Impact of American Political Ideas on Dr. Sun Yat-Sen’s Principle of Democracy: An Analysis. Dr. A. F. M. Shamsur Rahman

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Impact of American Political Ideas on Dr. Sun Yat-Sen’s Principle of Democracy: An Analysis.

Dr. A. F. M. Shamsur Rahman


Department of History

University of Rajshahi

Rajshahi, Bangladesh.


Dr. Ferdousi Khatun

Associate Professor

Department of History

University of Rajshahi

Rajshahi, Bangladesh.

An abstract

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen has been considered as the Father of the Chinese Republic.. Both Communists and Kuomintangs possess regards for him with high esteem. Throughout his political career Sun struggled against monarchy, feudalism, warlordism and factionalism. His great vision was the establishment of a democratic China i,e. a Republic in a real sense. In order to materialize this dream he formulated three cardinal principles, which were Nationalism, Democracy, and People�s Livelihood. He waged all his struggle for Republicanism on the basis of the above mentioned principles. Now a question may arise with regard to the origins and nature of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen’s concept of Democracy. Was it absolutely Chinese in origin? Some others demand that Sun�s thinking about democracy was greatly influenced by Soviet Socialism and Chinese Communism, although it contains a very little amount of truth. Most authorities on Dr. Sun however, hold the view that his three principles were more or less influenced by American political, social, and economic ideologies, although Dr. Sun was never completely deviated from traditional Chinese political system. The distinctive features of American democracy attracted Sun most in his struggle against the Manchus. In fact his western education, his political background, his conversion to Christianity, his familiarity with American political systems and institutions, and above all, western powers� attitude towards China had created a sense of liking for American democratic system. With the help of published works on Dr. Sun�s life and political career, attempts have been made in this paper to analyze how and to what extent he was impacted by American ideology in his thinking about democracy. Further discussion on the topic will unveil his resemblance with the Communist and Socialist�s views of democracy.

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen was the first great personality in Chinese history who advocated a democratic government based on American political institutions and ideas. Because of his valuable contribution to the interests of the Chinese people, he is honored both by the Nationalists and the Communists. Though the Communists did not exactly accept the democratic ideas of Dr. Sun-Yat-Sen, they cooperated with the Kuomintang at the beginning on the basis of his three principles, i. e, Nationalism, Democracy and People’s livelihood. Later on, Mao expressed his tribute to Dr. Sun in these words; “We completed the democratic revolution left unfinished by Dr. Sun, we have developed it into a socialist revolution which we are now in the course of completing”1. In a similar way, the Nationalists also claimed Dr. Sun as a forerunner or Father of the Chinese Republic. Whatever may be the validity of claims of the Nationalists and Communists, it is clear that Dr. Sun Yat-Sen definitely made an invaluable contribution toward the evolvement of Modern China and in destroying the Manchu rule. The end of the Manchu dynasty in 1911 marked the beginning of Republican system of Government in China. Thereafter people irrespective of political beliefs, remember Sun Yat-Sen with respect as the forerunner of this transition.

It is true that Dr. Sun Yat-Sen was an admirer of Western thoughts and culture, although he never totally deviated from Chinese tradition. What he dreamed of was the modernization of China within its own tradition. His

Three Principles, i.e., Nationalism, Democracy and People's Livelihood,
were more or less influenced by American political, economic and social
ideology and thinking which again had originated from British and French background.

At different stages in his career, Western influences impacted on him indifferent ways and it was in the field of democracy that he was pro­foundly influenced by American democratic ideas and institutions. The

distinctive features of American democracy attracted Sun most in his anti
Manchu struggle which led to its ultimate overthrow. Dr. Sun's education and political background clearly shows that his political ideas were greatly influenced by his Western education, conversion to Christianity, his familiarity with western philosophers and finally by the Western Powers' attitude toward China.2

Sun Yat-Sen was born in 1866 in the village of Choyhung in the delta of the West River, near Canton. His father enrned his livelihood by hard labor. After a brief introduction to traditional Chinese edu­cation in the village school, Sun's elder brother, Su Mei, enrolled him in the (Anglican) Bishop's School in Honolulu in 1879. Sun graduated in 1882 with second prize in English grammar and returned to China with a tendency to read the Bible and a conviction that to break down "superstitions" was a necessary condition to progress. Against the wishes of his family Sun was baptized in 1884 and spent the next two years at the Queen's College in the British Colony of Hong Kong. In 1892 he graduated from medical school in Hong Kong , although he was inclined to politics rather than medicine and often felt unhappy when he compared a moribund China with a Western world of powerful national states.3

In the middle of his career Dr. Sun travelled extensively in different European countries such as Germany, France, England and the United States. There he studied and observed the organiza­tion and functions of democratic institutions in both parliamentary and presidential forms and concluded that only a responsible democratic political system could unify and strengthen China's nationalism and independence.

