Sun’s Legacy

Harold Schiffrin, in his biography of Sun Yat-sen, wrote: “If Sun Yat-sen had one consistent talent, it was for failure.”

Sun was neither a great writer, nor a great thinker, nor a successful political leader. But his influence on modern Chinese politics remains. Sun, while theoretically supporting democracy, believed China would require three stages of political transformation before putting democracy into practice. Sun, like Liang Qichao, saw the need for a “period of destruction,” followed by a period of “political tutelage,” followed by the implementation of a “constitutional government.” Sun bequeathed this idea of a political waiting period to China’s current leadership, who have stated that China remains on a path to eventual democracy.

Sun died in 1925, and was honored nationwide for his role in China’s revolution. His mausoleum in Nanjing rivals the tombs of the Ming emperors, China’s last Han dynasty, a complex of gardens and marble palaces still popular with tourists today.

Sun’s coffin arrives at his mausoleum in Nanjing