Sun Yat-sen’s Advice to Young Revolutionaries

By Matthew Ehret

On January 1, 1912 Dr. Sun Yat-sen was inaugurated as the first president of the Republic of China consolidating a decades-long effort to overthrow an ancient feudal order premised upon a hereditary power structure of the “divine right of bloodlines”. Sun’s fascinating life defies any pre-existing categorization as a “socialist” or “capitalist” both schools of which he attacked as fallacies. Also known as the Founding Father of China, Sun is one of the few people revered as a hero of impeccable moral character equally by Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan alike.

For many young aspiring color revolutionaries in Hong Kong today who shout such mantras as “Independence for Hong Kong” while throwing petrol bombs and bricks at police officers, Sun Yat-sen serves as a role model for their current devotion to overthrowing the authority of the Chinese government and claiming “independence” from Beijing’s rule.

On the surface, it is understandable why these young kids believe they are continuing the legacy of the great statesman. But only on the surface.

Cause for Confusion: Sun Yat-sen’s “American” Revolution

After studying in Hawaii from 1879-1883, Sun’s vision for a republican revolution grew as he watched China slowly die under the corrupt regime of the Qing Dynasty which had lost all moral fitness to rule. After taking the helm of the revolutionary movement by 1893, Sun openly modelled the new system directly upon his studies of the best of the American Constitutional tradition. Considering Sun Yat-sen is revered today as a hero in mainland China, you can be excused for finding this hard to believe, but it is none the less true. Sun, who was both a Christian and Confucian scholar, he stated this fact explicitly in his 1904 pamphlet A True Solution for the Chinese Question where he wrote:

“To work out the salvation of China is exclusively the duty of our own but as the problem has recently found a worldwide interest, we, in order to make sure of our success… must appeal to the people of the United States in particular for your sympathy and support, either moral or material, because you are the pioneers of western civilization in Japan: Because you are a Christian nation: Because we intend to model our new government after yours; Above all, because you are the champion of liberty and democracy. We hope we may find many Lafayette’s among you.”

This was no hyperbole. After doing battle with usurper Yuan Shih-kai, when the later attempted to re-impose a monarchical system onto the new nation with the help of Anglo-American bankers, Dr. Sun Yat-sen wrote his Three Principles of the People where he explicitly modelled China’s constitution on those enunciated decades earlier by President Abraham Lincoln as a nation organized for the people, by the people and of the people. Sun called these principles minzu (‘national feelings of the people’), minquan (‘rights of the people’), and minsheng, (‘the people’s livelihood’). Once these were attained, then Sun believed the nation could become a true democratic republic in practice.

So how was this revolutionary process in total opposition to the current US/British-backed “revolution” being attempted in Hong Kong?

Introducing Sun Yat-sen’s Mind

For starters, Sun Yat-sen had an actual PLAN for what to do after the over-bloated and corrupt imperial regime was overthrown. Today’s young anarchists who wave British and American flags have no idea what to do with their “revolution”, believing instead in some magical force that will make life better if the west intervenes to defend some imagined freedom which they think they lost with their return to Chinese rule in 1997. Unlike today’s anarchists, Sun also knew the enemy inside and out. Sun wrote his 1917 Vital Problems of China in order to share his insight into the true nature of the empire’s manipulation of China (and the world) saying:

“The British are as cunning as the fox and as changeable as the weather and they are not ashamed of themselves… Britain seeks friendship only with those which can render her services, and when her friends are too weak to be of any use to her, they must be sacrificed in her interests. Britain’s tender regard for her friends is like the delicate care usually shown by farmers in the rearing of silkworms; after all the silk has been drawn from the cocoons, they are destroyed by fire or used as food for fish. The present friends of Britain are no more than silkworms.”

The young anarchists in Hong Kong today have for the most part, no idea that they are just being used as a part of a broader geopolitical agenda.

Sun Yat-sen understood this “Great Game” very well. In his Vital Problems, Sun not only rigorously demonstrated how and why the British oligarchy directly manipulated ALL of the major wars of the 19th and early 20th centuries in the pursuit of a “balance of power, but also laid out those imperial techniques that are as applicable today as they were in 1917 when he said:

“The key policy of England is to attack the strongest enemy with the help of the weaker countries and join the weakened enemy in checking the growth of a 3rd country. The British foreign policy has remained basically unchanged for two centuries.”

Sun pointed out that when a nation is on the ascent Britain’s policy is to use alliances with weaker powers who are on the descent to undermine it, and once those allies find themselves in a position of ascent the policy is reversed and they then become the targets for destruction, echoing Lord Palmerston’s famous assertion that the “empire has no permanent friends, but rather only permanent interests.” On this point Sun stated:

“When England befriends another country, the purpose is not to maintain a cordial friendship for the sake of friendship but to utilize that country as a tool to fight a third country. When an enemy has been shorn of his power, he is turned into a friend, and the friend who has become strong, into an enemy. England always remains in a commanding position; she makes other countries fight her wars and she herself reaps the fruits of victory.”

Sun Yat-sen’s Grand Design as Precursor to the New Silk Road

Unlike the anarchists in Hong Kong today who have zero vision for a concrete future, Sun Yat-sen’s Grand Design laid out in brilliant detail in his 1920 International Development of China. In this magnum opus that called for an industrial revolution driven by thousands of rail lines, roads, canals, dams, mines and ports we can find the guiding spirit underlying China’s Belt and Road Initiative today. As Sun developed the vision for rail lines and trade corridors to the west under a new philosophy of “win-win” cooperation (or in Sun’s words a system of “Right makes Might”), he always maintained that it was the best traditions of America that animated his design. An example from his 1920 book reads:

“The world has been greatly benefited by the development of America as an industrial and a commercial Nation. So a developed China with her four hundred millions of population, will be another New World in the economic sense. The nations which will take part in this development will reap immense advantages. Furthermore, international cooperation of this kind cannot but help to strengthen the Brotherhood of Man.”

It may startle many in Hong Kong as much as it would many pro-Sun Taiwanese to discover that this is the principled intention behind the vision for the Belt and Road Initiative unleashed by President Xi Jinping in 2013 and which is intimately tied to Vladimir Putin’s Russia and the Eurasian Economic Union. Speaking on behalf of President Xi, Chinese foreign Minister Wang Yi recently reflected that vision saying:

“President Xi Jinping called for the fostering of a new type of international relations featuring mutual respect, fairness, justice and win-win cooperation, and the building of a community with a shared future for mankind. He expounded on a vision of an open, inclusive, clean and beautiful world that enjoys lasting peace, universal security and common prosperity. Such thinking and vision encapsulate the propositions and principles that China holds dear as a staunch supporter of multilateralism.”

The truth of history keeps geopolitical ideologues up at night simply because reality refutes their faith in the inevitability of a “clash of civilizations” and “might makes right” paradigm of global governance. Just as Sun’s achievements overturn this imperial (and bestial) worldview, so too might Americans with enough morality awaken these constitutional traditions of America which Dr. Sun saw as the basis for a new East-West alliance.


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