Sun Over Hawaii

Updated: 2011-10-09 07:17

By Hu Yongqi and Peng Yining (China Daily)

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Educating a young Sun

Sun Yat-sen spent his formative years in Hawaii, attending the Iolani School and Punahou School.

In September 1879, he was enrolled in Iolani School, a mission school run by the Anglican Church at that time and one of the best schools in Honolulu.

Although he did not speak a word of English when he first joined his class, Sun learned quickly. When he graduated in 1882, he was second in grammar and was awarded a prize by King Kalakaua.

"This prize was a special honor for Sun and for the whole school. He had to be really competitive to win the reward," says Jane Rolfing Heimerdinger, director of Institutional Advancement of Iolani. "Apart from English, Sun was also well-grounded in mathematics and science. It was his first exposure to a Christian school and Western culture."

Iolani commemorated its illustrious alumnus with two bronze sculptures of Sun Yat-sen at the school, and in 2007, it sent nine students on a tour of Sun Yat-sen's historical monuments in China.

In 1883, Sun entered Punahou School (then called the Oahu College). United States President Barack Obama attended the same college, from 1971 to 1979.

During his years at Iolani and Punahou, Sun was exposed to Western culture and was deeply influnced by Hawaii's "aloha" spirit - which advocated love, peace, compassion and mercy. His exposure to Christianity at the mission school also resulted in Sun being baptized in Hong Kong later.

Later, the society's headquarters would be moved to Hong Kong. In August 1905, Sun reorganized the Xingzhong Hui into the Tongmeng Hui (Alliance Society) and based it in Tokyo where he was living.

But Sun never forgot his early years in Hawaii. His student days there would influence him in later life and it was also here that the seeds of Western democracy were planted in his young mind.

It was the first place he returned to when he needed help for his revolution. To organize uprisings against the Qing Dynasty, Sun traveled the world to raise funds from the overseas Chinese with which to purchase weapons and ammunition and support the army.

From 1894 to 1925, the Chinese in Hawaii contributed a total of $250,000 in support of the revolution. Some also sacrificed their lives for the cause. Among them was Lu How-tung, Sun's childhood friend. Lu instigated the first Guangdong uprising in 1895 with Sun, but was arrested and executed. He was one of the first martyrs to sacrifice his life for the revolution.

In all, Sun staged 10 uprisings against the Qing before the Wuchang Uprising on Oct 10, 1911 finally led to the collapse of Qing Dynasty and the establishment of the Republic of China.

It is an achievement that still excites passion today.

Robert Ching, a Hawaiian-born Chinese in his 60s, could not stop cheering at a concert commemorating the 100th anniversary of the revolution in Honolulu.

At the concert held at the Neal S. Blaisdell Concert Hall, he was entertained by a cultural troupe of singers and dancers under the wing of the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the State Council and China Overseas. During the anniversary celebrations, the Office had sent out three troupes to perform in places where Dr Sun Yat-sen had lived and traveled, including North America, Southeast Asia, and East Asia (Republic of Korea and Japan). Honolulu was an indispensable stop, and the celebrations included the concert and a photo exhibition held before the National Day holiday.

For Robert Ching, the concert was the highlight. The retired naval officer had been learning Chinese for more than 10 years, and apart from his passion for the language, he is also a huge fan of Chinese culture. He would be the first to rush for a ticket whenever there was a performance.

"The cultural performance let me experience authentic Chinese arts. I am most interested in Peking opera," Ching says.

He has maintained his connection to his ancestral homeland as vice president of the See Dai Doo Society, which gathers together more than 2, 000 Hawaiian Chinese whose origins are from Zhongshan in Guangdong province. More than a century ago, the society did its part by contributing $2,000 to the Xinhai Revolution. And now, a rare photograph of Sun Yat-sen in military uniform hangs in the hall of the See Dai Doo Building.

Every Tuesday night, about 20 members gather here to practice tai chi, and sometimes they also gather to remember the close ties between the society and Dr Sun, who was also a Zhongshan native.

Sun Over Hawaii

Members of the See Dai Doo Society practice tai chi every Tuesday night. Hu Yongqi / China Daily

A century has gone by, but Dr Sun and the revolution are still deeply entrenched in the memories of many overseas Chinese, a legacy that they carefully preserve.

Roger Ames, former director of the Center for Chinese Studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, says: "Everybody in Hawaii ought to know Sun Yat-sen. He is a son of Hawaii."

Ames says Sun was a man of extraordinary vision, in the writing of the constitution, and in interpreting democratic theories." He was ahead of everybody (in China) and he actually wanted a bloodless revolution."

In recognition of the links between Hawaii and its people and Dr Sun and his contributions to Hawaii, the Honolulu City Council had declared 2011 the Year of Dr Sun Yat-sen in Hawaii.

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