Dr. Sun Yat Sen (1866-1925) was the foremost Asian nationalist figure of the early 20th century. In 1911, he led the Chinese Revolution that ushered in the first republic in Asia. Today, he is regarded as the father of modern China.
The Huanghuagang Uprising (also called the Canton Uprising or Second Guangzhou Uprising) of spring 1911, a turning point of the revolution, was strongly supported by the Overseas Chinese.
Dr. Sun’s political party was the Tongmenghui or China Revolutionary Alliance. In 1910, the Southeast Asia headquarters of the Tongmenghui moved to Penang. At the time, the Penang Philomatic Union, based at 120 Armenian Street, was the cover for the Penang Tongmenghui.
Today, 120 Armenian Street showcases an exhibition on Dr. Sun Yat Sen in Penang.
It was in Penang that Dr. Sun convened the Penang Conference to plan the Huanghuagang Uprising in Guangzhou, China. The seed of the Wuchang Uprising was also initially planted here.
Dr. Sun gave a famous speech at 120 Armenian Street to launch his fundraising campaign and raised $8,000 Straits Dollars on the spot. The Kwong Wah Jit Poh, one of the world’s oldest Chinese newspaper was launched by Dr. Sun and his Penang supporters at these premises a few weeks later.
Dr. Sun lived in Penang for six months in 1910 together with his family, including his second wife Chen Cui Fen.
Dr. Sun Yat Sen, the International Revolutionary
Dr. Sun Yat Sen alias Sun Chong San was born in Guangdong Province, near Macao. He studied as a youth in Hawaii and Hong Kong and worked as a medical doctor in Canton and Macao.
Sailing several times around the world, he campaigned for the Chinese Revolution, attracting considerable support from the Overseas Chinese.
Dr. Sun promoted the ideology of the ‘Three Principles of the People’ (Nationalism, People’s Power and People’s Livelihood).
Sun Yat Sen in London
After the first Guangzhou Uprising failed in 1895, Sun fled China with a price on his head. In 1896 Sun was visiting his mentor James Cantlie – the Scottish physician who founded the medical college which became Hong Kong University – when he was kidnapped by the Chinese Legation. He smuggled a note out to Cantlie, who got him rescued and helped him publicise this incident in a book. ‘Kidnapped in London’ established Sun’s name as the most famous Chinese revolutionary in the Western world.
Dr. Sun Yat Sen in Penang
Dr. Sun first came to Penang in 1905. Each year, he visited Penang to give speeches and promote the Chinese Revolution.
He moved the Southeast Asian headquarters of the Tongmenghui from Singapore to Penang, at a time when his greatest backing came from the Penang party members.
Dr. Sun’s Penang Supporters
From left to right above:
- Wu Shirong alias Goh Say Eng, Penang Tongmenghui leader, who gave away his fortune for the cause and died a pauper.
- Huang Jinqing alias Ng Kim Kheng, with connections to southern Thailand.
- The poet Luo Zhonghuo and two others were martyrs of the Canton Uprising.
- Chen Xinzheng alias Tan Sin Cheng who spearheaded the founding of Chinese schools in Penang.
The Chinese Revolution
China was in military and economic decline after the Opium Wars of the 1840s. During the age of colonialism, China suffered the humiliation of being carved up by foreign powers into various spheres of influence.
In the late 19th century, many political movements emerged to overthrow the Chi’ng dynasty.
The Huanghuagang Uprising that took place on 27 April 1911 (29th day, 3rd lunar month) was crushed but the event was an important turning point in the Chinese Revolution. After the uprising, more people threw their weight behind the revolutionaries.
The anniversary of this event is today commemorated as China’s ‘Youth Day’.
The Manchu regime collapsed after an army mutiny precipitated the Wuchang Uprising, also called the ‘Double Tenth Revolution’ on 10 October 1911. This was the main event of the Chinese Revolution (xin hai ke ming).
China became the first enduring republic in Asia.
The Penang Conference was dramatised in the award-winning 2007 biopic “Road to Dawn“.