China is often criticized for not being a democracy with the same freedom of expression that the 1st Amendment of the United States offers its citizens.
However, no one considers that the political structure of today’s China might be closer to Sun Yat-sen’s vision than the democracy we find in the United States. In fact, the China ruled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) may offer the Chinese people more of a voice than the republic Sun Yat-sen was building before his death.
Sun Yat-sen [1866 – 1925], considered the father of China’s republic both on the mainland and Taiwan, was introduced to the United States in 1882 when he attended a Christian school in Hawaii. That experience exposed him to American politics, and later he wrote that he wanted to model China’s government after America but by combining Western thought with Chinese tradition.
To learn about the United States that Sun Yat-sen discovered, we must step back and examine America’s political structure at that time.
“After the British were defeated a centralized, national government was seen by George Washington and company not as a method of extending freedom and the right to vote, but as a way of keeping control in the hands of rich. They wrote several anti-democratic provisions into the U.S. Constitution. Slavery was institutionalized. The Senate was not to be elected directly by the people; rather Senators were to be appointed by state legislatures. The President was not to be directly elected by the voters, but elected through an electoral college. The Supreme Court was to be appointed. Only the House of Representatives was elected directly.” (http://www.williampmeyers.org/republic.html)
In 1920, five years before Sun died, the right to vote was extended to women in the United States in both state and federal elections. Where was Sun when this happened? He was in China leading a rebellion and struggling to build a multi-party republic that included the Communist and Nationalist parties. His ideas of what a republic would look like in China had formed decades earlier.
The political climate that existed in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries will show us what Sun learned about politics in the United States. For instance, there was the Chinese Exclusion Act passed by Congress in the spring of 1882 that was still in force. It wouldn’t be until 1942 that the act would be repealed.
In addition, in 1922, the US Supreme Court ruled that people of Japanese heritage could not become naturalized citizens. The following year the Supreme Court ruled that Asian Indians also could not become citizens, and the law that barred Native American’s from voting wasn’t removed until 1947.
How about the way children were treated in the United States?
It may shock some that children could be sold into slavery and end up working in factories, coal mines and whore houses as young as five. It wouldn’t be until 1938 that a federal law stopped this form of child slavery in the United States. America’s Civil War [1861 – 1865] may have ended black slavery but it didn’t free women and children of any race.
Continued on January 22, 2014 in Looking at Sun Yat-sen’s vision of a republic in China: Part 2
Discover three of China’s other republics; then decide how they are different from China.
Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. 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.
His latest novel is the multiple-award winning Running with the Enemy.
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