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Chinatown Pays Tribute to the "Father of Modern China"

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Yesterday, on the anniversary of his death, Chinatown honored the memory of Sun Yat Sen, who many consider to be the father of modern China. One of the local merchants searched for the right words to describe him, "He is like our George Washington." The statue of Sun Yat Sen that sits at the entrance to the East Gate was decorated with yellow flowers, and each ribbon on each arrangement was carefully placed so that the lettering would be visible.

Sun Yat Sen helped lead the rebellion against the Qing (Manchu) Dynasty. When the Republic of China (ROC) was founded in 1912, he was the provisional president and later served as the first president of the Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang ). Sun lived out his early teen years in Honolulu with his older brother, where he learned to speak English and became an American citizen.

Three years after moving to America, Sun Yat Sen's brother sent him back to China, concerned that he appeared to be embracing Christianity. After his newfound democratic beliefs began to conflict with the politics of mainland China, Sun relocated to Hong Kong, where he studied in missionary schools and did convert to Christianity.

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Sun went on to earn a medical degree, marry, and father three children. However, he quit his medical practice to devote himself to transforming China into a "Western-style democratic monarchy." He soon changed his philosophy to promoting a Chinese republic, and he spent 20 years of his life fighting for its establishment.

Sun attached particular importance to the ideas of Alexander Hamilton and Abraham Lincoln. Sun often said that the formulation from Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, “government of the people, by the people, for the people”, had been the inspiration for the Three Principles of the People. He also incorporated these ideas, later in life, in two highly influential books. - Wikipedia

In 1894, Sun returned to Hawaii to found an organization with the goal of reforming China. After his first coups failed, he traveled to various countries, writing articles and garnering support.

While in exile in the United States, Sun learned of the Wuchang Uprising and immediately returned to China, bringing his Sworn Chinese Brotherhood to support the rebellion. After helping to establish the Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) and being elected president in 1913, Sun was faced with an uprising from the military. After Yuan Shikai assisted in quelling the uprising, Yuan declared himself emperor.

Sun sought asylum in Japan, returning to China in 1917 to attempt to unify what had become a fractionalized government. He established the Three Principles of the People and The Constitution of the Republic of China. He faced much political opposition, and after years of struggle for power, finally began cooperating with the Chinese Communist Party in 1921. His second wife, Soong Ching-ling, was a political radical with an American degree and she assisted him with his developing philosophy. He hoped to find a way to eventually transition the government towards a more democratic system and to find a balance between democracy, socialism and nationalism, which he espouses in his landmark Speech on Pan-Asianism.

Sun died of liver cancer on March 12, 1925 in Beijing.

As victors, the Kuomintang reclaimed Sun. They built him an immense mausoleum near their new capital of Nanjing and sent his body across China by railway in an impressive mourning cortège, making his burial an event of political enshrinement. Sun's writings thereafter became the central ideology of the Kuomintang on the mainland and later in Taiwan. The communists, after their victory over nationalist forces in 1949, also claimed Sun for themselves, citing his insistence that a communist alliance was essential to the political development of China. So it is to this day, in both China and Taiwan, that Sun's strong personality and oddly mixed political fortunes remain a central part of the national memories of revolution and transformation. The doctor was never able to heal the divisions among his people, but they remain united in their reverence for his efforts. - Time Asia

Although the mood in Chinatown yesterday was one of comraderie and nostalgia, there was also a somber air. Men in business suits gazed at the statue thoughtfully, some with their arms draped across each other's shoulders. I did not wait around for ceremonies or speeches, and left them to honor their hero in peace.

Photos by Elise Thompson for LAist

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