Hawaii was not a democracy modeled after today’s United States when Sun Yat-sen lived there from age 13 to 17 [1879 – 1883].
In fact, when Sun Yat-sen lived in Hawaii, it was a kingdom ruled by a king and was a Constitutional Monarchy similar to but not the same as Great Britain.
It wouldn’t be until 1887, that the Hawaiian King Kalākaua was forced to sign the 1887 Constitution of the Kingdom of Hawaii—four years after Sun Yat-sen had returned to China—that stripped the king of any authority he had turning him into a figurehead.
In addition, there was a property qualification in 1887’s Hawaiian Constitution for voting rights similar to what the Founding Fathers wrote into the U.S. Constitution in 1776, and resident whites in Hawaii, who owned property, since Asians were not allowed to own property or could not afford to buy it, were the only ones allowed to vote.
Meanwhile, the American Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 excluded skilled and unskilled Chinese from entering the United States for ten years under penalty of imprisonment and deportation. In the U.S. at this time, many Chinese were relentlessly beaten or murdered just because of their race.
Therefore, when Sun Yat-sen lived in Hawaii as a Chinese teenager, it was not a republic or a democracy and he was a second-class person barred from entering the United States.
The structure of the political system in the United States was also dramatically different from the one America has today.
In 1790, the Constitution explicitly says that only “free white” immigrants could become naturalized citizens.
In 1848, Mexican-Americans were granted U.S. Citizenship but not voting rights.
In 1856, voting rights were expanded to all white men and not just property owners.
In 1868, four years after the end of the American Civil War, former slaves were granted citizenship, however only African-American men were allowed to be citizens and the right to vote was left up to each state.
In 1870, the 15th Amendment was passed saying the right to vote could not be denied by the federal or state governments based on race (this still did not include women), but some states restricted the right to vote based on voting taxes and literacy tests.
In 1876, the US Supreme Court ruled that Native Americans were not citizens and could not vote.
In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act barred people of Chinese ancestry from naturalizing to become U.S. citizens.
In 1920, the right to vote was extended to women with the 19th Amendment. – U.S. Voting Rights Timeline
What do you think Sun Yat-sen learned from these facts about the U.S. republic and democracy?
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 unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.
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