Based upon his education and experiences abroad, Dr. Sun Yat-Sen wrote several important books for China's reconstruction and some of them were accepted as blueprint for reconstruction.4 Some of the books were vague and moralistic while others were inspiring and far sighted. In these works Sun argued that China needed Western assistance in her reconstruction and the Western powers should co-operate in China's reconstruction program to bring her into the world of modern democratic nations. According to Sun, foreign capital should be welcomed, but on the basis security offered by popular government rather than by specific concessions.5

Fundamentally, Sun Yat-Sen's political principles were greatly shaped by Western capitalistic philosophy, although it is true that the Soviet advisors like Michael Borodin and Adolph Joffe inspired him to sharpen and elaborate the original concepts of the Three people's Principles basically derived from Abraham Lincoln's concept of "Government of the people, by the people, and for the people".6

But circumstances forced Sun to modify his liberal Western ideas

considerably. Elected President of the Nationalist Government in Canton
in 1921, he continuously appealed to the United States and other Western
Powers for financial and technical support to materialize his plans for
a modern democratic government. But the Western powers, including the United States remained unconvinced. As E.O.Clubb, the American historian mentions, "His (Dr. Sun's) demarches had all been fruitless. He had made an overture to the United States Government in May 1921, only to get a sharp rebuff from the Department of States". In fact, the U.S. considered Dr. Sun a leader of one of the contending factions and refused to cooperate with his calls for reconstruction of China.7 As a result, significant changes took place in Sun's political ideas and tactics. Under the Bolshevik guidance the Kuomintang Party took an organizational structure and ideological perspective considerably different from that of conventional democratic States8.

In analysis of the extent of American influence on Sun Yat-Sen's concepts of democracy and the overall impact of Western influence on Sun's political career shows three stages: the formative stage which lasted till the end of the Revolution of 1911; the second or the stage of experimentation and frustration between 1912 and 1922; and the third or the stage of Russian Orientation lasted between 1920 and his death in I925.

Throughout these stages Sun's revolutionary ideas and policies were in a continuous process of evolution and changes according to the existing conditions in China and the general trends of events in the World. It was, however, in the first stage that Sun formulated the general outline of his basic principles and programs: the Three People's Principles, the Five-Power Constitution, and the concept of the Three-Stage Revolution.9 According to Paul M. Linebarger, the political thought of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen is "a blend of par Eastern political philosophy and Western political science"10. To him, this blending has been revealed into the impact of foreign and indigenous cultural influences upon Sun Yat-Sen, and into his educational training and personal experience11. Sun himself describes his own cultural preferences as follows:

In Chinese work I like the writings of the Three Dynasties and of the Trio Horns. In western work I am specially fond of Darwinism. Logic and politics are also among things I have often read. In religion I worship Jesus Christ. As for individuals, I admire China's Tang and Wu and America's George Washington”12.

The most interesting thing, however, is the impact of American ideas on Sun's ideological background. In his lifetime, Dr. Sun was out and out a westernized Chinese in all aspects of life, although he was always opposed to the western imperialist attitude. Western aristocratic values, manners and hierarchical notions were comple­tely absent in him. This was a result of his western education and his long visits to Europe, Japan, Hawaii and the U.S.A. He had also close and frequent life-long contacts with many foreign friends such as Dr. James Cantlie, the English Dean of the college of Medicine for Chinese in Hong Kong, Sir Patrick Manson, the Scottish physician in Formosa who cooperated with Dr. Ronald Ross in discovering the causes of malaria, and judge Paul Linebarger. Dr. Cantlie was a missionary who had profound influence upon Sun in his formative years Paul Linebarger has even written a book on the life of Sun Yat-Sen. But the deep knowledge gained by Sun about western culture was due to his own laborious study and keen observation.

