About Dr Sun

Dr Sun Yat Sen: A Great Leader

Dr Sun Yat Sen is revered by a quarter of the world’s population as the man who brought modernity to their nation.  After thousands of years of Imperial rule, Dr Sun was the first President of a Chinese Republic.

He achieved this honour for two main reasons.  One is that he worked tirelessly for change in his home country, including many years in exile – during which he was kidnapped by Imperial agents and would have been executed had it not been for the owner of The Kennels, Sir James Cantlie.  The other is that he was the chief thinker of the new China.  His Three Principles of the People provided an intellectual standard around which diverse revolutionaries could gather.  The principles, first announced in 1905, are nationalism, democracy and the welfare of the people.

Sun was born into a peasant family in Guangdong Province in 1866.  He proved a bright student, and aged 13 was sent to Honolulu to join his brother and to receive further education.  At 17 he returned home, but found the traditional mindset of the village stifling.  He and a friend vandalized a statue in a temple, and it was decided he should go to Hong Kong to study more.

Aged 20, he began to study medicine at the new Medical College set up by James Cantlie.  He and Dr Cantlie soon became firm friends.  On qualifying, Sun set up a medical practice in Macao, then returned to Guangzhou.  At the same time, he was getting ever more involved in politics.  Attempts to initiate ‘gradualist’ reforms achieved little: by 1895, Sun was involved in an attempted coup in Guangzhou.  The coup failed, and he had to flee to Hong Kong, where Dr Cantlie advised him to seek greater safety in Japan.

Sun spent the next 16 years in exile.  In 1896, he was subject to the famous kidnap incident, and saved from certain death by Dr Cantlie.  For the rest of this time he travelled the world, raising awareness of and funds for his political struggle.  He was particularly admired by the Chinese communities in America, Britain, Japan and Malaya / Singapore.  Whenever he visited Britain, he stayed with the Cantlies, often at The Kennels, Cottered.

By 1911, the old Imperial government was tottering, with a boy Emperor on the throne, surrounded by backward-looking advisors.  Revolts broke out.  These initially failed, but on 10th October, a military uprising in Wuchang took power.  Dr Sun returned to China immediately, and on 29th December was declared President of the Republic of China in the old capital, Nanjing.

Sun was not a man who sought power for its own sake.  Like all truly great leaders, such as Gandhi or Nelson Mandela, power for him was a means to a higher end, in his case to fulfil his Three Principles.  Once he had achieved his end, and the Puyi Emperor had abdicated, Sun handed over his presidency to General Yuan Shikai.  This can be seen as a weak move by Sun: Yuan was a man of much greater forcefulness but inferior moral character compared to Sun.

Yuan soon declared himself Emperor, at which Sun began organizing armed resistance – but Yuan died in 1916.  The era that followed, sometimes known as the Warlord Era, was one of civil strife.  Sun never stopped campaigning for his ideals.  Probably exhausted by this, he died in 1925.

It is now over 100 years since the ‘Xinhai Revolution’ that brought Sun to power, but he is still revered.  In Taiwan he is known as the Father of the Nation, and in the People’s Republic of China as the Forerunner of the Revolution.  He is buried in Nanjing, in a tomb as magnificent as that of any Emperor.  The modest Dr Sun might not have wanted this, but it is an honour he surely deserved.