People in Hawai‘i say that the islands have birthed two presidents—Sun Yat-sen of China and Barack Obama of the U.S.—so that Hawai‘i can be said to have influenced not only the West but also the East. This observation reflects on the inclusiveness of Hawai‘i’s multicultural society, which is like that of the Pacific Ocean surrounding it, encompassing as it does an infinite number of living creatures and their activities.
Hawai‘i has a special significance for Sun Yat-sen. In June, 1879, the 13-year old Sun first arrived in Hawai‘i, relying on support from his older brother Sun Mei who was making a good living in Honolulu. In his handwritten autobiography, he states: “At the age of thirteen, I followed my mother to the islands of Hawai‘i. For the first time, I saw the wonderful steamship and the vast ocean…and deep in my heart, I wished to learn from the West and seek for the infinite truth.“ (Lum & Lum, p. 3). Thereafter he enrolled as an intermediate school student at ‘Iolani School, which was run by the British Anglican church, and began an English language education. At the time of his graduation in the summer of 1882, he took second place in a test of English grammar, and, at the graduation ceremony, was congratulated in person by King Kalakaua—an honor much admired by the local Chinese of the time. In September of the same year, he entered Punahou School for a half year of study, and in July of 1883 his education ended when he was sent back to China. These two were the best private schools in Hawaii; with support from his brother Sun Mei, it can be said that Sun Yat-sen received the best education that Hawai‘i had to offer. The period from age 13 to 17 is crucial to forming adolescent values and a personal worldview. On May 7, 1914, Sun Yat-sen reflected thus on his adolescence, in a speech entitled, “With no education, one can make no recommendations” given at the Lingnan School in Guangzhou: “Recalling my childhood, I had studied in a private academy, and learned precisely nothing. A few years later I was able to travel to Honolulu and receive instruction in a Western school. I saw the excellence of their pedagogy that was so much better than that of my hometown. During class, I would talk earnestly with my classmates about how to strengthen our motherland and save our countrymen, and this would invigorate us. At the time we felt that if we could alleviate the suffering of our compatriots, if we could help them experience happiness, this would bring us joy.” (Lum & Lum) Evidently, Sun’s ideals of fighting for the future of the nation took root during this period.
In November 1884, October 1894, January 1896, and September 1903, Sun Yat-sen returned to Hawai‘i four more times, staying between three and six months each time. From March to May 1910 was his final visit to Hawai‘i, during which he established the Honolulu branch of the Tongmenghui (United League, Tung Meng Hui). The ethnic Chinese of Hawai‘i were consistently supportive of and devoted to him, which is why Hawai‘i came to be his most solid “revolutionary base” overseas. And this period was only a little over year before the outbreak of the Revolution of 1911—it was the eve of the turbulent historical turmoil.
Today, Dr. Sun Yat-sen has become an iconic calling card for interactions between Hawai‘i and China, and Hawai‘i is perhaps the place with the greatest number of Sun Yat-sen sculptures outside of China. When we look further into these statues, and learn the stories behind them, we read about deep respect, and a lasting memory. “Although the person is no more, a lingering affection endures through the ages.” (Tao Yuanming, “Elegy for Jing Ke”).
1. Sun Yat-sen sculpture at the Honolulu International Airport
Next to the main concourse of the Honolulu International Airport, there is a Chinese garden in the style of the Lingnan garden architecture. In the center of the garden stands a statue of Sun Yat-sen. On the front of its pedestal is engraved the words “The world is for the public” in Sun’s own handwriting. Atop the pedestal, Sun sits erect, clad in a Chinese style jacket and gown, his hands on an open scroll on his lap, his face thin and weary—worn out by the long path to revolution, he appears to rest here for just a moment. As his eyes stare into the distance, he seems to sink ineluctably into sorrowful thoughts on the hardships of life.