As an area advanced in democracy, Hawaii had a profound influence on Sun during his early years. During the period of his stay in Hawaii (1879-83) it was an independent Kingdom. But it was rapidly being penetrated by American influence, and gradually it was impacted by the American ideas of democracy, a modern legal system, modern schools and the need for industrial development. Afterward the progressives of the islands started a movement for the overthrowing of the monarchy and to establish an American style democratic administration. The conservatives of Hawaii however rejected "foreign intrusion and republicanism". This democratic movement in Hawaii had a far-reaching impact on Sun, "although he did not like the annexation of Hawaii" by America”13.

Before going into details about American influence on Dr. Sun Yat-Sen's political ideas, it is necessary mention what is meant by American political philosophy. To make things clear, it is to be mentioned that the American people are not rigid about any hard and fast philosophical ideas. What they follow is "the tyranny" or the will of the majority as it is reflected in public opinions, media and elections. There is no doubt that democracy is an European institution developed in its present form largely by the British and French Political Philosophers such as John Locke and Montesquieu. These two political philosophers have made very important contributions to the success of democracy by delivering and explaining the concept of democracy. Despite their contributions, both in Britain and France, democracy had to come into compromise with prerogatives of the nobility, the authority of sovereign courts, rights of corporations and with provincial privileges. According to Alex de Tocquville, these elements were "often opposed to the freedom of individuals”14.

During Sun Yat-Sen's life time the European society in most countries was monarchical, hierarchical and aristocratic in terms of social and political relationship. As for example, the House of Lords was the supreme legislative body in England which could exercise strong controlling rights on the passage of any bill. On the otherhand, even after the establishment of the Third Republic, working of democracy was not satisfactory in France. Besides Britain and France, the rest of Europe had been governed by despotic and undemocratic regimes.

On the other-hand, though the history of the U.S.A., in its first phase, is the history of the colonial rule, no feudalistic elements influenced the social structure of the American society. The pioneer settlers were dissenters or victims of religious or political persecution of conservative European countries who came to live in the New World, which they were firm to keep free of fear from any sorts of encroachment on life, liberty and property. The U.S. democracy has its uniqueness, marked by a presidential form of government, an egalitarian society, non-hierarchical and a system of checks and balances. To quote Alex De Tocqueville:

The Americans live in a democratic state of society, which has naturally suggested to them certain laws and a certain political character. This same state of society has, moreover, engendered amongst them a multitude of feelings and opinions which were unknown amongst the elder aristocratic communities of Europe; it has destroyed or modified all the relations which before existed and established others of a. novel kind. The aspect of civil society has been no less affected by these changes than that of the political world.

Alex De Tocquville explains the inherent spirit of the differences between the type of European democracy and the American democracy in the following sentences-

In Europe it is hard for us to Judge the true character and permanent instincts of democracy, for in Europe two contrary principles are contending (despotism and republic) and one cannot precisely know what is due to the principles themselves and what to the passions engendered by the fight. That is not the in dase America. There the people prevail without impediment; there are neither dangers to fear nor injuries to revenge.15

In none of his speech or in writing did Dr. Sun advocate either for British or French style of democracy. Instead he always talked for a system similar to that of American presidential form. Time and again he mentioned Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and Abraham Lincoln as his sources of inspiration in his vision of founding a republic in China. A democratically elected president, egalitarian society, female enfranchisement, rule of the majority, rule of law, separation of powers and the stronger role of the president attracted Sun most. In addition to this, Dr. Sun was also enchanted by the enlightened programs of the progressive politicians of the 1910s America. A close examination of his proposals like referendum, recall, elections and the institution of civil service examination will reveal the resemblance of his political ideas with the progressive programs in America. During the early twentieth century the progressives in America introduced City Commissions and City Managers to ensure efficient administration. It also imposed heavy taxes on big industries and companies and introduced civil service in state employment 16.. Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, highly influenced by the American political ideas, not only gave emphasis on initiative, referendum and recall but would add two more devices for the running of the administration of the Chinese Republican Government. These are a revival of China's Old Board of Censors with power to criticize the government, and a resurgence of the Old Civil Service Examination system with the power to pass judgment upon candidates for election or appointment in government jobs. To quote Sun:

However, the three governmental powers in the West have been imperfectly applied and the three coordinate powers of ancient china led to many abuses. If we now want to combine the best from China and the best from other countries and guard against all kinds of abuse in the future we must take the three Western governmental powers-the executive, legislative, and judicial add to the old Chinese powers of examination and censorship and make a finished wall, a quintuple-power government. Such a government will be the most complete and the finest in the World, and a state with such a government will indeed be of the people, by the people, and for the people17.

