Sun Yat-sen: The Western Influence on His Ideas

May 2, 1998

Sun Yat-sen was one of the originators of the Chinese revolution. He had goals and ideas that he thought would bring about a better China. These ideas, though, were not commonplace in the East. Sun’s time spent in America helped him come up with Western ideas and principles that he thought would improve the state of his country, China.
When Sun Yat-sen was twelve he, along with his brother Ah-mei, left China and went to Honolulu (Buck 14-16). After a few years went by, Sun decided that he wanted to practice medicine and was taught by some American doctors, who later supported him in his revolution (Jansen 636). Pearl.S.Buck says that while Sun was in Honolulu studying, he learned American ways (19). These ways were later applied to his ideas behind the revolution. Another Western belief also made Sun feel as if China needed a change.
Christianity was adopted by Sun while in America. He took up Christianity because the Christians had developed science, which he was fascinated with (Buck 17). Christianity also gave him ideas about what he wanted changed in China.

Sun Yat-sen knew that his country needed help, especially with its government. The country was falling apart and Sun wanted a new government for China. He felt that the spread of Christianity might be able to help China (Buck 26). Sun’s other ideas were also greatly based on those of the West.
Sun Yat-sen was one of the first people to introduce Western ideas, that he learned in America, into China. He introduced Western science, government, and industrial methods. Sun introduced a Western tendency for many different things that needed help in China. For example, China needed a new government, so he introduced democracy (Sharmon 329).
Lyon Sharmon emphasizes, “[Sun Yat-sen] is the symbol of his country’s purpose to reconstruct herself along modern lines after the manner of the West. There he is an exact symbol; he himself was a Westernized Chinese, thinking in terms of the West more than in Eastern Terms” (317).
Sun Yat-sen took the Western ideas that he liked, and used them. He also took the ideas that he didn’t like too much and improved upon them (Sharmon 275). One set of his ideas was called The Three Principles of the People, which were greatly influenced by his observations while in America.
The Three Principles of the People were introduced in 1905 by Sun Yat-sen as a solution of China’s problems. The influence came partly from Abraham Lincoln. Sharmon says, “The Three Principles of the People

correspond with the principles stated by President Lincoln-’government of the people, by the people, for the people’” (271). The three principles are Nationalism, Democracy, and People’s Livelihood, or Socialism. These principles tell the Chinese what they must do in order to make China a real and strong democracy (Buck 158), something that Sun wanted to really establish (Jansen 636). The principle of Nationalism was one that was really stressed, and most important for awhile, for Sun (Jansen 637).
China, at this time, was infested with foreigners, so that a feeling of Nationalism was low for China. Sun wanted to introduce this feeling of nationalism again for the Chinese. Sun’s principle of Nationalism was about independence for China. He also felt that he must spread the ideas of their civilization, and absorb the ideas from other civilizations. He wanted a “Brotherhood of Nations” (“Sun”). He also wanted China to be equal with the Western powers (Jansen 637). Democracy was also one of Sun’s principles. It was also his most Western principle.
Sun wanted China to have a democracy like the United States, except differently organized. Sun believed that the people were incapable of exercising the power of democracy, and they needed to be trained by an elite called a Koumintang (Jansen 637). Sun felt that China needed a democracy for three reasons.
All through my revolutionary career, I have held the view that


China must be made a republic. There are three reasons. First, from a theoretical point of view, there is no ground for preserving a monarchical form of government, since it is widely recognized that the people constitute the foundation for a nation and they are all equal in their own country.