Sun Yat-sen

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Stanford University Press, 1998 - Biography & Autobiography - 480 pages
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Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925), the first president of the Republic of China, has left a supremely ambivalent political and intellectual legacy--so much so that he is claimed as a Founding Father by both the present rival governments in Taipei and Beijing. In Taiwan, he is the object of a veritable cult; in the People’s Republic of China, he is paid homage as "pioneer of the revolution,” making possible the Party’s claims of continuity with the national past. Western scholars, on the other hand, have tended to question the myth of Sun Yat-sen by stressing the man’s weaknesses, the thinker’s incoherences, and the revolutionary leader’s many failures.

This book argues that the life and work of Sun Yat-sen have been distorted both by the creation of the myth and by the attempts at demythification. Its aim is to provide a fresh overall evaluation of the man and the events that turned an adventurer into the founder of the Chinese Republic and the leader of a great nationalist movement. The Sun Yat-sen who emerges from this rigorously researched account is a muddled politician, an opportunist with generous but confused ideas, a theorist without great originality or intellectual rigor.

But the author demonstrates that the importance of Sun Yat-sen lies elsewhere. A Cantonese raised in Hawaii and Hong Kong, he was a product of maritime China, the China of the coastal provinces and overseas communities, open to foreign influences and acutely aware of the modern Western world (he was fund-raising in Denver when the eleventh attempt to bring down the Chinese empire finally succeeded). In facing the problems of change, of imitating the West, of rejecting or adapting tradition, he instinctively grasped the aspirations of his time, understood their force, and crystallized them into practical programs.

Sun Yat-sen’s gifts enabled him to foresee the danger that technology might represent to democracy, stressed the role of infrastructures (transport, energy) in economic modernization, and looked forward to a new style of diplomatic and international economic relations based upon cooperation that bypassed or absorbed old hostilities. These "utopias” of his, at which his contemporaries heartily jeered, now seem to be so many prophecies.


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an authoritative portrait of the only man revered by both the Nationalists and Communists as a Founding Father of modern China. Read full review

Review: Sun Yat-sen

User Review  - Goodreads

an authoritative portrait of the only man revered by both the Nationalists and Communists as a Founding Father of modern China. Read full review


The Formative Years 18661894
The Symbolic Creation of a Revolutionary Leader 18941897
The Symbolic Creation of a Revolutionary Movement 18971900
The Awakening of Chinese Nationalism and the Founding of
Sun and the Revolutionary Alliance
The Conspirator
The Adoptive Father of the Chinese Republic
Sun Yatsen Soviet Advisers and the Canton Revolutionary Base
Sun Yatsens Three Principles of the People
Sun Yatsens Death and Transformation
Biographical Sketches

Crossing the Desert 19131920

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About the author (1998)

Bergere is Professor of Chinese Civilization at the Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales in Paris

Janet Lloyd has translated more than seventy books from the French by authors such as Jean-Pierre Vernant, Marcel Detienne, and Philippe Descola.

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