Looking at Sun Yat-sen’s vision of a republic in China: Part 2 of 2

We must also ask how many Chinese would have been allowed to vote in Sun Yat-sen’s republic.

To find out, we need to take a closer look at who was eligible to vote in the United States during Sun’s life to discover that minorities [China has 56] and women in the United States were often not allowed to vote. In addition, some American states at the time had literacy laws in place and eligible adult men [mostly minorities] had to pass a literacy test to be able to vote. The first literacy test for voting was adopted by Connecticut in 1855. In fact, ten of the eleven southern states had subjective literacy tests that were used to restrict voter registration, but some of those states used grandfather clauses to exempt white voters from taking literacy tests.

Knowing this, it is highly likely that Sun Yat-sen would have created a republic in China that only allowed educated and wealthy Han Chinese men to vote. Women and children would have remained chattel—the property of men to be bought and sold at will for any reason—as they had for thousands of years and China’s minorities would have had no rights.

Therefore, once we subtract children, women, minorities, Han Chinese adult males who did not own property and any of those who were illiterate from the eligible voting population, what’s left is less than five percent of the adult population—and the educated Han elite adult males who owned property would rule the country. Most of the people in China would have no voice; no vote.

What about today’s China?

Six-hundred million rural Chinese are allowed to vote in local elections—only CCP members vote in national elections but at last count, there were 80 million CCP members; China’s leader—with limited powers—may only serve two five-year terms. And China has its own form of an electoral college. The President of China is elected by the National People’s Congress [NPC] with 2,987 members [dramatically more than the Electoral College in the United States]. The NPC also has the power to remove the President and other state officers from office. Elections and removals are decided by a simple majority vote.

There is another significant difference between China’s NPC and America’s Electoral College—members of China’s NPC are elected but members of America’s Electoral College are appointed by the major political parties in the United States. This means that the American people have no say in the few hundred who elect the U.S. President.

Then there is this fact: China’s culture is influenced by Buddhism, Daoism and Confucianism—not Christianity, Islam or Judaism—and all three of these Asian religions/philosophies emphasizes harmony with little or no focus on individual rights as practiced in Europe and North America. Knowing that, it is highly likely that Sun Yat-sen would have supported some form of censorship over individuals in China when too much freedom of expression threatened the nation’s harmony.

Return to or start with Looking at Sun Yat-sen’s vision of a republic in China: Part 1

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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4 Responses to Looking at Sun Yat-sen’s vision of a republic in China: Part 2 of 2

  1. Choi Siu Yan says:

    I thought using one’s own wording is a better way of interpreting his own idea. Your passage triggered me to pick up and read Dr Sun’s book about people’s right again. In it he already mentioned that women in some countries has voting right. In his book, when he talk about people’s right (including right of voting), he frequently mentioned that it is 400 million people’s right. Four hundred million was the estimated population of the then China, that is the whole China. His expected voting pool may not be as limited as your estimation.

    • Citations and Links, thank you. How well does a democracy work when 95% of the population is illiterate? I think 5% was the literacy rate in the early part of the 20th century. It was 20% when Mao died in 1976.

      Take a look at India if you’re not sure of the answer. About a third of India’s population is illiterate.

      How well is that democracy working out?

      India has the highest rate of people living in extreme poverty and several thousand children die of malnutrition or starvation daily.

      “Malnutrition accounts for nearly 50% of child deaths in India as every third adult (aged 15-49 years) is reported to be thin (BMI less than 18.5).”

      “More than 27% of the world’s undernourished population lives in India while 43% of children (under 5 years) in the country are underweight. The figure is among the highest in the world and is much higher than the global average of 25% and also higher than sub-Saharan Africa’s figure of 28%.”


      Every river in India is polluted. India doesn’t have enough safe water for its people. By contrast, China does have some rivers that haven’t been polluted by industry yet and if the tap water isn’t safe, distilled and purified water is usually available from local markets.

      “At 25 percent of the population, India’s middle class is small – that compares to 63 percent in China, 50 percent in Bhutan and 40 percent in Pakistan.”


      • Choi Siu Yan says:

        Sorry that I can’t give you any link. I try to quot and translate form the book as below and hope that it can prove the originality of the idea is from Dr Sun.
        The book is 三民主義(增錄民生主義育樂兩篇補述), the Three People’s Principle(with additional two pages about people’s living, education and recreation).
        My remark: the additional pages was written by Jiang Jie Shi (蔣介石)
        Published by 正中書局, ZhengZhong Book Store.
        First edition 民國三十三年三月臺初版(1944 March) and Seventh edition 民國六十二年九月七版(1973 Sep)

        On page136 line 4 : 歐戰以後,俄國德國的專制政府都被推倒了,女子選舉權也有好幾國爭到手了(After European war, the authoritarian government of Russia and Germany was pushed down, women of a few countries get the voting right in hand)
        My remark: European war is the first world war.

