by Angela Xie
Most people think of Chinese history as the splendid palaces and plentiful cultures in ancient dynasties or maybe the rise of the Chinese Communist Party and the establishment of the People's Republic of China. Indeed, either one of them was a significant part of Chinese history. This raises the question, "What happened between those two eras?"
It all points to a man named Sun Yat-sen. He is also known as the "Father of the Nation" in the Republic of China and the "Forerunner of the Revolution" from his involvement in overthrowing the Qing dynasty during the Xinhai Revolution. He was the one who brought democracy and modernization to China, deconstructing the dynasty system and dedicating his life to establishing a society that recognizes the rights of the people.
Sun was born in 1866 to a poor farming family in Xiangshan, Guangdong, South China, and has long sought revolutions and changes to topple the Qing Dynasty. By 1879, his brother Sun Mei had brought him to Honolulu, where he first saw Western ideology. Thus, after receiving his first taste of a world beyond dynasty rule, he became a Christian; he saw that the Qing dynasty's dedication to tradition impeded the nation's development and desperately needed modernity.
In 1894, he abandoned his medical career in Guangzhou and traveled north to seek political fortunes. He attempted to connect with Li Hongzhang, governor-general of Zhili (now Hebei) province, but he did not receive anything useful from Li. In this case, Sun formed the Revive China Society (Xing Zhong Hui), which became the forerunner to the secret revolutionary organizations he eventually led. As far as can be discovered, the members were mostly Guangdong residents and members of lower socioeconomic strata, such as clerks, peasants, and artisans.
While in exile, he garnered allies in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Japan, promoted revolutionary ideals around the world, and gained followers in China from both the lower and educated classes. His revolutionary triumph was undoubtedly due to two factors: the Qing Dynasty's inevitable decline and the tremendous propaganda of Liang Qichao, a reformist who escaped to Japan in 1898, formed a Chinese press and made it an instant success. Soon after, in the autumn of 1911, the right combination of events converted a Wuchang insurgency into a nationalist revolution. Then, as the Qing court's losses mounted, it agreed to a set of proposals to change authoritarian imperial rule into a constitutional monarchy. Eventually, the Chinese emperor abdicated, and Sun was appointed temporary president of the Republic of China, the country's first formal democratic government.
Sun and his advocates believed in democracy. So they created slogans to establish democracy in China, which left a profound impact. One of the most well-known slogans was the Three Principles of the People, also called the Three Great Principles (Sanmin Zhuyi). It embodied the ideology of nationalism, democracy, and socialism.
Nationalism (民族主义 Minzu Zhuyi): Self-determination for the Chinese people as a whole, as well as equality among the country's ethnic groupings.
Democracy (民权主义 Minquan Zhuyi): controlling the government through elections, initiatives, referendums, and recalls can help people's rights.
Socialism (民生主义 Minsheng Zhuyi): people's livelihood is gained through equalization of land ownership and a just tax system.
These concepts were inspired by European and American political systems in which people were the foundation of a nation's power. Shortly afterward, Sun founded a new party, the Nationalist Party (Kuomintang), based on his beliefs. The Nationalists allied with the Chinese Communist Party in 1922. In response to communist demands for a more official party philosophy, Sun began the next winter with a series of lectures in which he clarified and defined his three principles. As the Chinese communists refer to him as "a pioneer of the revolution," Sun represented Chinese modernization.
"Sun Yat-Sen - the Revolution of 1911." n.d. In Encyclopedia Britannica.
The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. 2021. "Three Principles of the People." In Encyclopedia Britannica.
Sarkar, Paromita. 2019. "Three Principles of the People." In The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Global Security Studies, 1–3. Cham: Springer International Publishing.