Points of View

Charles T. Y. Wong: "Sun Yat-sen - China's prophet and heroes' hero"

MAY . 22 2011

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Peking University, May 22, 2011: Renowned overseas Chinese Charles T. Y. Wong (Wang Zuyao) delivered a speech at the PKU Yingjie Overseas Exchange Center on the evening of May 22.


Wong is a great-grandson of Sun Yat-sen, foremost pioneer of China's republican revolution. His speech was titled "Dr. Sun Yat-sen and the International Development of China."


PKU News student journalists got the opportunity to communicate with Wong before his speech.



Charles T. Y. Wong (hellotw.com)



Q: What makes you interested in Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s works especially The International Development of China?


A: When I was 14 years old, I started studying about my great-grandfather: about his life, his thoughts, and his teachings. Then it just became a personal hobby of mine. Through the years, every library I go to, the first thing I do is to look what books they have about Dr. Sun Yat-sen. When I went to Occidental College’s library in 1986 and I looked for what books they had about Dr. Sun. And I was surprised to find that he wrote this book called The International Development of China. So I started reading it. I thought the title of the book is interesting. What I read really shocked me. It’s shocking because it’s a prophecy of the future. He was foretelling the future in the book. In the late 1980s, I was reading this book. You can see that the things he’s talking about in the book already happened. I wonder “how can he know the future.” That was more than 20 years ago. Then in the last 20 years, step by step, more and more come to reality. It’s unbelievable, remarkable, and even a little bit scary. How can somebody know the future so clearly and accurately? That’s why I like this particular book the best amongst all his writings.


Q: So could you please share with us some of his ideas or convictions that help shape your values or influence you life the most?


A: Because I’ve studies so much about him, I feel that I personally have not only a genetic connection with him, but also have a spiritual connection because I feel that I can understand him. When I read about him, I feel like inside me I can deeply understand the way he feels. What I admire about him is that he is completely a selfless person. He wanted nothing for himself, only for the country, only for the people. China has a history of some 5,000 years. Never before has there been a person like him. I think maybe after him no other person can be like him. It’s already been at lEast three generations after him now but no Chinese leader can match him in terms of vision for the future of China and personality. He was a person who actually had nothing. The only thing he had is his personality. With his personality, Sun persuaded people in what he believed.


He believed in revolution, the revolution that he created. But many people laughed at him, saying that “from the very beginning he is doomed to failure because he is trying to do the impossible.” He was challenging the thousands of years of Chinese history and culture. But that never deterred him. He kept on fighting for the future of China. People called him “hero,” but he is actually heroes’ hero because he would never stop fighting for China. I’ve asked myself this question many times “why can he keeps on doing it so many times, while other people when they failed once they are destroyed psychologically and they cannot continue.” And the conclusion that I came to was that he had no choice, because he knew if he failed China would be finished. Failure is never something as an option. He can never give up. On his deathbed, he said: “Whether I live or whether I die, personally it makes no difference to me. But to leave unfinished my dream for the future of China which I’ve worked for my whole life, greaves me deeply.” The very last words he said before he died were "to peacefully struggle for China’s survival."


When he was driven out of the country by the Qing court, he just travelled the world — circling the world six times in 16 years. He went around the whole world to all of the overseas Chinese communities to preach about his revolution and then asked them for support. Everywhere around the world where Dr. Sun had been, people sold their houses and their businesses. All their money, all their life savings were given to him for his revolution. But there is no evidence that he used their money for anything more than a very modest life style. In Hong Kong, he would sleep on the wooden bench inside a church, not even sleeping inside a hotel because he said “I cannot spend other people’s money for my own enjoyment.” Stories like that really touched me. I realize how selfless he was. Every country has a hero and China’s national hero is Dr. Sun. He in many ways is a spiritual leader.


Q: What do you want to say about today’s cultural and educational situation in China?


A: During Dr. Sun’s times, Chinese people admired all Western things. All things Western were advanced and modern. All things Chinese were backward and antiquated. And Dr. Sun thought this type of thinking was wrong because for thousands of years China was the greatest country in the world. He said “it’s the greatness of Chinese culture that makes China so great.” “Chinese culture is a great culture of kindness and righteousness.” “If all the people in the country have strong morality, then China can be a very strong country in a very small amount of time.” China has made tremendous progress in the economics area using Dr. Sun’s teachings, but they still haven’t done enough in the cultural aspect.


Q: What do you think can be done in the future in the cultural aspect?


A: It depends on education of Confucianism. That’s the only real hope for the future. If people don't have this kind of education, how are they going to become moral and virtuous persons?  Like today's Singapore, for example, from kindergarten, they begin to learn Confucius’s ideas. That’s the reason why they are with stricter morality.


Q: But some people still argue that even if people are educated from an early age by such implantation, it is still possible it does not work very effectively. What do you think still needs to be done in the cultural aspect?


A: My grandfather, that is my father’s father, was a part of the old culture. As I was born and raised in the US, he always told me that “you are a Chinese and you should be a moral person because Chinese culture is always a moral culture.” So we have to remember our own culture, respect and have confidence in our culture. I believe our culture is the best. In the sixth chapter of Dr. Sun’s “Principles of Nationalism” in “Three Principles of the People” (Sanmin Zhuyi), he said “Chinese people are the greatest and we must remember who we are.” "If we remember who we are, we can became strong again.”


