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Sun Yat-sen

Father of Republican China

Dr. Sun Yat-sen in Canada, 1911 (David Lee fonds, University of Victoria Archives).

Dr. Sun Yat-sen in Canada, 1911 (David Lee fonds, University of Victoria Archives).

Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925), the father of Republican China, visited Victoria at least two times as part of his effort to launch the Republican Revolution against the Qing dynasty (1644-1912), the last imperial regime of China. Sun was a native of Xiangshan (or Hsiang-shan, now Zhongshan) county near Canton, which sent out large numbers of early Chinese emigrants to Victoria, Honolulu, and other cities in the Americas, Australia and Southeast Asia. He first received a Western education in Honolulu between 1879 and 1883, and acquired a medical degree in Hong Kong in 1892. Due to his disillusionment with the Qing dynasty, Sun founded the first revolutionary organization, the Revive China Society (Xing-Zhong hui), among Cantonese immigrants in Honolulu in 1894. In 1895, he mobilized his revolutionary followers, including members of the Hong Society or the Triad Society around Canton, to launch the first of his ten uprisings against the Qing government. However, this uprising was aborted in Canton before it started, and Sun had to flee successively to Japan, the United States, and then to England.

In 1897, Sun Yat-sen returned from Europe to Asia by way of Canada, but he was shadowed all the way by an official of the Qing government and a British private detective hired by the Chinese consulate in London. Sun arrived in Montreal on July 11 and in Vancouver one week later. After staying one night in Vancouver and another day in Nanaimo, Sun came to Victoria on July 20 and stayed here until August 2 when he took a transpacific liner to Japan. Due to the surveillance of the Qing official and British detective, Sun engaged in only limited revolutionary propaganda among local Chinese in Canada. But in Japan he established a more inclusive and influential organization, the Revolutionary Alliance (Tongmeng hui), in 1905.

Memorial service for Dr. Sun Yat-sen in Victoria, 12 April 1925 (City of Victoria Archives, M07244).

Memorial service for Dr. Sun Yat-sen in Victoria, 12 April 1925 (City of Victoria Archives, M07244).

Although it is widely claimed that Sun Yat-sen visited Canada, including Victoria, for a second time in 1910, he probably did not come here again until his last visit in 1911. In order to raise funds for a new anti-Qing uprising in Canton, Sun came to North America in January 1911 and arrived in Vancouver on February 6. Because Sun had joined the anti-Qing secret society, the Hong Society, in Honolulu in 1904, he was warmly welcomed in Vancouver by one of the Society’s North American branches, the Chee Kung Tong (later the Chinese Freemasons). However, it was in Victoria that Sun achieved the greatest success in his fundraising campaign because he effectively mobilized the Canadian headquarters of the Chee Kung Tong in this city to mortgage its building for $12,000 in February 1911. Thus, Victoria’s Chee Kung Tong became the largest financial contributor to the Canton Uprising. The Chee Kung Tong’s branches in other Canadian cities followed the precedent of their headquarters in Victoria, and in total they contributed nearly half of the funds for Sun’s uprising.

As a result, Sun Yat-sen’s tenth anti-Qing uprising broke out in Canton on April 27, 1911. Although it still failed tragically, the Republican Revolution finally succeeded in toppling the Qing dynasty after Sun’s followers in Wuchang, the capital of Hubei Province in central China, launched a military uprising on October 10, 1911. Due largely to Sun’s long-term leadership in the revolutionary movement, he was elected as the provisional president of the Republic of China that came into being on January 1, 1912. Because Sun’s revolutionary movement, including the Canton uprising of April 27, 1911, was based mainly on support from overseas Chinese, it is claimed that he regarded the latter as the mother of China’s revolution. In this sense, it is appropriate to say that the Chinese community in Victoria helped nurture not only China’s Republican Revolution in 1911 but also the father of Republican China.

By Zhongping Chen


Chen Xiqi et al., eds. Sun Zhongshan nianpu changbian (A detailed chronological life of Sun Yat-sen). Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1991.

Lai, Chuen-yan David. “Contribution of the Zhigongtang in Canada to the Huanghuagang Uprising in Canton, 1911.” Canadian Ethnic Studies 14.3 (1982): 95-104.