In this way, his originality consists in bringing together two Chinese methods and three foreign ones and this "Five power constitution" was Sun’s major contributions to political thinking”18.

The presence of American influence in his political program can also be seen in Sun's early political activities. In 1894 Sun outlined a definite plan for economic and technological development of China through adoption of Western methods. In this treatise, he also advocated the expansion of schools, the improvement of agriculture, the exploitation of natural resources, the development of industries, the elimination of trade barriers, and the modernization of the transport system. Besides these, another important aspect of Sun's adherence to American ideology was Republicanism which he included as one of the goals of the revolution.

Throughout his entire career Dr. Sun Yat-Sen firmly rejected every proposal for any kind of co-operation and compromise with the monarchist reformers like Kang Wu-Wei and Liang Chi-Chao. As Immanuel C. Y. Hsu puts it, “The monarchist reformers and the revolutionaries clashed like water and fire”19. "This, intern, proves that Dr. Sun was not agreeable to the implementation of democracy in the form of constitutional monarchy. From the beginning of his political career, Dr. Sun's Political ideas were anti-dynastic and anti-monarchic. He always wanted his followers to be devoted republicans both in principle and in practice. As for example, the oath of the members of his first political organization Hsing Chung hui or Revive China Society consisted of three slogans. Which were, "Drive out the Manchus, restore the Chinese rule, and establish a republic"20.

Sun formed important ideals about Democracy and socialism during the late 1890's and the early 1900’s. In London he read the works of Henry George and Karl Marx, and most probably he met Lenin and the Russian revolutionaries in exiles.21 In the United States, he came under the influence of the teachings of Abraham Lincoln and other liberal Americans like Benjamin Franklin, Jefferson and Andrew Jackson. The frequent references to Rousseau, Montesquieu, Lincoln, and others bear the testimony of his hard work and the great impact of these thinkers and statesmen on his thinking. It was during his stay in America that Sun came to realize the existing inequalities and tensions in Western societies.22 As a result, he decided to work out a program on American model for china to solve political and social problems at the same time. About the background of his adoption of the Three principles, Sun recorded in his autobiography:

I found out that although the European countries were powerful and wealthy and had well-developed democratic governments, they could not accord complete happiness to their people. Therefore, many progressive Europeans were still engaged in a social revolution. In an effort to seek a more permanent solution of China's political and social problems, I adopted the principle of Min-sheng (people's livelihood), along with the principle of Min-tsu (Nationalism) and the principle of Min-Chuan (democracy of the people's to power) to form the Three Principles of the people.23

Between 1905 and 1906, after his second trip to America, Dr. Sun's democratic ideas began to take a more definitive shape on American lines. When the Tung Meng Hui or the United League the nucleus of the Kuomitang party was formed in Tokyo in August 1905, the objectives stated in its Manifesto were the expulsion of the Manchus, the recovery of China, the establishment of a republic, and the organization of land ownership which constituted the forerunner of the famous three people's Principles o It was a carefully developed and calculated program aimed at preventing China from being drawn into a country of constitutional monarchy Europe. The same manifesto also embodied Sun's concept of the three-stage revolution as a practical procedure for the gradual accomplishment of his program. It was declared that the Chinese revolution would be carried out in three stages, which are :

  1. the rule of martial law;

  2. the rule of a provisional constitution; and

  3. the rule of a permanent constitution.24

Afterwards in a message to the Tung Meng Huis spokesman the Min-Pao or people's News paper, Dr. Sun officially used the term of San Min Chu I (The Three people's Principles). He urged the adoption of the principles of Nationalism and Democracy to liberate the Chinese from oppression, and the adoption of the principle of the people's livelihood to remedy the social and economic ills of the Chinese people.25

In formulating his politics programs, Dr. Sun Yet-Sen put special emphasis on democracy. In fact, he considered it to be "a key factor to the successful modernization of China". The triumph of democratic principles through the enfranchisement of Women in the United States in 1920 seems to have contributed a lot to the development of his political ideas. He reshuffled the State-system in such a way as to give a free hand to the bureaucrats. Thus the concept of an elite ruling class through this new bureaucratic system gradually got an upper hand and became a basic element in this philosophy, "but the people retained the right to vote on keeping or changing its leaders". Thus Fred Greene sums up," In this limited interpretation of democracy, the State was not a mere instrument of the people. Rather it was a separate institution above all others with a justification of its own".26 In short, though best as it was on the concept of peoples' ultimate control, it was characterized by a highly centralized bureaucratic system like one that existed in the United States of America.

