China Only Yesterday, 1850-1950: A Century of Change

By Emily Hahn | Go to book overview
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Chapter Seventeen

Though for obvious reasons it suited the Manchus to call the Boxer movement a rebellion, it was not one, for its avowed aim was to strengthen existing authority rather than replace it. Traditionally, genuine Chinese revolutions started in the south, a good long way from Peking, where political control was not so tight and where, for years before the northern coast was open, foreign ideas had been trickling into the countryside, there to be converted by malcontents into a philosophy nearer their needs. Thus, paradoxically, political unrest was imported by Christian missionaries who preached peace and brotherly love. It was not, as some anti-foreigners asserted, that these men deliberately taught treason; they simply handed on Western-style literacy so that their pupils might read the Scriptures. But once a man had learned to read, his thoughts were his own and were apt to roam a long way from the Bible, as witness Hung Hsiu- ch'uan. Hung's example in its turn affected Sun Yat-sen, and Sun changed China to a degree never envisaged even by the Taipings.

He was born in 1866, in the Cantonese village of Choyhung. His parents were peasants, not well off but not desperately poor either. Like many others in the south, they had tenuous connections with the West. Two of Yat-sen's uncles had made family history by getting themselves carried off, as indentured laborers, to California during the days of the gold fever, and his brother Ah-mi, fifteen years older than Yat-sen, had gone to Hawaii and there made good as a farmer with his own property and a general store near a village called Ewa on Oahu. (For some years these Chinese emigrants had been annoying non-Chinese neighbors in the West with their hardworking, thrifty habits.) While Yat-sen was still a small boy, Ab-mi came back to Choyhung to visit his family. He suggested taking the little brother to Ewa on the return journey: the Sun parents decided


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