The island of Kinmen, the westernmost patch of land owned by Taiwan, meets you with the following slogan in huge hieroglyphs: China will be united by the Three Principles of the People. Whereas the opposite coast of the Taiwan Strait, where the lands of continental China open up, is espied with the answer: China will be united by the One Country – Two Systems policy.
While the latter postulate is wellknown throughout the world because it is included into Beijing’s official doctrine, the former one is hardly known. But the author of these three principles is known to many people. It is Sun Yat-sen, one of the most respected politicians by continental and insular China.
These days, he is often remembered in both the Heavenly Empire and Taiwan. And it is clear why. In November, they will celebrate the 145th birth anniversary of Sun Yatsen and next month – the centenary of the Xinhai Bourgeois Revolution that resulted in the overthrow of the Manchu Qing dynasty and declaration of the Republic of China, which first president this extraordinary man became.
Every Chinese school child knows his biography. He was born in the village of Cuiheng, Xiangshan county (Guangdong province nowadays), on November 12, 1866. At birth, he was given the name Wen; afterwards he was known under the names of Sun Wen and Sun Zhongshan. Middle Mountain is a name equivalent to his Japanese name Nakayama. He attended a local school for some years and then went to his elder brother in Hawaii. He studied in a medical college in Honolulu and returned home in 1883.
In 1892, the young man graduated Hong Kong College of Medicine and two years after he founded the Revive China Society, anti-Manchu revolutionary organization. After the attempted uprising failed, Sun Yatsen emigrated; he traveled across Europe, America and Japan, where he raised money for revolutionary struggle and formed himself as a politician and thinker.
After the success of the Xinhai Revolution won in 1911, Sun Yat-sen came back to China. He was elected the provisional president of the Republic of China, but soon he had to leave this post in favor of Yuan Shikai, Commander of the Imperial Army. Next year, he founded the Kuomintang party and declared the commencement of the second revolution in 1913 but failed and took shelter in Japan.
All his life was not only victories, which number was actually small, but also multiple little and overwhelming defeats – he and his supporters experienced over a dozen of unsuccessful uprisings. However, they did not make him desperate. In 1923, Sun Yat-sen declared the foundation of the Cantonese government and started interacting with communists to repel the Japanese aggression and unite China. He found support in Moscow and Comintern assisted him with finance, weapons, and subsequently with military experts, who trained officers for the Republic in a military academy in Whampoa. Incidentally, it was headed by young officer Chiang Kai-shek. It was him who became Sun’s successor, Kuomintang leader, and afterwards the first president of the selfdeclared Republic of China.
Sun Yat-sen died in Beijing в 1925 and was buried on the Zijinshan Mountain, Nanjing, in a mausoleum erected similarly to the Lenin’s Mausoleum. For this occasion, an exact replica of the copper and crystal sarcophagus with the Soviet leader’s body was delivered from Moscow. In 1940, Sun Yat-sen was posthumously awarded the title of the Father of the Nation.
This is quite a typical destiny for a revolutionary leader living at the edge of the 19th and 20th centuries: through asperities, distresses, crimes and blood to eternal memory of the nation represented in monuments, multiple historical works and legends. As for the ideas of Sun Yat-sen, they have never been put into practice.
These were the Three Principles of the People. What did they mean?
So, the first principle is nationalism. It implied liberation of China from dependence on the imperialist powers. It had nothing to do with hegemony of the title nation, but rather with so-called civil nationalism aimed to unite different nationalities populating this country.
The second principle is democracy, which, as Sun Yat-sen thought, conformed to the Western parliamentary structure and, certainly, in its ideal understanding: observance of civil rights and possibilities for the people to express their political requirements. However, he extended the western theory of three-branch government and the system of inhibitions and counterbalances by combining it with the Chinese tradition of five branches and adding the Control and Examination powers to the Legislative, Executive and Judicial powers.
Finally, the third principle is national welfare, which was understood by him as setting up industrial economy and ensuring equality of peasant land ownership.
It is no secret that the ideology of the Three Principles of the People formed of Sun Yat-sen’s mind when he lived in the US and learnt history and the political structure of this country. He admitted that he was inspired by the following line from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
Three principles of Sun Yat-sen were interpreted differently both during his times and subsequently. By both communists, who won Sun Yat-sen’s Kuomintang during the civil war in 1949 and the Kuomintang supporters, who after their defeat settled down in Taiwan, which National Anthem in its first line and the Article One of the Constitution include the Principles of the People. And this is without mentioning collaborationists, who used the principle of nationalism during the Japanese occupation to justify the collaboration with the Japanese Empire in promoting the pan-Asian interests.
Though today, as regards to Sun Yat-sen, he should be probably recalled rather than interpreters of his ideas. It is clear that three principles developed by him could not be materialized in semifeudal China in the lifetime of this outstanding politician and thinker. And even later, in the PRC, as well as in the United States where Sun Yat-sen perceived freethinking, and in Russia, which he was attracted to in his twilight years, they were still no more than kind-hearted aspiration of the liberal minority or his unachievable dream. Though the reality is as follows: nations for the most part that are so different in mentality, traditions and culture prefer paternalism, leaderism and a dictate of power …
Sun Yat-sen endeavored to disprove an old Chinese saying, i.e. It’s easy to learn and difficult to put into practice. But he did not have enough time. And nobody knows whether he would have implemented his principles if his destiny predetermined him to be the leader of new China. However, it is probably the most ungrateful thing to speculate on history and its characters in the conjunctive mood.