Treatise of “The Three Principles of the People”
The three issues most influenced the end of the Qing dynasty should include three aspects: domestic, diplomatic and economic, in general. First, Cixi’s absolute monarchy and Qing’s feudal system rouse people’s great wrath. Second, in diplomacy, Li Hongzhang’s failure of defending against the Japanese invasion and ensuing Treaty of Shimonoseki revealed Qing’s weakness and inability. Finally, small-scale farming by individual owners’ economic system limited the development of the society. Compared with the European countries, which experienced industrialization, the simple agricultural economy could not satisfy people’s needs anymore. Sun Yat-Sen’s “the Three Principles of the People” did reflect the main concerns for these issues, while there were a lot of flaws. In addition, Sun’s discussion of liberty lacked accurate understanding of the essence of freedom in modern democratic politics.
In 1800s, China experienced serious foreign invasions. The bright young scholars began to realize the necessity of reform and learning from foreigners. With the supports of some open-minded politicians, self-strengthening was rising in China. However, “at the same time, Cixi tried jealously to guard the prerogatives of the ruling Manchu imperial line” (Spence, 209)). Cixi, as the most powerful agent in the end of Qing, was politically conservative and financially extravagant. To secure the prerogatives of its families, Cixi conceded to foreign invaders over and over again. China paid millions of taels to foreign invaders. Though in such terrible economic condition, Cixi celebrated her birthday extravagantly. Cixi’s monarchy, the Qing’s feudal system and corruption in Qing, all of these led to people’s great wrath. The Qing dynasty was weak and disable in the end of 19th century. In 1900, the Western troops entered Peking and Boxer resistance quickly crumbled. The Boxer Protocol was signed in September 1901. “In this protocol, the Qing agreed to forbid all imports of arms into China for two years, to all permanent foreign guards and emplacements of defensive weapons to protect the legation quarter in perpetuity, to make Zhouli Yamen into a fully prestigious Ministry of Foreign Affairs” (Spence, 224). According to these agreements, it was obvious that the Qing had become the agent of European countries. The Qing had no sovereignty. The enemy of Chinese is foreign forces in that time.
In this sense, Sun Yat-Sen’s “The Three Principles of the People” didn’t reflect the most important issue. According to Sun, the first part of the watchword, “People’s Nationalism”, emphasized nationalism. The content of “People’s Nationalism” was “to expel the northern barbarians, especially Manchu nationality, and to establish a republic of China”. Sun thought that the enemy of Chinese people was the ruler of Manchu, the imperial court, rather than foreign forces. The purpose of Sun’s revolution is to overthrow Man’s governor, lacking of a detailed plan to resist against foreign invasion. The misunderstanding of the enemy led to the failure of Sun’s revolution. Although relying on the force of Beiyang army troops, the revolution overthrew Qing’s ruling, “refusing to recognize Sun’s claims, a brief accompanying edict gave to Yuan Shikai full powers ‘to organize a provisional republican government’” (Spence, 254).
Secondly, “People’s Sovereignty” is the core of Sun’s “The Three Principles of the People”. However, it was translated into “People’s Democracy” in Chinese history book, since Sun didn’t clarify a specific plan to gain so-called sovereignty from foreign countries. However, Sun thought that Chinese people should have their rights to govern their country in the way they wished. Sun criticized the feudal system, advocating a republic country in China, where democracy was emphasized. In this sense, Sun’s “People’s Democracy” did reflect the concerns for the serious domestic issue.
In addition, Sun’s “People’s Livelihood” did reflect the issue of small-scale farming by individual owners’ economic system in China. He advocated the development of capitalism in China. In “People’s Livelihood”, Sun raised that the lands belong to the nation and all Chinese people. He encouraged equalization of landownership. The price of lands should be fixed by the country. Sun also encouraged the development of individual enterprises. However, “People’s Livelihood” did not abolished the feudal land tenure. It didn’t solve the problem by the roots.
As far as Sun’s understanding of the Western “liberty”, his understanding was very limited. He said, “Liberty means the freedom to move about as one wishes within an organized group” (Three Principles). However, liberty is not doing what one wishes to do without restricts. Sun did realize that “liberty” was the core in both French Revolution and American Revolution. However, French revolution was to overthrow the ruling of Loius XVI, since the feudal monarchy restricted the development of capitalism. In America, the revolution aimed to overthrow the British colonization; Americans need freedom and independence. In China, people needed to overthrow the ruling of feudal Qing. Chinese were never free, living their life under imperial courts for thousands of years. In this sense, Sun mistreated the Boxers and unorganized rebellions and revolutions as misuse of freedom. China did need a unity and organized resisting power against the invasion of foreign imperialism. But China also lacked freedom and liberty. Sun always put the freedom of the social organization to the opposite of individual freedom. His view of freedom also produced very negative historical influence in later the system of “Kuomintang Head Dictatorship”.
The issues, which influenced the end of the Qing dynasty, were various. The most three significant issues are domestic, diplomatic and economic. Sun Yat-Sen, as a reformer in modern China, the creator of National Party (Kuomin Dang), the advocator of “The Three Principles of the People”, made significant and board influences on China’s reform and development in last century and today. Sun’s “The Three Principles of the People” did reflect the main concerns for these issues faced by the end of the Qing dynasty, though not accurately. It was a great trial of capitalism in the revolution in modern China. It is the reason why his picture, as the creator of National Party and the precursor of capitalism, has been put and offered people’s tribute in Tian’an Men Square in a Communist country governed by Communists.