Dr. Sun Yat-Sen: A Global Citizen

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen: A Global Citizen

October 7, 2016

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of one of the most influential figures in modern Chinese history, Dr. Sun Yat-Sen. At our recent assembly to celebrate Chinese National Day, I shared some thoughts with the students and faculty from Secondary School about the remarkable qualities exhibited by Dr. Sun during his eventful life. His story is complex, but it is also one that contains some important truths about learning.

Born in 1866, at a time of relatively infrequent global travel and well before the popularization of global citizenship, Dr. Sun emerged from his somewhat fragmented formal education in China, the United States, and Hong Kong as a richly experienced world citizen. Educated in both Chinese and English to a high level of fluency and literacy, Dr. Sun attended Iolani College and Oahu College in Hawaii, Diocesan Boys’ School and the Government Central School (later to become Queen’s College) in Hong Kong; on graduation, he trained at a school of western medicine in Hong Kong that later became a founding part of the University of Hong Kong.

Very much a product of a culturally and linguistically diverse education, Dr. Sun was a global thinker and philosopher who would have been a model IB student. His connection of Confucian moral ideals (大道之行也 天下為公When the great way is followed, the world belongs to all) to western democratic ideals about the primacy of ‘the people’ (the Three Principles of the People 三民主義) opened up new ways of thinking for those seeking to create a ‘modern’ China. He developed a unique and highly sophisticated synthesis of eastern and western thinking that offered hope to China at a dark time in its history. He was an idealist and modern internationalist in every sense.

One other enduring aspect of Dr. Sun’s life was his courage in taking risks in the face of repeated defeats and failures. The story of the 10 recorded uprisings between 1895 and the ultimately successful Xinhai Revolution in 1911, over a period of some 16 years, is well documented. In between, there were many incidents and setbacks that frustrated the ideal of a modernized China, united under a strong, principled leadership. In the face of failure upon failure, Dr. Sun persisted in what some felt was a futile campaign to overthrow an entrenched imperial system of government. Dr. Sun took failure as a challenge to be overcome. He travelled the world seeking support and funds for a daunting enterprise that he believed was the only way forward for his country. It is one of history’s remarkable ironies that Dr. Sun was absent from China on a fundraising trip to the United States at the time of its ultimate success. He learned of his ‘victory’ from a newspaper report.

Finally, in contrast to many other examples of moral failure in leadership at the time, Dr. Sun, was a man of principle and conscience. Unanimously elected to the position of Provisional President of the newly founded Republic of China in early 1912, he vowed to step down as soon as a properly constituted national assembly was able to meet and select a permanent leader. This was a promise he kept, to his personal cost. His tenure in his ‘dream role’ was just nine weeks.

Dr. Sun’s personal learning journey reflects the ideal of a global education for global citizenship and stewardship: multilingual, culturally rich, and intellectually demanding; at the same time, strongly underpinned by a commitment to principles and solid, practiced values, firmly focused on creating a better and more peaceful world. The passage of 150 years since Dr. Sun’s birth have not changed this ultimate objective of a complete education.

Dr. Malcolm Pritchard
Head of School

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