Sun Yat-sen

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Sun Yat-sen

(so͞on yät-sĕn), Mandarin Sun Wen, 1866–1925, Chinese revolutionary. He was born near Guangzhou into a farm-owning family. He attended (1879–82) an Anglican boys school in Honolulu, where he came under Western influence, particularly that of Christianity. In 1892 he received a diploma from a Hong Kong medical school, and he subsequently practiced medicine in that city. Thereafter all his activities were devoted to overthrowing the Ch'ing dynasty and establishing a stable Chinese republic.

Sun fled China in 1895, after an abortive revolt, and then toured the world several times to enlist the aid of overseas Chinese in financing his activities. In that period he made an intensive study of Western political and social theory and was deeply impressed with the writings of Karl Marx and Henry George. Sun organized (1905) a revolutionary league, the T'ung Meng Hui, in Japan and gradually perfected his political conceptions, which were based on the Three People's Principles: nationalism, democracy, and the people's livelihood. Revolution erupted in China, and Sun was elected provisional president of the Chinese republic in Dec., 1911, but two months later he resigned in favor of Yüan Shih-kaiYüan Shih-kai
, 1859–1916, president of China (1912–16). From 1885 to 1894 he was the Chinese resident in Korea, then under Chinese suzerainty. He supported the dowager empress, Tz'u Hsi, against the reform movement (1898) of Emperor Kuang Hsü, and she
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. Later, when Sung Chiao-jen transformed the T'ung Meng Hui into a federated political party called the KuomintangKuomintang
[Chin.,=national people's party] (KMT), Chinese and Taiwanese political party. Sung Chiao-jen organized the party in 1912, under the nominal leadership of Sun Yat-sen, to succeed the Revolutionary Alliance.
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, Sun served as its director.

Meanwhile, opposition developed to Yüan's dictatorial methods; in 1913 Sun led an unsuccessful revolt against Yüan, and he was forced to seek asylum in Japan, where he reorganized the Kuomintang. He returned to China in 1917, and in 1921 he was elected president of a self-proclaimed national government at Guangzhou in S China. To develop the military power needed for the Northern ExpeditionNorthern Expedition,
in modern Chinese history, the military campaign by which the Kuomintang party overthrew the warlord-backed Beijing government and established a new government at Nanjing.
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 against the militarists at Beijing, he established the Whampoa Military Academy (now Huangpu Military Academy), with Chiang Kai-shekChiang Kai-shek
, 1887–1975, Chinese Nationalist leader. He was also called Chiang Chung-cheng.

After completing military training with the Japanese Army, he returned to China in 1911 and took part in the revolution against the Manchus (see Ch'ing).
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 as its commandant and with such party leaders as Wang Ching-weiWang Ching-wei
, 1883–1944, Chinese revolutionary and political leader. A supporter of Sun Yat-sen, Wang was sentenced (1910) to life imprisonment for attempting to assassinate the regent of China.
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 and Hu Han-min as political instructors. In 1924, to hasten the conquest of China, he began a policy of active cooperation with the Chinese Communists and he accepted the help of the USSR in reorganizing the Kuomintang.

After Sun's death, when the Communists and the Kuomintang split (1927), each group claimed to be his true heirs. The official veneration of Sun's memory (especially in the Kuomintang) was a virtual cult, which centered around his tomb in Nanjing. His widow, the former Soong Ch'ing-ling (see SoongSoong
, Mandarin Song, Chinese family, prominent in public affairs. Soong Yao-ju or Charles Jones Soong, 1866–1918, graduated from Vanderbilt Univ. and, after returning to China (1886), was a Methodist missionary in Shanghai.
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, family), whom he married in 1914, rose to a high position in the government of Communist China. He wrote San Min Chu I (tr. 1928), Memoirs of a Chinese Revolutionary (1927, repr. 1970), and Fundamentals of National Reconstruction (tr. 1953).