The impact of American ideology on Dr. Sun Yat Sen’s concept democracy may also be identified from his historical speeches which he delivered on different occasions .As for example, in his decorative lectures in the winter of 1922-23, Sun Yat-Sen developed an idea about democracy which was slightly different from what it had been in the earlier period. The Chinese background in the 1920s was also different from what America had been in the 1910s, but his borrowing from America is beyond any kind of doubt. Recognizing the influence of American political ideas on Sun, Fairbank, Reischauer and Craig, remark,

The principle of people's rights, often translated as democracy, distinguished between popular sovereignty and the administrative /capacity of the government. Sun piously hoped to make the government the machinery, and the people its engineer, but this was to be done only through the devices of ‘election’, ‘initiative’, ‘referendum’ and ‘recall’ (copied from the American progressive movement of a by gone era), which had never become operative in China27.

During his studies and residence abroad, especially in America, Sun had carefully observed the working of democratic governments and institutions in Europe and America. Although he recognized that there were certain imperfections and limitations in western democracies, Sun came to the conclusion that American form of democracy was the best political system so far mankind had designed. Nevertheless, he was opposed to any kind of blind imitation of the western democracy and urged that China should work out such a democratic mechanism which would be best suited to its own traditions and requirements.

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen’s writings also testify his weaknesses for American democratic values. He believed that China's tide of revolutionary ideas came from Europe and America.28 To him, the Chinese revolution chose democracy for two reasons: first, to follow the trend of the contemporary world and second, to reduce the period of civil war .It is to be mentioned that in the first half of the twentieth century the prime question before China was its national unity. During this time, power hungry and greedy feudal warlords had divided China into several independent states .In order bring an acceptable solution to this national crisis, Dr.Sun Yat-Sen felt that American democracy was the only remedy to this acute problem of China. To quote Dr. Sun,

...... I lifted up the banner of democracy as soon as the revolution began and determined that we should found a republic. When we have a real republic, who will be king? The people, our four hundred millions, will be king. This will prevent everybody from struggling for power and will reduce the war evil in China.29

Dr. Sun Yat Sen was frequently found to equate his key terms of revolution with those of the west. He translated the three principles of Nationalism, Democracy, and Livelihood into Chinese as Min Yu or (people possess), Min Chih (people govern) and Min hsi-ang (people enjoy).30 Even once, he compared his Three principles with the watchword of the French Revolution "Liberty, Equality and Fraternity." In his Triple Dimension Sun explains:

Liberty in the French revolutionary watchword and 'people's Nationalism' in our watchword are similar. The people's Nationalism calls for the freedom of our nation. ‘Equality’ is similar to our 'principle of the people's Sovereignty', which aims to destroy autocracy and makes all men equal... The idea ‘fraternity’ is similar to our 'principles of the people's livelihood1, which plans for the happiness of our four hundred millions31.

Another piece of evidence of American influence on Sun Yat-Sen's conception of Democracy was his suggestion that China learn the experiences of American democracy. In his Memoirs of a Chinese Revolutionary, he says:

Although we cannot wholly copy Europe and America, yet we can observe them and study their experience in democracy very carefully... America and other Western democratic nations... have gained a little experience in the past century, and this experience, along with their various new theories should be used as data in our study.32

For example, the ability of the United States to establish a stable, a democratic republic was attributed to the existence of a highly developed local self-government, which, Sun contended, China should try to achieve.33 Likewise, the American policy of training the Fillipinos for self-government was cited as a case to support his idea of political tutelage.34 Finally, this concept of Sun received a concrete shape in a lecture of him which he delivered before the Chinese Republican Party Convention in 1911. Here Sun pointed out that England and America had the most well-developed party politics in the world. To him, in each country the two contending parties fought over important issues rather than partisan interests. Sun advised the political parties in China that they would do well to follow the model of such advanced countries as England and the United States.35

Was Sun Yat-Sen's concept of democracy different from that of the Chinese Communist's concept of revolutionary democracy? As an answer to this question, it can be pointed out that Sun's concept of democracy was based on an assimilation of western democracy and Confucianism, while the latter is based on Marxism-Leninism. According to Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, the principles which he had held in promoting the Chinese revolution were "in some cases copied from our traditional ideals, in other cases, modeled on European theory and experience, and in still others, formulated according to original and self-developed theories."36 Sun however, never advocated a wholesale westernization of China. Instead he advocated a fusion and coordination of Chinese and Western thought. In this way, he tried to construct a solution to the Chinese problem and thereby to develop a system which was specifically Chinese. Although he expressed some doubts about the implementation of western representative systems in China, he was fundamentally a believer in democracy and popular sovereignty.37

