Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Taiwanese History: Sun Yat Sen

Taiwanese Flag

I live in Taoyuan City and travel through the downtown area frequently on my scooter.  There are a number of streets there that I have been curious about.  Very near my home is San Min Lu, 三民路.  There are three other streets that have this same character Min () Minzu Lu 民族路, Minquan Lu 民權路 and Min Sheng Lu民生路.  Recently I came to understand the meaning of these street names. The san min (the people’s principles) are the principles by which Sun Yat Sen planned the government of the Republic of China.  As we move toward Double Tenth day, or Taiwan National Day, October 10, I want to discuss the “Father of Modern China,” Sun Yat Sen and his legacy The San Min Doctrine. 

Chinese-Taiwanese history really began during the Qing Dynasty, actually toward the end of the dynasty.  After about 1850 the Qing Dynasty had begun to lose power and influence, because the military power of the dynasty had begun to wane.   In 1900, the emperor tried to revive his power through the modernization of the army.  It was called the “New Army” and the weapons of war were upgraded to the present time.  But it was a case of too little too late. The New Army was full of radical leaders, officers who saw the writing on the wall and had begun to work for a new China and an end to the empire. 

Sun Yat Sen 
Sun Yat Sen had begun to rise in prominence in the minds of these men.  His bold new ideas, his new philosophies had begun to take hold of the imaginations of these generals and they began to secretly follow his lead.  His philosophies gave power to the people and took power from the emperor. 

As you might guess the emperor saw this as treason and Sun Yat Sen spent years in exile, physically, but his words and philosophies gained traction, especially among the military leaders.  The thing that sparked their imagination was the San-Min三民 doctrine.  In English, it has been translated as the three people’s principles.  Interestingly, these three principles had taken root in Sun’s thinking through a speech by Abraham Lincoln where he spoke the phrase, “Government of the people, by the people and for the people.”

Mínzú Zhǔyì民族主義 is sometimes called nationalism, but it would be far more accurate to call it, “Government of the people.”  Sun wanted to move away from imperial or ethnic nationalism to the broader idea of civic nationalism, uniting the five ethnicities into one people.  

Mínquán Zhǔyì 民權主義, or democracy is, “Government by the people.”  He viewed this as a western-style constitutional government.  He longed for the power of the people to express their political wishes over the tyranny of imperial rule.  

Mínshēng Zhǔyì  民生主義, was called by Sun as the people’s livelihood or  “Government for the people.”  By livelihood Sun was thinking of the people’s right to food, clothing, housing and transportation.  He planned how an ideal government would care for it’s people.  There has been much debate over the years as to Sun’s thoughts.  He died before fully explaining this principle.  The People’s Republic of China as a socialist government believes that they best fulfill this principle; of course the Republic of China, believes they have the handle on this ideology.  It’s the classic argument of socialism vs. capitalism and it plays out in  geopolitical saber rattling and cold war.

These principles grabbed the imaginations of the men tasked with the protection of the empire form the outside forces.  Many of the generals and others were a part of the “Literary Society,” a radical organization supporting Sun’s philosophies.  The Literary Society met secretly and kept secret membership lists until Russian revolutionaries accidentally detonated a bomb the city of Wuhan in Hubei province in central China.  The district of Wuchang was rocked by the explosion and as authorities gathered and began to investigate the Literary Society membership lists were uncovered.  Those generals and leaders understood well what discovery meant.  They knew the empire would systematically track them down, arrest and execute them.  They had no choice so they rose up and took over the government of the city.  Telegraph notices began to go out and within six weeks sixteen provinces declared independence from the dynasty.

The Sun Yat Sen Memorial, seen from the observation deck of the Taipei 101
The Wuchang uprising gave way to the Xinhai Revolution.  Sun Yat Sen returned to China after looking for support in the west and another man, Chiang Kai Shek returned from Japan, where he was a part of the Imperial Army of Japan, to assume leadership of the Artillery Forces of the R.O.C.  By February twelfth, the revolution was over, the Emperor had abdicated and the Republic of China became the legal government of China.

At this time Sun Yat Sen is thought of, both in the People’s Republic and the Republic of China, as the Father of Modern China, he is revered in both places.  But that’s where the consensus ends.  Both governments see themselves as the embodiment of the San Min Doctrine.  Both jealously cling to the idea that they are the ones who best represent the people and desire of the Chinese  and Taiwanese populations.  In 1992 they gave voice to this idea, in an agreement known as the, “1992 Consensus,” the main idea of which is that there is one China, of which Taiwan is a part, but two different interpretations of the who best exemplifies the principles of the San Min Doctrine, which of course leads to the question of which system is the legal government of China. 

This isn't a political blog, there are others much more capable than I, in that realm.  I'm not intending to debate the merits of the 1992 Consensus or even whether or not there is a consensus.  There are those who don't agree there was a consensus.  I am a believer in freedom and the rights of people to govern themselves free from tyranny and oppression and I leave the way to achieve that to the Taiwanese people.

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1 comment:

  1. Your extrapolation from Dr.Sun Yat Sen's three principles of the people to the 1992 Consensus which is the most heated topic among the 2012 ROC's presidential election is amazing.I like it.