See biographies by L. Sharman (1934) and B. D. Martin (1952); L. S. Hsu, Sun Yat-sen, His Political and Social Ideals: A Sourcebook (1933); S. C. Leng and N. D. Palmer, Sun Yat-sen and Communism (1960); H. Z. Schiffrin, Sun Yat-sen and the Origins of the Chinese Revolution (1970); M. Wilbur, Sun Yat-sen (1977).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Sun Yat-Sen


(in Chinese literary language, Sun I-Hsien; other names, Sun Chung-shan and Sun Wen). Born Nov. 12, 1866, in the district of Hsiangshan (now Chungshan), in Kwangtung Province; died Mar. 12, 1925, in Peking; buried in Nanking. Chinese revolutionary democrat.

Although of peasant origins, Sun Yat-sen graduated in 1892 from a medical institute in Hong Kong. Even as a youth he was inspired with sentiments of opposition to the Manchu Ch’ing dynasty that then ruled China. In 1894 he organized an anti-Manchu revolutionary organization, the Hsing-chung Hui (Revive China Society), which on Oct. 25, 1895, unsuccessfully undertook an armed action against the Ch’ing rulers. Forced to emigrate, first to Japan and then to the United States and Western Europe. Sun Yat-sen actively worked on plans to prepare a new uprising against the Manchus in China. A revolutionary organization extending throughout China, the T’ung-meng Hui (Combined League Society), was organized under his leadership in Tokyo in 1905. Sun Yat-sen’s Three Principles of the People became the program of the organization. These were people’s rule (nationalism), providing for the overthrow of the Manchu dynasty and the restoration of the sovereignty of the Chinese (Han) nation; people’s authority (democracy), leading to the establishment of a republic; and people’s livelihood (prosperity, or socialism), providing for equalization of landholding laws along the lines of the Utopian socialist ideas of the American bourgeois economist H. George.

The years 1905–11 saw a number of local armed uprisings against the Manchus under the leadership of the T’ung-meng Hui. The victorious Wuch’ang uprising of Oct. 10, 1911, resulted in the proclamation of the Chinese republic and laid the basis for the Hsinhai Revolution. Upon Sun Yat-sen’s return to China in late December 1911, he was elected the first provisional president of the Chinese republic and arrived in Nanking on Jan. 1, 1912, to assume his duties. Under his leadership, the provisional constitution of the Chinese republic was drafted, a democratic document considering the conditions of the times.

Lenin, who viewed the revolutionary struggle of the Chinese people with great sympathy, had a high regard for Sun Yat-sen’s work and referred to him as “a revolutionary democrat, endowed with nobility and heroism” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 21, p. 402). At the same time, Lenin pointed out the Utopian nature of Sun Yat-sen’s ideas. Sun Yat-sen thought it was possible to avoid capitalist development in China, and Lenin saw in this a similarity between his views and those of the Russian Narodniki.

After the Manchu ruler abdicated the throne on Feb. 12, 1912, Sun Yat-sen was forced under pressure from the internal feudal reactionaries and the imperialist powers to surrender his authority as president (Apr. 1, 1912). However, he continued to struggle for the establishment of a democratic republic in China, using for this purpose the Kuomintang, which had been formed to replace the T’ung-meng Hui. During the military dictatorship of Yüan Shihk’ai, leader of the Northern militarists, Sun Yat-sen founded, while in exile in Japan, a new revolutionary organization, the Chung Hua Kemingtang (Chinese Revolutionary Society). However, until the Great October Socialist Revolution in Russia, Sun Yat-sen was continually defeated in his battles with the forces of domestic and foreign reaction.

The victory of the October Revolution of 1917 in Russia had a tremendous influence on Sun Yat-sen. In 1918 he sent a telegram to Lenin and the Soviet government in which he expressed his profound admiration for the difficult struggle of the revolutionary masses of Russia and his hope that in the future the revolutionary parties of China and Russia would join together in a common struggle. An ineradicable impression was made on Sun Yat-sen by the Soviet government’s friendly policy toward China, its renunciation of all privileges and rights formerly obtained by the tsarist regime in China, and its energetic and selfless aid to the revolutionary forces of southern China, who were combating the Chinese militarists and who were headed by Sun Yat-sen in the early 1920’s. Sun Yat-sen characterized the revolution in Russia as the birth of “humanity’s great hope.” At his request, the Soviet government sent a group of military specialists in 1923 to Canton, where the South China revolutionary government headed by Sun Yat-sen had been located. This group included prominent military leaders of the Civil War in Russia, headed by P. A. Pavlov and later by V. K. Bliukher. In the fall of 1923, Sun Yat-sen invited the Bolshevik M. M. Borodin, an experienced Russian professional revolutionary, to serve in the post of political adviser. With Borodin’s help the Kuomintang was reorganized into a coalition of all the antifeudal and anti-imperialist forces. Sun Yat-sen began regular, friendly correspondence with Soviet diplomats and listened closely to the advice of his friends from the USSR.