To what extent Sun Yat-Sen had been influenced by American political thinkers and statesmen can be best measured from a speech which Sun had delivered on "The Three People's principles in 1921, in which he said:

The principles of President Lincoln completely coincide with time. He said: A government of the people, elected by the people and for the people. These principles have served as the maximum of achievement for Europeans as well as Americans. Words which have the same sense can be found in China. I have translated from 'Nationalism, democracy and socialism'. Of course, there can be no other interpretations. The wealth and power of the U.S. are a striking example of the results of great mens' teachings in that country. I am glad to observe my principles, too, are shared by the greatest political minds abroad and one not in contradiction to all the world's democratic schools of thought.38

Did Dr. Sun propose an enlightened despotism? As a reply to this, Sun said, “enlightened despotism has as its end an absolute monarchy whereas our period of preparation and training has as its end the creation of a republic." This constitutes a fundamental difference between the two systems.39 He advocated democracy for China on the grounds that it was an ideal cherished by the ancient sages and that it is a general trend of the modern world, and the only remedy for China's ancient civil strife.40 He looked upon the people as the sovereign of the state. On the otherhand, he regarded the bureaucrats and government officials as the peoples’ chauffeurs, guards, cooks, physicians, carpenters, or tailors. He was very often critical of the imperfections of western representative system of government, and suggested a form of direct democracy which would combine both American and Chinese methods. Thus, it appears that Dr. Sun cherished a combination of American democratic institutions with those of the Chinese principles of government. In order to separate sovereignty and(ch'uan) ability (Neng), Sun believed that the people should have the four popular rights of suffrage, initiative, referendum, and recall to control the government directly, "and the government should be equipped to function efficiently with five powers, namely, legislative, judicial, executive, examination and control."41 Sun stated that such a government would be the most complete and the finest in the world, and a state with such a government would indeed be “Of the people, by the people, and for the people". “On the whole”, Fred Greene argues, "Sun’s concept of government retained the traditional pattern of a self-perpetuating bureaucracy, save that now it was to be governed and changed by popular-vote instead of an emperor exercising the mandate of heaven”.42 In this way, Dr. Sun formulated the principle to overcome transitional problems while trying to establish a democratic system.

In the field of a democratic administration, Dr. Sun-Yat-Sen tried to form a new concept of administration through a mixture of ethics and science. This has been reflected in different speeches of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen. As for example, during his visits to the U.S. Sun Yat-Sen told the American people, "Our greatest hope is to make the Bible and Christian education, as we have come to know them in America and Europe, the basis of reform in China”43. Here he indicated that a knowledge only of modern science and political methods, are not sufficient enough to build a new system of administration for China. Instead he advocated a new concept of life and an aroused conscience as to the relations of masses to God and man .. In this way, in his thinking, "he was not different from those in the U.S. and elsewhere who believed that the ballot box and secular education would eliminate crime, and that the best men would always be elected if all men had the vote”.44 This reflects Sun’s belief in public opinion as the formulator of government policy as it existed in America.

About American influence on Sun's political ideals, Harold Z. Schiffrin argues that Sun Yat-Sen got the impression of the idea of Republicanism first at Hawaii. In this connection he pointed out that pointed out that during the months when Hsing Chung Hui was being organized, Hawaii became a republic and its new constitution became effective by July 1894,"and Sun and the politically conscious among the Hua-Chiau could not have been oblivious to the political changes which accompanied the birth of the republic”. Schiffrin further holds that the Chinese term for "republican government" or "republic" which appears in the oath is Hu-chung Cheng-fu and not min-kuo. To him, Sun began using the term in 1903. Based on these evidences, Schiffrin argues that the model was the American republican form of government, and American influence was first felt by Sun in Hawaii. According to Schiffrin, the number of Republican sympathizers with Sun was very limited and this was one of the reasons why Sun appealed to its sense of patriotism rather than to try to promulgate specific policies.45

