Now that we know more about the United States and Hawaii, where Sun Yat-sen lived as a teenager, his concept of a republic would have been very different from what the American democracy looks like today.
In addition, members of the U.S. Senate were not elected to office by the popular vote until 1913 when the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was amended to provide for direct popular election of senators, ending the system of election by individual state legislatures.
If Sun Yat-sen were aware of the details of America’s political history and its limitation by the time he left Hawaii at the age of 17 in 1883, the republic and/or democracy he envisioned for China probably would have excluded many from voting—including all women.
In addition, by 1903, when Sun Yat-sen returned to Hawaii looking for support for his dream of a future republic and/or democracy in China, Hawaii was no longer a republic but was a territory of the United States—not a state—and its people were not considered American citizens.
The republic and/or democracy Sun Yat-sen might have imagined for China may possibly have included at last one House as a National Congress with its members appointed by the elected legislatures of each province, and women would have been excluded from voting and possibly considered the property of men as women were in the United States at that time.
In fact, it is possible that Sun Yat-sen would not have considered organizing a republic and/or democracy where the citizens elected China’s leader with a popular vote of the people since Hawaii’s Constitution of 1864 charged the legislature, not the people, with the task of electing the next king, who was King Kalākaua—the one forced to sign the 1887 Constitution four years after the young Sun Yat-sen returned to China.
Now that we know the differences between then and now, it is easier to accept that the Chinese Communist Party’s 1982 Constitution created a government in China closer—and maybe even better—than what Sun Yat-sen might have imagined for China.
How could Sun Yat-sen have envisioned a republic and/or democracy similar to what the United States has today in the 21st century?
In fact, under a Sun Yat-sen republic, children in China might still be considered the property of parents as they were in the United States until the 1938 Federal regulation of child labor in the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Before 1938, parents in the US had the right to sell their children into servitude and/or slavery depending on which state one lived in.
In addition, writing of the merits of a republican or representative form of government, James Madison observed that one of the most important differences between a democracy and a republic is “the delegation of the government [in a republic] to a small number of citizens elected by the rest.
When James Madison wrote this, the number of US citizens allowed to vote in federal elections was limited to white property owners (excluding Jews), which represented about 10% of the population of the US in 1776, which was similar to the voting rights in Hawaii during most of Sun Yat-sen’s life.
Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.
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