This statue was erected on November 12, 1965, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Dr. Sun Yat-sen. On one side of the monument is carved this epitaph:
Yat-sen Chung-shan Wen Sun, Father of the Republic of China, Born November 12, 1866, Died march 12, 1925. He devoted his entire life to the cause of the Chinese Revolution. Author of the “Thee People’s Principles,” he founded the Republic of China. An advocate of freedom, equality, and humanitarianism, he always exerted his utmost efforts to aid the weak and to support the faltering, with a view toward the realizing of universal justice as well as cosmopolitanism. He was revered by his people and admired by the world. On the centennial anniversary of his birth, we respectfully erect this statue in everlasting tribute.
Presented to the State of Hawaii by the Hawaii Dr. Sun Yat-sen Centennial Memorial Committee
2. Sun Yat-sen sculpture in Honolulu’s Chinatown
Situated on the edge of the Chinese Cultural Plaza in Honolulu’s Chinatown, this statue was donated by the Kaohsiung City Government in 1984, to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the establishment of the Revive China Society (Xingzhonghui).
Chinatown was one of the most important sites of activity by Sun Yat-sen during his time in Hawai‘i; here he delivered speeches, organized gatherings, and promoted his revolutionary ideals. In October, 1894, when Sun visited Hawai‘i for the third time, he overcame numerous obstacles to establish the first revolutionary society in China’s modern history—the Revive China Society—with the mission to “extend the will of the people in aid to the ancestral homeland.” Sun was 28 years old at the time. The Revive China Society later became the United League (Tongmenghui), which was further reorganized as the Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) in 1912.
The entire sculpture stands on the flag of the Kuomintang. Atop the pedestal, Mr. Sun Yat-sen holds aloft the declaration of the Revive China Society, tall and erect, gazing forward steadfastly. The top edge of the pedestal is engraved with the ancient Confucian admonitions to “study natural phenomena, pursue knowledge, maintain good faith, rectify the self, cultivate a moral character, put the family in order, govern the country, and bring peace to the world.” On the sides of the octagonal pedestal are engraved “The Father of the Nation, Mr. Sun Yat-sen”; “The world is for all”; an English introduction of the Revive China Society; a rubbing and English translation of Sun’s handwritten copy of the “Conveyance of Rites” from the Book of Rites; a description of the “Three Principles of the People”; and an inscription about the statue. Around the base of the statue are inscribed the eight characters “loyalty, filial piety, benevolence, love, faith, righteousness, harmony, peace.” Each year on the birthday of Mr. Sun Yat-sen, the local Chinese come and drape leis on the statue.
3. Sun Yat-sen sculpture in the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Park, Honolulu
Sun Yat-sen at age 17
There is a Sun Yat-sen Memorial Park in Honolulu’s Chinatown, and the Sun Yat-sen statue in the park was unveiled on November 12, 2007, as one of the activities commemorating the 140th anniversary of Mr. Sun’s birthday, as well as the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the sister-city relationship between Honolulu and Zhongshan City (named after Sun Yat-sen), in Guangdong Province. The sculpture was donated by the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Hawai‘i Foundation.
The sculpture is of the young Sun Yat-sen, clad in a Chinese gown and a Qing-style cap over a single braid. His expression is clear, sporting a slight smile; he seems confident and composed. His right hand grips two books, and his left hand rests lightly on them. As his right foot strides forward, his gown is pulled into a flutter. According to Ms. Yen Chun, Executive Vice President of the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Hawai‘i Foundation, her organization had always wanted a statue of the young Sun Yat-sen, because till now Sun statues were mostly of him in his later years. In 2006, she and the Chairman of the Board of the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Hawai‘i Foundation, Warren Luke, were invited by the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference to participate in the commemoration of the 140th anniversary of the birth of Dr. Sun Yat-sen. As they transited through Hong Kong, they saw a bronze statue of Dr. Sun at age 17 in front of the Hong Kong Museum. It was by the famous Hong Kong sculptor Master Tat Shing Chu, and memorialized the fact that, in November, 1883, the 17-year-old Sun had entered the Diocesan Boy’s School of the Hong Kong Christian Church, and subsequently completed his high school and university education in Hong Kong. So Warren Luke and Yen Chun commissioned Master Chu to create a sculpture of the 13-year-old Sun, to be paid for by the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Foundation with help from Hawai‘i Chinese families. Since the earliest photograph of Sun Yat-sen was taken at age 17, what would the 13-year-old Sun have looked like? The sculptor could only go by the photograph of the 17-year-old, plus his own imagination. Some details were based on records of the time, including that the young Sun had always worn his hair in a braid in Hawai‘i. Ms. Yen Chun said, “Master Chu wanted to depict Mr. Sun walking, just as he’d always strode urgently and ceaselessly, down the long road to save China.”
