Academic journal article Chinese America: History and Perspectives

Christianity and Dr. Sun Yat-Sen's Schooling in Hawai'i, 1879-83

Academic journal article Chinese America: History and Perspectives

Christianity and Dr. Sun Yat-Sen's Schooling in Hawai'i, 1879-83

Article excerpt

In Dr. Sun Yat-sen's four years, 1879-83, as a sojourner in Hawai'i, he is said to have attended three Christian educational institutions: Iolani College, St. Louis College, and Oahu College. His three years at Iolani are well authenticated. Whether he ever attended St. Louis cannot be substantiated by any school records, but the possibility exists. As for Oahu College, evidence points to that claim, though the time period spent by him there is not altogether clear. This paper delves into the religious backgrounds of these three schools, their beginnings, their locations, and their curricula, to document the indelible imprinting of a nineteenth-century Christian environment on the mind and heart of a young revolutionist.

Much has been made of the Christian influence of his years at Iolani that led him to seek baptism and thus incur the wrath of his brother and provider, Sun Mei, who cut short his Hawai'i education and sent him back to their native village of Cuiheng in Zhongshan, Guangdong Province, for rehabilitation.

Was there any Christian influence in Sun's life before his departure for Hawai'i? It is doubtful that he ever saw a Christian missionary or evangelist while a youth in his village. In 1884, when the Reverend Frank Damon visited Zhongshan county, he found a chapel in Shiqi, the district seat, and "a little company of native Christians, under the charge of the English Church Mission." As far as he knew, it was "the only Christian Station in all this populous region." (1)


Sun probably first heard of Christianity through the tales of the Taiping Rebellion (1851-66) recounted to him by a veteran who had returned home from the wars. All agree that Sun was entranced by these accounts, which stirred his imagination as the old classical rote studies he abhorred could not do. This first introduction to Christianity was a powerful stimulus for continued revolution, and when he was propelled into a Christian environment in Hawai'i, his desire to learn about the religion was satisfied in four intensive years of study in Christian schools.

Jen Yu-wen states, "It is one of the ironies of history that the very year the Manchus finally extinguished the greatest eruption of revolutionary nationalism during their reign, the seed of a new nationalist movement emerged with the birth on November 12, 1866 of its future leader, Dr. Sun Yat-Sen." (2) Jen observes: "It is probably more than coincidence that Hung Hsiu-ch'uan [Hong Xiuquan] and Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, successive revolutionary leaders of modern China, were Christians." (3) Jen further emphasizes Hong's influence on Sun's revolutionary career in his assessment of the historical relationship between the two movements: "Our expanding grasp of the aspirations and accomplishments of the Taiping Revolutionary Movement has brought even more light to its evolutionary relationship with the National Revolution and heightened our perception of direct historical links. Perhaps the most symbolic instance of this continuity occurred at the transfer of power on January 1, 1912 which ended 267 years of Manchu rule. The abdication of Emperor Puyi was accepted by Provisional President Sun Yat-Sen, who had as a boy cherished the nickname 'Hung Hsiu-ch'uan the Second.'" (4)

In Hawai'i's Christian schools, Sun was to learn why Hong mandated "strict observance of the Ten Commandments and attendance at daily worship" by the Taiping Army. (5) "To the end of their lives Hung Hsiu-ch'uan and his fellow leaders held fast to the Christian faith." (6) Sun too would, despite all odds, cling to his faith to the very end.


In 1879 when Sun boarded the Grannoch in Hong Kong for his sea voyage to the Sandalwood Mountains, as the Chinese called Hawai'i, he was impressed by the wonder of a mechanically propelled ship of massive proportions and the superiority of the foreigner in respect to technology. …

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