Q: And perhaps we also have to discard the bad things, right?


A: Of course, that’s what Dr. Sun did. His concept is to take the best and the most advanced things from the West and then combining it with the best of Chinese culture. One of his greatest achievements is that he was able to find a living synthesis between the ancient and the modern, between the East and the West, and combining them together to make China a modern country.


Q: Can you describe this combination a little bit?


A: I can make a very easy example and it’s in Dr. Sun’s "People’s Rights." How to make China’s political system modern, he’s talking about taking down the Qing dynasty and the whole imperial system. The hallmark of features of all modern countries and modern political systems is a separation of executive, legislative, and judicial power. Then no one person or no one branch of government can have all the power. He only mentioned people’s rights but not freedom or democracy. The reason is that he said “the people have the right to an equal and just government.” But how do you guarantee the people's equality and justice, a government of the people, by the people, and for the people? He combined the Western system of government and the Chinese system of government to be the Five-Power Constitution (executive, legislative, judicial, examination, and censorate branches).


The second thing is that if China learns from the West within one generation and within 30 years China can catch up with the West and still surpass the West. You are going to see that happen very quickly within the next five to 10 years. And in the next 20 years, my prediction is that China will be the most advanced and most prosperous country in the world if following Dr. Sun’s teachings. That's actually what my presentation is about.


Q: It is scheduled that you are going to deliver a speech titled “Dr. Sun Yat-sen and the International Development of China .” What is the most important message that you want your audience to keep in mind?


A: Dr. Sun always said “world trends are impressive and you will prosper if following them and will fail if violating them” (世界潮流浩浩荡荡,顺之则昌逆之则亡). I have known this saying since I was young. If you look deep into his writings, he always talks about world trends. He said, “you have to follow the world trends.” So basically that’s what all his teachings are about.


He was a very special person because during his era he was the most well traveled and the most well read man of his time. What his traveling experience gave him was that he was able to see the world trends. His knowledge of the world entitled him to see the future trends of the world. Many people call him the first international citizen of the world. He always said “before you are a citizen of any one country, you are all human first.” The ultimate goal of his teachings is for the whole world and all of humanity. He has not only Chinese followers, but American and Japanese followers. Inukai Tsuyoshi, a Japanese politician, once said: “Dr. Sun was the first international statesman in the history of the world.” Even foreigners could be persuaded by him, and believe in his teachings and his vision. The reason why they followed him was that his vision was not only a vision for the Chinese people, but for the whole humanity and the whole world.


The main theme I am talking about is world trends. And a subset of the world trend is that I am using his examples in The International Development of China to show historically over the last 90 years how much of his vision has been realized. It’s really shocking and unbelievable. There’s not a single historical figure or leader of any country that can make this type of a claim.


Q: We know that besides this book, there are two other books in his overall Strategy for Nation Building. What do you want say about these two books?


A: One of them is Psychological Reconstruction (《孙文学说》/《心理建设》). It’s against the “feudal” type of thinking. “In order to wake up, China has to look at and understand the world trends and then follow them. In the feudal system, all people serve one man. China now has become a republic, the headperson of the republic is not the controller of the people but only the servant of the people.” I am very touched by his teachings because everything is truly for the people. He really believed in what he preached. When he served as president, he only spent 20% of his total meal allowance. So I really admire that about him.


Q: I have read some reviews of your previous speeches and I notice that you emphasized a consistence between Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s The International Development of China and China’s achievements during past decades. But I am wondering what your response to China’s problems is?


A: I will give you a very easy example to understand it. Most of the railways in his Strategy for Nation Building run from east to west. You can understand how he developed that type of thinking was - an experience from his travelling on the American and Canadian transcontinental railways which also run from east to west. The big problem in China today is an imbalanced development. The coastal areas are very rich now, but the interior of China is relatively poor. So the way you develop the interior is to build the railways from east to west, because wherever a railroad is built the economy grows and develops in that area. The infrastructure is a tool of efficiency. Wherever you improve the efficiency, the economy will grow. If you look at China’s railroad development over the last 60 years, most of them are east-north-south because the capital is Beijing in the north. Another problem that China now is facing is that there’s a big imbalance between the rich and the poor. But Dr. Sun already foresaw this problem and how to solve it more than 90 years ago. So his thinking is very, very deep.




Charles T. Y. Wong is the great-grandson of Dr. Sun Yat-sen. He was born in Hawaii and now lives in Hong Kong. He graduated from Occidental College in 1990 with an Advanced Bachelor of Arts in Diplomacy and World Affairs (International Relations), and then with a Master of Pacific International Affairs from the University of California, San Diego in 1994, with an emphasis on international management and China as his country focus. He is vice president of the Sun Yat-sen Foundation for Peace & Education and a Trustee of the Lianyichunghui, the oldest Chinese association in Hawaii, which runs the Manoa Chinese Cemetery.




Reported by: Li Nuoya and Zhang Chunlan
Transcribed by: Zhang Chunlan