On the base of the sculpture is inscribed text in English and Chinese, plus a dedication by the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Hawai‘i Foundation. It states: “In 1879, at the age of thirteen, Sun Yat-sen came to Hawaii from Zhongshan, China. It was here in Honolulu, that he spent many of his teenage years, growing up and being educated. China’s first revolutionary society the Xing Zhong Hui (Revive China Society) was organized in Hawaii in 1894. Sun Yat-sen went on to overthrow the Qing Dynasty and establish a democratic China in 1911. The dedication of this statue recognizes the sacrifice and support of the people of Hawaii in nurturing the roots of “Modern China” and its Founding Father.”
4. Sun Yat-sen sculpture in ‘Iolani School, Honolulu
On the campus of one of the best private schools in Honolulu, ‘Iolani School, there is a statue that resembles the one in the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Park. As the Hawai‘i school that Sun Yat-sen attended first and for the longest period of time, the ‘Iolani School undoubtedly played an important part in his upbringing. This sculpture was also cast by Master Tat Shing Chu, and its shape is basically the same as the one in the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Park, except that Sun’s right hand lifts his books a little higher, and the left hand swings freely. Since the statue stands on top of three steps, Sun appears more dynamic and spirited, “A young man, like his schoolmates, in the prime of his life.”
The statue, unveiled on November 12, 2008 and standing atop a pedestal with three steps, was donated by Mr. Steven Ai 钟光明, President of the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Hawai‘i Foundation and ‘Iolani School alumnus, whose grandfather, C.K. Ai 钟工宇, had been a classmate of Sun at ‘Iolani School, a supporter when Sun began his revolutionary activity, and a fervent participant in his revolutionary organization. This is evidence of the degree to which Hawaiian Chinese followed Sun during his lifetime and commemorate him now.
‘Iolani’s Sun sculpture faces its middle school. This is a thoughtful gesture, as ‘Iolani’s School Master explained—middle school students are the age that Sun was when he came to ‘Iolani, so the school hopes that today’s middle-schoolers will be moved and inspired by the statue. Since the school has designated a caretaker for the statue, it remains as pristine as the day it was installed. ‘Iolani also offers an exhibit about Sun Yat-sen’s life and achievements.
Every year on Sun’s birthday, the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Hawai‘i Foundation drapes a lei on each of the two boyhood Sun statues in Honolulu.
5. Sun Yat-sen sculpture in the former Chung-shan School in Honolulu
There used to be a Chinese language school called the Chung-shan School, in downtown Honolulu, which had been proposed by Sun Yat-sen on his last visit to Hawai‘i. “Before Sun left Honolulu, he advised his Hawaiian followers to set up a Chinese language school. After he left, Young Kwong-tat, C. K. Ai, Zane Chong-fook, and other sponsors donated money to set up the Wah Mun School. This school was renamed Chung Shan School in 1928 to commemorate Sun.” (Lum & Lum, p. 35)
Although it closed down in 2000, it is a consolation that the Sui Wah School粹华书院, established in 1986, is now operating at the original site of the Chung-shan School and has grown to become Hawaii’s largest Chinese language school.