        Page 54 line13: 我們現在實行民權,四萬萬人都是皇帝,就是有四萬萬個阿斗(Now we practice the people’s right, 400 million people become the emperor, that is 400 million ‘e dou’).
        My remark: ‘e dou’ was the emperor of 蜀(shu) during the Three Kingdom Era who was famous as a dumb emperor.

        Page 154-155: 中國要分開權與能,是很容易的事,因為中國有阿斗和諸葛亮的先例可援,如果政府是好的,我們四萬萬人便把他當做諸葛亮,把國家的全權都交到他們;如果政府是不好的,我們四萬萬人可以實行皇帝的職權,罷免他們 (It is very easy for China to distinguish between right and power, because China has a counter example of ‘e dou’ and Zhu Ge Liang, if the government is good then 400 million people will treat it as Zhu Ge Liang, we offer all the power to it. If the government is not good, the 400 million people will assume the right of the emperor and impeach it.)
        My remark: ‘Zhu Ge Liang’ is the prime minister of ‘e dou’.

        In fact I agree that democracy is not the cure all medicine in politics. India, really can be taken as a text book example in illustrating the failure of democracy. What I differ from you is that Dr Sun’s original idea about voting may not be limited only to the minor Han’s male elite as you proposed. However through out his book he also feel concern about the misuse of the people’s right which will turn into rule of mob.

      • Thank you. Is the book only published in Mandarin?

        Another thought to consider is the fact that once a republic and/or democracy is launched it takes on a life of its own like a grown child approaching twenty who leaves home and follows their own path regardless of what the parents might want them to do. One person—Sun Yat-Sen—couldn’t control what happened or he would be a dictator. All we have to do is look at the United States. While writing the Constitution, the Founders had to compromise and accept slavery; it took almost
        150 years before women were given the vote and they still have not achieved equal status under federal law because far right conservatives keep blocking the Equal Rights Amendment. Children were also considered property and could be sold into a form of slavery called servitude until the early part of the 20th century.

        In fact, isn’t that what happened in China—compromise I mean? Sun was only the Provision President of China who served from January 1, 2012 to March 10 of the same year and then Yuan Shikai took over. He was the Premier of the Kuomintang Party of China longer from October 1999 to March 1925 but that’s like being the leader of the Republican or Democratic Party in the US—not the leader of a nation.

        I wonder what would have happened of Chiang Kai-Shek hadn’t decided to kill off all the Communists after Sun died. Maybe the different parties that Sun brought together would have compromised to create a republic in China without all the war. Maybe China would have been in better shape to drive off the Japanese and stall World War II in the Pacific.

        Then that brings up another question: Who voted in the February 1913 democratic elections? For sure, as fractured as China was at the time it would have been impossible to hold a democratic election where all eligible Chinese adults could vote.

        The answer to the question is that a very small segment of China’s political elite voted in the first election (a sliver of the population in Nanjing): “Yuan Shikai was elected Provisional President of the Republic of China by the Nanjing Provisional Senate on 14 February 1912, and sworn in on 10 March of that year.” But then how is that different from the U.S. President being picked by a few hundred Americans who were not elected by the people? The Congress doesn’t decide who the president of the US is. The people don’t decide. A band of about 500 men and women who are appointed by the two major political parties decides.

        Then Yuan made himself an emperor ending the republic such as it was leading to another revolution that the KMT lost. And the reason, Yuan became president is because Sun had to compromise to gain his support by handing him the presidency.

        As for the will of the people, I doubt that there’s ever been total support by the public for anything in any country at any time in history. There will always be different political agendas and different factions and the one that wins will get its way—the rule of nature is survival of the strongest (and usually the most brutal). Even in Russia there were the white and red communists who fought each other for control.

        We see a power struggle in every election in the United States as power shifts in the White House and Congress from one political party to the other—sometimes balanced and sometimes not. The perfect example is what’s happening in the Republican Party today as its members battle inside the party for control between traditional conservatives and the extreme tea party conservatives that are funded by two billionaires who believe in libertarianism— two brothers using their great wealth to manipulate a country into what they think it should be.

        You’re right about India. When we compare the histories of both China and India it doesn’t take long to discover that India was never a unified country until the British Empire made it that way. China, by comparison, was unified more than two thousand years ago, fell apart and was unified again a number of times but for most of that time was one country that created itself instead of being forced to become a country by a conqueror.

        India will probably always be a mess unless it breaks up into countries that represent all the different languages and cultures.

        It’s obvious that no matter what Sun might have envisions for a Republic in China, he wasn’t going to get all that the wanted because that’s how it works. The US is the perfect example even to this day different political factions manipulate, lie, slander, libel all in the name of political/religious agendas and the drive to hold power—each factions thinks its better and superior to the rest. Sun was right to be concerned about the rule of the mob. The U.S. has a few examples of mob rule in its history but the country has recovered and managed to take the power back from the mob. Right now, I think the tea party movement is the latest example of that—an attempt by an organized mob backed by a few billionaires who want to control the politics of the country.

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