Another example of Sun's adherence to the American democratic ideals was the fact that some of the members of Sun's party preferred a constitutional monarchy like Britain rather than a republic. Sun countered them with the evidence of local self-rule and admitted that they attest to the "naturally endowed democratic ability" of the Chinese people, although some of the opposition regarded village self-rule as a primitive form of freedom. Sun replied that this "natural" capacity for self-rule was in fact the best guarantee that the Chinese would easily acquire "civilized freedom." He explained that, "If you have genuine jade then you can perfect it by polishing." Sun further argued that " a constitution is for the transitional period, a republic is the final result". To Sun, the preference for a constitutional monarchy is like setting out to cross a stream and then stopping in the middle.46

In his Works on Democracy, Sun mentions in many places the civil and fundamental democratic rights as guaranteed by the American constitution. To quote him,

"One-fourth of the American states have put four rights into practice. Through the practice of these four rights and through very compact methods, some countries have obtained very good results. This meant to say that these four civil rights are based on experience and are not merely hypothetical ideals. To make use of these methods at present will be a very safe undertaking that will be free from any dangers.47

Here, Sun also mentions that the idea of borrowing democratic ideals from the United States and other Western countries was not bad, although it did not work very well as he thought it would. He believed that the idea of creating a democratic government would make China a stronger nation. Thus, Sun Yat-Sen's idea of democracy was profoundly influenced by the United States which in turn was upon British and French ideals of democracy.

Lastly, a question can arise whether Sun was in anyway influenced by the Russians. On the whole, it can be said that the successful experience of the Bolshevik dictatorship undoubtedly strengthened Sun's concept of the three-stage revolution and gave him a justification for the Kuomintang's tutelage. As a result of the Soviet alliance, the idea of one-party rule in a guided democracy took its final stage. Citing the Russian system as a. model, Sun stated that the Kuomintang should place the party above the state.48 In spite of this, however, there was no change in the ultimate objective of Sun's principle of democracy i, e, the formation of a constitutional government based on the popular sovereignty. The ideal political system remained the five-power government advocated by Sun as early as 1906.

In conclusion, it can be said that Dr. Sun Yat-Sen's concept of democracy and republicanism, the different organs of a government, the conception of popular control, and fundamental civil rights all were taken from American conceptions and interpretation of democracy which again had an European origin. He followed the statesmen and political thinkers of the said areas through his personal observation in America and Europe, and also through studying the works of the American, British as well French philosophers and statesmen, and shaped his concept of democracy 49.

About the machinery of government, Sun reasoned that the people were given only voting power and had no other way of controlling the men who were elected to office. To Sun, the incompetent officials must be traced out and be removed from the executive scenario as this system could neither satisfy the desires of the people, nor gives them a complete measure of happiness. Moreover, in his lectures on the "Five-Power Constitution," he signaled out the deficiencies and defects of the "Three-Power Constitution", as represented by the American Constitution.)50 According to him, with the power of impeachment vested in Congress, crafty Congressmen could frequently employ it as a weapon to exert pressure on the government so that the executive gets no as to give the government no free hand in its actions. To him, the absence of an examination system often led to the wrong selection of the civil servants. All in all, what Sun proposed to do was to use American and European experiences as material for study and to work out a program to make "China into a nation under complete popular rule, ahead of Europe and America.51

End Notes

  1. Mao Tse-Tung, Soang Ching Ling, and Chou En-Lai and others, Dr. Sun Yat-Sen: Commemorative Articles and Speeches (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1957), p. 10.

  2. For details of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen’s life and Career, see, Sir James Cantlie and C. Shendan Jones, Sun Yat-Sen and the Awakening of China. (New York: 1912); and

  3. Lyon Sherman, Sun Yat-Sen: His Life and Its Meaning (New York: John Day, 1934); and Harold Z. Schiffrin, Sun Yat-Sen and the origins of the Chinese Revolution. (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1968).

  4. Paul H. Clyde et. al., and Burton F. Beers, The Far East: A History of the Western Impact and the Eastern Response, 1830-1970 (New Delhi: Prenctice-Hall of India Private Ltd., 1972), p. 228.

  5. Claude A. Buss The Far East: A History of Recent and Contemporary International Relations in East Asia, (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1955), p. 151.

  6. Ibid., p. 151.

  7. O. E. Clubb, 20th Century China, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1964), p. 119.

  8. Ibid., p. 119.

  9. Shao Chuan Leng and Norman D. Palmer, Sun Yat-Sen and Communism (London: Thames and Hudson, 1960).

  10. Paul M. A. Linebarger, The Political Doctrines of Sun Yat-Sen (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1937), p. 11.

