands, which granted far-reaching economic
privileges to Japan and in turn damaged his reputation as China’s
strong man. He died a year later, a broken man.
Sun Yat-sen now declared a return to constitutional government,
though he deferred the top slot to another, Li Ywan-hung. Then
in 1919, word came that the Versailles Treaty had awarded
German rights in Shantung peninsula to Japan. Students
launched what came to be known as the May Fourth Movement,
protesting the role of Japanese “traitors” within the government.
Dr. Sun was overseas, as he always seemed to be in crises, but
upon his return he reorganized his original Chinese
Revolutionary Party and changed the name to the Kuomintang
(Nationalist Party). With the protests among the students and
intellectuals, nationalism made a return (just like today’s Chinese
regime will do in the not too distant future), though the warlords
once again proved hard to dislodge and the huge land remained
Thus began a period when Sun tried to reunify China but was
continually outmaneuvered and his legacy is that he was never
able to fully complete the revolution. He did, however, see an
opportunity to gain support from the Soviet Union.
By 1923 Dr. Sun had given up on receiving major support,
financial and otherwise, from Great Britain, Japan and the United
States, and turned to a very willing Moscow. Sun didn’t
subscribe to the Communist ideal of class struggle, but he
recognized the usefulness of some of the methods and there was
a natural collaboration in his nationalist cause. While the
Communist Party in China literally numbered just in the
hundreds at this time, Sun and the Kuomintang adopted the
other’s principles in their own anti-imperialist movement.
For their part, however, the Soviets obviously saw an opportunity
to develop a stronghold in the Kuomintang, with the eventual
goal of seizing control of the levers of power. At the same time
Western powers saw Chinese Nationalism as a way to oppose
communism in Asia, but because they didn’t feel the
Kuomintang was doing enough to reform the peasantry, actual
aid remained limited.
Dr. Sun coined the phrase “hypo-colony” for the state of affairs
in which China was exploited without formal subordination as a
dependency. [J.M. Roberts] Sun wrote, “On no account must
we give more liberty to the individual. Let us secure liberty
instead for the nation.”
In 1924 Sun made a fateful decision, though it certainly didn’t
seem so at the time. Having founded a new military academy,
with Soviet assistance, for the purposes of training an officer
corps, Sun named Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek) as the
commandant. With Moscow’s increasing role, Chiang received
extensive schooling in Russia.
In February 1925, Sun Yat-sen entered the hospital for treatment
in Peking. By March 12 he was dead.
Dr. Sun’s Last Will and Testament
For forty years I have devoted myself to the cause of the
National Revolution, the object of which is to raise China to a
position of independence and equality (among the nations). The
experience of these forty years has convinced me that, to attain
this goal, we people must associate ourselves to struggle together
with all people who treat us as themselves in the world.
The Revolution has not yet been successfully concluded. Let all
our comrades follow (the principles and methods set forth in) my
writings and continue to make every effort to carry them into
effect. Above all, my recent declarations in favor of holding a
National Convention of the People of China and abolishing the
unequal treaties should be carried into effect as soon as possible.
March 11, 1925
Sun died the next day, his last words being, “Strive for peace!
Chiang Kai-shek, after a brief power struggle, took control of the
Kuomintang and immediately set about eliminating the warlords,
an effort which met some success. But then he launched a “party
purification,” Chiang’s effort to weed out Communists from the
Kuomintang. The Soviets weren’t real pleased, nor were the
Communists in China, one of which was Mao Zedong.
As for Sun Yat-sen, he was a decent man with high ideals, a man
who recognized that the ways of the West represented a model
for attacking the intractable problems of China, but it was simply
too great a task for this intellectual. Chiang Kai-shek wouldn’t
prove to be the answer either, as first, World War II and
defeating the Japanese invasion took precedence over ideology,
while after the war Mao became a more difficult force to be
“The Columbia History of the World,” edited by John A. Garraty
and Peter Gay
“China: A New History,” John King Fairbank and Merle
“China: A Macro History,” Ray Huang
“Twentieth Century,” J.M. Roberts
*Hott Spotts will return April 11.