Influenced by the ideas of the October Revolution, the development of the national liberation movement in China, and the activity of the Communist Party of China (founded 1921), and taking into account his own experience in the struggle against the Chinese militarists, Sun Yat-sen enriched his Three Principles of the People by giving them a new content. These principles constituted a program for the creation of a unified antifeudal and anti-imperialist front in the country. The principle of people’s rule came to mean the rallying of all forces in the country for the struggle against imperialist domination in China, the abolition of the Chinese militarist cliques, the unification of the country, and the winning of national independence. People’s authority came to mean the democratization of the state and social systems and the introduction of a constitutional republic. The principle of people’s livelihood, in Sun Yat-sen’s new interpretation, meant the realization of the peasant demand that “each tiller have his own field,” the improvement of the living conditions of the workers, and limitations on monopoly capital. In 1924, Sun Yat-sen announced three basic political orientations: an unbreakable alliance with the Soviet Union, alliance with the Communist Party of China, and reliance on the masses of workers and peasants. This orientation became an organic part of the Three Principles of the People.

The social, political, and economic views of Sun Yat-sen underwent a significant evolution during the course of his life. He advanced beyond his initial hope that China could avoid the calamities that capitalist development implied, a hope that was Utopian in the concrete historical conditions of the early 1920’s, and came to the conclusion in 1924 that an active struggle was necessary to eradicate all forms of economic oppression, relying on the workers and peasants within the country and on assistance from the Soviet Union. Toward the end of his life, he overcame the idea of Chinese great-power chauvinism, which was widespread among Chinese bourgeois nationalists, and the idea of racial solidarity among the Asian countries (Pan-Asianism), having given some credence to these ideas earlier. He became an increasingly ardent advocate of an alliance, by the Chinese and all other Eastern peoples oppressed by imperialism, with the USSR for the purpose of a joint struggle against world imperialism. The last document that he signed was addressed to the Central Executive Committee of the USSR and expressed his hope that the day would come when a free and independent China would march arm in arm with the Soviet Union toward a brighter future for all of humanity.


Sun Chung-shan hsüanchi (Selected Works), vols. 1–2. Peking, 1956.
In Russian translation:
Izbr. proizv. Moscow, 1964.


Lenin, V. I. “Demokratiia i narodnichestvo v Kitae.” Poln. sobr. soch, 5th ed., vol. 21.
Lenin, V. I. “Obnovlennyi Kitai.” Ibid., vol. 22.
Lenin, V. I. “Bor’bapartii v Kitae.” Ibid., vol. 23.
Senin, N. G. Obshchestvenno-pojiticheskie i filosofskie vzgliady Sun’ lat-sena. Moscow, 1956.
Tikhvinskii, S. L. Sun’ lat-sen: Vneshnepoliticheskie vozzreniia i praktika. Moscow, 1964. (Bibliography, pp. 340–49.)
Sun’ lat-sen, 1866–1966. K stoletiiu so dnia rozhdeniia: Sb. statei, vospominanii i materialov. Moscow, 1966.
Sun’ lat-sen: Bibliografich. ukazatel’. [Compiled by I. K. Glagoleva.] Moscow, 1966.
Krymov, A. G. Obshchestvennaia mysl’ i ideologicheskaia bor’ba v Kitae (1900–1917gg.). Moscow, 1972.
Efimov, G. V. Burzhuaznaia revoliutsiia v Kitae i Sun’ lat-sen (1911–1913gg.). Moscow, 1974.
Sun Yat-sen and China. Edited by Paul K. T. Sih. New York, 1974.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Sun Yat-sen

1866--1925, Chinese statesman, who was instrumental in the overthrow of the Manchu dynasty and was the first president of the Republic of China (1911). He reorganized the Kuomintang
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005