  11. Ibid., p. 12.

  12. The China Culture Service; Complete Writings of President Sun, vol. 5, p. 90 (Taipei, 1953).

  13. Harold Schiffrin, Sun Yat-Sen and the origins of the Chinese Revolution, p. 27.

  14. Alex De Tocqueville, (J. P. Mayer and Max Lerner (edited), Democracy in America (New York: Harper & Row, 1966), p. 240 ;

  15. ,Alex De Tocqueville, Democracy in America (1840) (London: Oxford University Press, Reprint 1953), p. 291,181.

  16. For an account of the progressive reforms, see, Robert H. Wibe, The Search for order 1877-1920) (New York: Hill and Wang, 1967), pp. 164-195;also, Gabriel Kolko, The Triumph of conservatism (London: Collier Macmillan, 1977). pp. 57-216.

  17. Sun Yat-Sen, “The Gospel of Sun Yat-Sen” in Immanuel C. Y. Hsu’s (ed.), Readings in Modern Chinese History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971), p. 420.

  18. Shao Chuan Leng and Norman D. Palmer, Sun Yat-Sen and Communism, p. 17.

  19. Immanuel C. Y. Hsu, The Rise of Modern China (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1983), p. 460.

  20. Ibid., p. 457.

  21. “Complete Writings of President Sun Yat-Sen and Communism”, Vol. I, p. 20. In Huang Hsing and the Chinese Revolution (Palual to: Stanford Univ. Press, 1921), p. 29. Chun-tu Hsueh disputes this oath, which, to him, have been added retroactively.

  22. Stephen Chen and Robert Payne, Sun Yat-Sen: A Portrait (New York: John Day, 1946), p. 48.

  23. Sun Yat-Sen, Memoirs of a Chinese Revolutionary (London: Hutchinson & Co., 1927) p. 99.

  24. Immanuel Hsu, (The Rise of Modern China, p. 463.

  25. Ibid., p. 459.

  26. Fred Greene, The Far East (New York: Rinehart and Co., 1957), p. 122.

  27. John K. Fairbank, E. O. Reischauer, and Albert M. Craig, East Asia, Tradition and Transformation (Boston: Woughton Mifflin, 1978), p. 780.

  28. Sun Yat-Sen, (Paschal M, D. Elia, S. J. ed), The Triple Dimension of Sun Yat-Sen (Wuchang: Franciscan Press, 1931), p. 234.

  29. Ibid., p. 181.

  30. Sun Yat-Sen, Fundamentals of National Reconstruction. (Chungking: Chinese Ministry of Information, 1956), p. 21.

  31. Sun Yat-Sen, The Triple Dimension, p. 214.

  32. Sun Yat-Sen, Momoirs of a Chinese Revolutionary, pp. 128-130.

  33. Ibid., p. 143.

  34. Ibid., p. 293.

  35. Ibid., p. 135-136.

  36. Complete Writings of President Sun, Vol. 7, Part I, pp. 141-142.

  37. Hu Han-Min (ed.), History of the Chinese Revolution. (Shanghai: Min-Chin Book Store, 1930).

  38. Lin, Tse-hsuen, Dr. Sun’s Theory and Western Culture. (Taipei: The China Culture Pub. Committee, 1953).

  39. Sun Yat-Sen, Momoirs of a Chinese Revolutionary, p. 227.

  40. Ibid., p. 134.

  41. Sun’s first lecture on the Principle of Democracy appeared in San Min Chu I (Taipei: China publishing ,date ? ) pp. 151-188.

  42. Complete Writings of President Sun, Vol. 7, Part II, pp. 460-492.

  43. Fred Greene, The Far East, p. 123.

  44. H. B. Resterick, Sun Yat-Sen Liberator of China. (New haven; Yale University Press, 1931), pp. 98-99.

  45. Harold Z. Schiffrin, Sun Yat-Sen and the Origins of the Chinese Revolution (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1968), p. 43.

  46. Ibid., p. 43.

  47. Ibid., p. 319.

  48. Paschal M. d’Elia; The Triple Dimension of Sun Yat-Sen, p. 2396.

  49. Complete Writing of President Sun, Vol. 17, Part II, pp. 493-98.

  50. Sun Yat-Sen; San Min Chu I, pp. 327-334.

  51. T’Ang Leang, The Inner History of the Chinese Revolution (New York: E. P. Dutton and Co., 1930), p. 116.

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