Sun Yat-sen, the Founding Father of modern China, the Republic of China (Nationalist China) and the forerunner of democratic revolution in the People’s Republic of China, was born November 12, 1866, to an ordinary farmer’s family in Cuiheng Village, Xiangshan, in the south of the Pearl River Delta of the South China province of Guangdong.
In 1879, then 13 years of age, he journeyed to Hawaiʻi to join his older brother, Sun Mei, a successful rice farmer, rancher and merchant. He entered ʻIolani at age 14. With long hair pulled back in a traditional queue, he was enrolled in 1879 without knowing any English. (ʻIolani)
In Sun Yat-sen’s four years in Hawai’i (1879-1883), he is said to have attended three Christian educational institutions: ʻIolani College, Oʻahu College (Punahou School) and St Louis College.
He came to Hawaiʻi on six different occasions, initially for schooling and to support his brother’s businesses on Maui. Later, his trips were geared to gain support for revolutionizing China and fundraising for that end.
He was known by a lot of names. As a young student, he was called Tai Cheong or Tai Chu. His official name is Sun Wen; when he signed letters and documents in Chinese, he used the name Sun Wen. When he signed letters and documents in English, he used the name Sun Yat-sen. (Lum)
In 1897, when he was in Tokyo, he picked up a Japanese name, Nakayama, from a nameplate on a house he passed. In Chinese, Nakayama is read as Chung-Shan. This is how his name Sun Chung-shan came about. (Lum)
The place of his birth, previously known as Xiāngshān, had been renamed Zhōngshān – Sun Yat-sen was known in Chinese as Sun Zhongshan.
Let’s look a little closer at his birth place – while officially (and factually) Sun was born in China, he was able to later obtain a birth certificate that claimed he was a “native born Hawaiian.”
Sun needed to travel to get backing for his revolutionary plans, as well as raise funds to support it. With the US Chinese Exclusion Act (1882) severely limiting Chinese immigration, Sun had difficulty entering the US and was even detained by US authorities at one point.
To top it off, the Manchu Government first put a prize of $35,000 on his head and later, raised it to $75,000. Realizing his danger, Sun cut off his queue, raised a moustache, dressed himself in foreign style and look passage for Japan, where he preached his doctrine to the Chinese students in the Japanese universities. (In Young, 1911)
Sun’s detention prompted an overseas Chinese to say that if Sun wanted to promote a Chinese revolution on US soil, it would be best if he had US citizenship.
Sun’s friends in San Francisco set in motion plans for him to obtain US citizenship by faking a birth certificate showing that he was born in Honolulu. (Taipei Times)
In 1900, the Hawaiian Organic Act was passed stating that any person that was a citizen of the Republic of Hawaiʻi on or before August 12, 1898 would also become a citizen of the United States.
In various statements and affidavits, Sun and others set the foundation for a claim of his birth in Hawaiʻi. It was a makeshift plan for the good of the revolution. (Taipei Times)
“I was born in Honolulu and went to China came back from Hong Kong to Honolulu in the early part of 1896 or the last part of 1895, I staid at Honolulu for 4 or 5 months and then came on to San Francisco … I came in on Student and Travelers Sect. 6 certificate … as a subject of China.” (Sun Yat-sen April 14, 1904)
“Some time after the annexation of the Hawaiian Islands to the United States, there was a registration taken of all the residents for the purpose of ascertaining the nationality and birth of each resident.”
“I was registered in the Kula district, in the Island of Maui, as a Hawaiian-born Chinese, about March or April in the year 1901. That is the first thing that I did after the annexation of the Islands to show that I still claimed citizenship there … .” (Sun Yat-sen, April 21, 1904)
Supporting Sun’s birth place claims, Wong Kwai signed a sworn statement noting, “He (Sun) was born at Ewa (Waimano) Oahu.” Benjamin Starr Kapu further supported this noting, “Sun Yat-sen, a full Chinese person, who was born at Waimano Oahu … in the year 1870.”
His Punahou teacher, Francis Damon, certified to his good character but did not swear on the issue of birth. (Smyser)
As a “citizen of Hawaiʻi” Sun could travel to the US continent in the early-1900s to rally both support and funds for his revolutionary efforts.
In March 1904, while residing in Kula, Maui, Sun Yat-sen obtained a Certificate of Hawaiian Birth, issued by the Territory of Hawaiʻi, stating that “he was born in the Hawaiian Islands on the 24th day of November, AD 1870.”
Rather than using his own birth date, Sun selected November 24, 1870 to reflect the founding date of the Hsing Chung Hui to establish a connection with his revolutionary activities. (Taipei Times)
(On his third trip in Hawaiʻi (on November 24, 1894) Sun established the Hsing Chung Hui (Revive China Society,) his first revolutionary society. Among its founders were many Christians, one of them being Chung Ku Ai, his fellow student at ʻIolani (and later founder of City Mill.))
Although not born in the Islands, Sun Yat-sen apparently felt at home in Hawaiʻi. “This is my Hawai‘i … here I was brought up and educated, and it was here that I came to know what modern, civilized governments are like and what they mean.” (Sun Yat-sen, 1910)
When the birth certificate was no longer needed, he renounced it.
The revolutionary movement in China grew stronger and stronger. Tung Meng Hui members staged many armed uprisings, culminating in the October 10, 1911 Wuhan (Wuchang) Uprising which succeeded in overthrowing the Manchu dynasty and established the Republic of China.
That date is now celebrated annually as the Republic of China’s national day, also known as the “Double Ten Day”. On December 29, 1911, Sun Yat-sen was elected the interim president. After Sun’s death on March 12, 1925, Chiang Kai-shek became the leader of the Kuomintang (KMT.)