The Star, Sunday June 16, 2006
Yat-sen, 100 years after visit
and South-East Asia are today vastly different from when Dr Sun
Yat-sen made his first visit to Malaya a hundred years ago, this
Dr LEE KAM HING reports.
Sun Yat-sen, leader of the 1911 Chinese revolution, first came
to Malaya on July 17, 1906.
REMBERANCE: A sculpture of Dr Sun Yat-Sen, Goh Say Eng and Ooi
Kim Kheng in front of the new Penang Philomatic Union building.
subsequent trip in 1910 took him to Penang, where he stayed for
nearly six months. While there, he planned the Wuchang uprising.
event precipitated the collapse of Manchu rule, and with that,
China emerged as Asias first modern republic.
Chinese support for Chinas revolution was so significant
that Dr Sun, who became Chinas first president, described
the Chinese overseas as the mother of the revolution.
there is scant recollection of Dr Suns first visit here
and the centenary is likely to pass with hardly any notice. Yet,
in the context of evolving relations between a rising China and
emerging South-East Asia, it merits mention.
recently marked its association with Dr Sun by holding an international
conference to mark 100 years of the founding there of a branch
of his revolutionary party, the Tungminghui or Urban League (Tung
Meng Hui in old spelling).
Chan, Taiwans former Vice-President and the Kuomintangs
honorary chairman, gave the keynote address.
Kuomintang was founded by Dr Sun when he merged the Tungminghui
with four smaller organisations. The conference noted how every
major event in China in the first half of the 20th century, including
the 1911 revolution, had impacted South-East Asia.
Sun in Malaya
Malaya did not escape the 20th century revolutionary politics
of China. When Dr Sun first came here in 1906, he visited Seremban,
Kuala Lumpur and Ipoh.
were then pioneering mining towns settled mainly by Chinese (predominantly
Cantonese), who had come from impoverished southern China.
were poor miners and traders, but there were also some very rich
tin miners whom Dr Sun had hoped would contribute generously to
local Chinese were divided about Dr Sun, a response that reflected
their class and dialect. Few of the rich merchants and miners
supported him because they were reluctant to be associated with
colonial authorities in charge then were vigilant about Dr Suns
activities, while the Manchu officials were competing for the
allegiance of the merchants with offers of honorary positions
and prestigious titles.
few merchants sympathetic to calls for political change in China
preferred the reformist Kang You-wei who, like Dr Sun, was also
in Kuala Lumpur, a few merchants, including Loke Chow Thye (brother
of Chow Kit), Too Nam, and Chan Chin Mooi, backed Dr Sun. Too
Nam had taught Chinese to Dr Sun when both were in Honolulu.
his visit, Dr Sun spoke at a meeting at a Sultan Street cinema
hall, to a largely working class audience. It was the largest
gathering he had ever addressed in South-East Asia.
in Singapore, enthusiasm for Dr Suns cause was on the decline.
So, in July 1910, he shifted his focus to Penang. It was there
that funds were raised and preparations completed for the Canton
Uprising on March 29, 1911.
Penang, Dr Suns supporters also started the Kwong Wah Yit
Poh, Malaysias oldest surviving Chinese newspaper.
is credited with the calligraphy used on its masthead. The Canton
Uprising failed, but supporters in that state persevered with
the groundwork for the more successful Wuchang Uprising of Oct
10, 1911, which led to the end of the Qing Dynasty.
Sun and South-East Asia
Suns Malayan visit ought to be viewed beyond the narrow
scope of overseas Chinese nationalism and Chinese politics.
specifically referred to Dr Suns nationalism when introducing
the Panca Sila (Five Principles) for his country.
emergence of political consciousness among overseas Chinese was
part of a wider nationalism in the region. As things were, his
evolutionary politics captured the political imagination of other
Dr Suns time, China was weak while South-East Asia, with
the exception of Thailand, had come under colonial rule. For Dr
Sun, the struggle was more than just freeing China from foreign
rule; he wanted to create a new political order.
hopes and political vision were encapsulated in Sanminzhu-i (Three
Principles of the People), in which he advocated nationalism,
democracy and the welfare of the people.
his brief term as president, Dr Sun tried to integrate the ethnic
minorities, enhance the welfare of the poor, promote womens
rights, solve farmers land problems, introduce Western democratic
institutions, and create a free press.
Indonesias first president, and Vietnams nationalist
leader Ho Chi Minh were influenced by Dr Sun and his writings.
Sukarno would have been about 11 years old then and he could have
witnessed the Chinese communities in his hometown enthusiastically
greeting news of the 1911 revolution.
later, on June 1, 1945, he specifically referred to Dr Suns
nationalism when introducing the Panca Sila (Five Principles)
for his country.
Leo Suryadinata, an Indonesian scholar with the Nanyang Technological
University in Singapore, suggested that Sukarnos five principles
of Panca Sila took off from Suns Sanminzhu-i. In turn, the
Panca Sila is said to have inspired Malaysias Rukun Negara.
a broader level, South-East Asia helped influence the course of
events in China. Indonesian political activists H. Sneevliet and
Tan Malaka went to China, in 1921 and 1923, respectively, to assist
the newly-formed Chinese Communist Party. Apart from that, they
held consultations with Dr Sun.
Emilio Aquinaldo, leader of the Filipino nationalists, reportedly
contributed 100,000 Japanese yen to Dr Sun at a time when he himself
was fighting a war of independence against Spain. It is believed
that Dr Sun arranged for two shiploads of arms from Japan for
Filipino nationalists who had sought his help.
attempts by the colonial rulers to separate the various nationalist
groups in the early 20th century, Asian political activists managed
to establish contact with one another.
the start of a sense of solidarity among Asian nationalists. This
connectedness of the regions early leaders is one theme
that deserves further attention.
trade and investments between China and South-East Asia are strengthening
relations between the two today. But beyond economics, both have
common historical experiences.
centenary of Dr Suns 1906 visit to Malaya is an occasion
to look back on past struggles in the region to break free from
foreign rule and create states that are strong but democratic,
fair and just.
were dramatic turning points in the flow of global history in
which our country played a significant part. The 1911 revolution
is one example.
often, these have become mere footnotes in our history. The fuller
narratives need to be retrieved so that we can appreciate the
historical forces of globalisation.