by Angela Xie
Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925) was a notable Chinese revolutionary and politician who was instrumental in deposing the Qing Dynasty and establishing the Republic of China. While Sun Yat-sen is known as the father of modern China, very little is known of his strong ties with modernized Japan, which affected his political theory and revolutionary activity.
During his early revolutionary actions against the Qing Dynasty in the late nineteenth century, Sun Yat-sen sought asylum and support in Japan. Sun escaped to Japan in the early 1890s after many unsuccessful revolutions in China, where he found a receptive climate for his anti-Qing activities. Japan was undergoing its own fast industrialization and political transition after emerging from decades of seclusion in the mid-nineteenth century. Sun Yat-Sen's experiences in Japan, as well as the effect of Japan's successful modernization initiatives, shaped his revolutionary aspirations. Sun Yat-Sen's revolutionary operations were also aided financially by Japan. According to Sato Kazuo's article Sun Yat-sen's 1911 Revolution Had Its Seeds in Tokyo, during his time in Japan, Sun encountered Toten Miyazaki, a Japanese philosopher, and got introduced to other Japanese politicians because they believed in his potential to change the political situation in China. Moreover, Sun established his secret society, Tongmenghui (United League), with the help of Miyazaki in Tokyo in 1905. This was a milestone in Sun's career. Tongmenghui could be seen as the sparks of the beginning of the Xinhai Revolution in 1911.
Sun Yat-sen had made many Japanese friends because of his Western education and Christian beliefs. When he attended school in Hawaii, Sun was exposed to a wide spectrum of Western ideologies, including nationalism, democracy, and republicanism. He studied political theories, constitutional models, and revolutionary techniques, which shaped his political philosophy and future vision for China. His experience and Western ideologies greatly fueled the ambition of the Japanese, who aimed at overthrowing Western imperialism or colonialism.
Japan's goal of beating the West was rooted in the Meiji Restoration. The Meiji Restoration in Japan (1868) was a watershed moment that modernized the country and centralized authority under the Emperor's order. While Japan was modernizing, it was also Westernizing: all the colleges and universities tried to hire foreign teachers to instill Western beliefs into schoolwork; Western sports such as soccer and baseball had become popular. Sun Yat-sen praised the achievement of the Meiji Restoration in changing Japan from a feudal society to a modern industrialized nation, and he regarded it as a model for China's development. Owing to his adoption of Western ideologies, Sun firmly believed that applying the Western-style government would be the ultimate way to save China. Therefore, he promoted the doctrine of "Science (Mr. S) and Democracy (Mr. D)" to emphasize rationality and equity among citizens. Sun aimed at creating a better life for the people. So, he insisted on developing the Three Principles of the People, which stood for nationalism, democracy, and people's welfare. All those ideas were Western-orientated.
All in all, Sun Yat-sen's relationship with modernized Japan was critical in influencing his revolutionary ideas and aspirations to destroy the Qing Dynasty. His Western educational background and living experience had also helped him create close ties with his Japanese friends, who had funded his revolutions later on. Meanwhile, he looked up to the Meiji Restoration as an ideal model to transform China. In other words, Sun Yat-sen's goal for a modern and democratic China was influenced by Japan's achievements in modernization and the adoption of Western concepts. His experiences in Japan, as well as the encouragement he got from some Japanese sources, spurred his ambition to effect fundamental political change in China, culminating in the founding of the Republic of China.
1. Sato, K. (n.d.). Sun Yat-sen’s 1911 Revolution had Its Seeds in Tokyo. The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus. Retrieved August 26, 2023, from https://apjjf.org/-Sato-Kazuo/2587/article.html
2. Japan Experience. (2012, December 24). Early westernization & modernization in Japan 1868-1900. Japan-experience.com; Japan Experience. https://www.japan-experience.com/plan-your-trip/to-know/understanding-japan/westernization