Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The ROC's founder

I won't have space to fit this short profile of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the man regarded as the founding father of the Nationalist Republic of China, in the book.

Sun Yixian (Yat-sen is in fact the pronunciation of his given name in Cantonese) was born on November 12, 1866 in a village 26km north of Macau, then a Portuguese colony. After receiving a high school education in Hawaii he studied medicine in Guangzhou and then Hong Kong, where he was baptised.

Troubled by the backwardness of China and obsessed by the cause of national salvation, he joined an anti-Qing secret society and took part in several unsuccessful rebellions. In 1896 he was a political exile living in London. Later he travelled in Japan, the USA and Canada, raising funds and seeking support from Chinese in those countries. After the uprising that toppled the last emperor in 1911, Sun became provisional president.

One of Sun's first decisions was that the government would follow the Gregorian calendar rather than the lunar calendar and that years would be counted from the founding of the ROC. He quickly relinquished office – too quickly, many think – and China’s central government loss sway over much of the country. In the months before his death from liver cancer on March 12, 1925 he urged national reunification. The following year, Chiang Kai-shek – the man Sun had chosen to head the ROC’s military academy and his widow’s brother-in-law – launched the Northern Expedition.

In Taiwan, Sun is commemorated in street names (every town and city has a Zhongshan Road, Zhongshan being his honorific name) and the name of a major university. In the eastern part of Taipei, the main landmark - apart from Taipei 101 - is the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall.

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