The sculpture, located within the school, is a bust of Sun Yat-sen. He wears a Chinese suit, and bears a serious demeanor with a probing gaze. On the front of the base is an inscribed rubbing of a quote from the “Conveyance of Rites” chapter of the Book of Rites, in Sun’s own handwriting:
“When the Great Principle prevails, the world is a commonwealth in which rulers are selected according to their wisdom and ability, mutual confidence is promoted and good neighbourliness cultivated. Hence, men do not regard as parents only their own parents, nor do they treat as children only their own children. Provision is secured for the aged till death, employment for the able-bodied, and the means of growing up for the young. Helpless widows and widowers, orphans and the lonely, as well as the sick and the disabled, are well cared for. Men have their respective occupations and women their homes. They do not like to see wealth lying idle, yet they do not keep it for their own gratification. They despise indolence, yet they do not use their energies for their own benefit. In this way selfish schemings are repressed, and robbers, thieves and other lawless men no longer exist, and there is no need for people to shut their outer doors. This is indeed the Great Harmony.”
“The world is for the public”—this was the ideal that Sun pursued throughout his life.
6. Sun Yat-sen sculpture in the Sun Yat-sen Park, Kula, Maui, Hawai‘i
In 1989, the Maui Chinese community established a park near the Kula ranch of Sun Mei, Sun Yat-sen’s brother, to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the arrival of the Chinese on the islands. A statue of Sun Mei graces the park.
Standing on a pedestal, Mr. Sun Yat-sen is dressed in a Chinese suit, grasps a cane in both hands, and looks into the distance. The pedestal is exactly the same as the ones under the Sun statues in Honolulu’s Chinatown and Taiwan Economic and Cultural Office. Due to its height, Sun seems to be gazing at the ranch of his brother Sun Mei (subject of a second statue erected nearby), located opposite the park. Perhaps he is recalling good times of the past?
Sun had spent time on Maui in his youth. His brother had arrived on the islands in 1871 to make a life for himself. Sun Mei began as a laborer on vegetable farms, struggling through hard work and striking out in business, until ultimately he gained control of a 6,000 acre ranch on Maui and earned himself the title “King of Maui.” At first Sun Mei did not understand his brother’s passion for revolution, but eventually changed his mind and began to support him. “Sun Fo, Sun Yat-sen’s son, said on October 4, 1971, in a speech to the Overseas Chinese Administration Institute of Taiwan, that whenever his father had a plan of action he invariably turned to Sun Mei for money. The sum each time reached into the tens of thousands… By 1906, Sun Mei’s financial situation had deteriorated, and he filed for bankruptcy. …In 1907 he left Hawai‘i and returned to China.” (Lum & Lum, p. 77 ff) But Sun Mei is only one representative of the tens of thousands of Hawaiian Chinese who had supported Sun Yat-sen.
7. Sun Yat-sen sculpture at the Taiwan Economic & Cultural Office (TECO)
This bronze statue was donated to Honolulu’s TECO on the Nuuanu-Pali Highway in 2015. The pedestal is identical to those for the Sun Yat-sen statues in Honolulu’s Chinatown and the Sun Yat-sen Park in Maui. Here, Sun is dressed in a western suit, with an overcoat draped over his left arm, grasping a cane in his right—as he might have appeared while fundraising for the revolution in London, England, or on the continental U.S.
There are additional statues of Sun in Hawai‘i. This article is not meant to be exhaustive. Some private families also display small bronze statuettes to express their personal reverence. People follow along in his past footsteps, and link history with current reality, via the medium of statuary.
In 1910, while talking to a journalist, Mr. Sun referred to himself as a kamaaina, meaning that he thought of himself as a local Hawaiian. He said, “This is my Hawai‘i…here I was brought up and educated; and it was here that I came to know what modern, civilized governments are like and what they mean.” (Lum & Lum, p. 5)
December 13, 2018
(Many thanks to Ms. Yen Chun, Executive Vice President of the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Hawai‘i Foundation, for her help and support in compiling this article.)
Lum, Yansheng Ma and Raymond Mun Kong Lum. Sun Yat-sen in Hawai‘i: Activities and Supporters. Honolulu: Hawaii Chinese History Center & Dr. Sun Yat-sen Hawai‘i Foundation, 1999.
About the author and translator:
Wenyan Jiang is Associate Professor of Chinese at the Beijing Foreign Studies University, and currently teaches Chinese in the University of Hawai‘i Confucius Institute.
Cynthia Ning is Associate Director of Center for Chinese Studies in the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, and U.S. Director of the University of Hawai‘i Confucius Institute.