This year is the 100th anniversary of the overthrow of over 4,000 years of dynastic rule in China by revolutionaries led by Sun Yat-sen. For the past 100 years, Oct 10th (“10-10”) has been celebrated with huge parades and fanfare throughout the world, but especially in the United States. Why? Because even the recently released Chinese epic film “1911,” starring Jackie Chan, gets it right — the majority of the funds for one of the greatest revolutions in history came from Chinese in America. In one of the opening scenes, this mainland Chinese film showed Dr. Sun preparing to give a speech to gain support for the revolution to a large audience of Chinese in a huge hall flanked with American flags. The 1911 revolution in China, celebrated on October 10 for the 100th time this year, was largely funded and supported by Chinese in America.
As a young man, Dr. Sun was educated in Hawaii and deeply influenced by Abraham Lincoln and the ideals of American democracy. He gathered followers who believed that dynastic rule in China should be ended and replaced with a Republic, “of the people, for the people, and by the people.” It did not take long for the Manchu rulers of China to put a $1,000,000 price on his head and force him to travel in secrecy. But he would constantly surface in the United States where he helped form secret societies throughout the country while traveling with a U.S. passport that showed he was born in Hawaii. He was actually born in Guangdong. Maps of his fundraising tours in America show him at cities and towns from San Francisco to Denver, Seattle to Chicago, and New York to St. Louis. Because of his leadership and influence, Chinese in over 70 cities and towns throughout the U.S. in the 1900’s formed secret societies and raised funds for the 1911 Revolution in China.
With this in mind, my appreciation of the movie “1911” was enhanced. It played briefly in Seattle (about a week at the Regal Meridian 16 on 7th Ave, and the Regal Parkway 12 in Tukwila). My wife and I went on October 10 to celebrate “10-10” and the 100th anniversary of the revolution. It was refreshing to see that the film got most of the history correct, and that the Chinese in America were not left out. Made in mainland China, co-directed and produced by Jackie Chan, the movie did not disappoint us.
“1911” opens with a scene in San Francisco focusing on an impassioned Dr. Sun Yat-sen asking for support from an overflow audience of overseas Chinese. An irate merchant stands up and shouts, “Why should we support you? We’re here in America. Why should we care about your cause in China?” Dr. Sun replies, “Our faces mark us as Chinese. We’ve faced discrimination and bullying. This is because the country that bears our faces has long been weak and corrupt.” He convinces his fellow Cantonese that his fight was their fight, and his cause was just, noble, and, worth the sacrifice of their hard-earned daily wages. The film continues by juxtaposing his speeches with scenes of revolutionaries in China with limited resources risking and sacrificing their lives. It is a splendid film, gripping and moving. It succeeds in bringing the Revolution of 1911 to life. It tells of heroes and villains, honor and treachery. It helps chronicle the year in which imperial rule ended and marked the beginning of modern China. Jackie Chan plays Huang Xing (Hsing), Dr. Sun’s right hand man, a courageous soldier, and leader of the revolutionary army. The friendship between the visionary revolutionary statesman and the determined revolutionary soldier is compelling.
A nice supplement to the movie would be to see the short documentary available through the Chinese Historical Society of America called: “Sun Yat-sen: An American Legacy” by Connie Young Yu. It features archival footage of the first “10-10” parade in San Francisco that took place in 1911, many historical photographs, and a clear narrative explaining the role Chinese in America played in the 1911 Revolution. Like the movie, this documentary also includes mention of the successor to Sun Yat-sen’s presidency, the treacherous Yuan Shikai, who wanted to return China to Imperial rule by declaring himself Emperor for life. The reaction to him in America was to shoot and kill his envoy on the streets of San Francisco. To add further credence Chinese in America had in the revolution, there are even pictures of Huang Xing (Hsing), the revolution’s military commander, posing with Chinese residents of small towns in California as late as 1914 (3 years after the successful uprising).
So what’s the big deal? Why do I care? I didn’t take part in any of this. Well, I’m proud to say that it is part of my family history. My grandfather was one of those Chinese in America that participated in the 1911 Revolution. He was appointed by Sun Yat-sen to lead the San Jose, California chapter of the secret revolutionary society that became the Kuomintang. We have his records of all the monies that he received from Chinese field hands, fruit picker, laborers, and house servants around San Jose and Santa Clara Valley. He and his friends would personally solicit donations. Most supporters would give up 10 cents to 25 cents of their dollar a day wages to support the revolution. One of his best friends was Buck Hoy, the man who shot to death the envoy sent to America by the treacherous Yuan Shikai. I got to meet Buck Hoy when I was 14 and he was in his late 60’s, and still living in seclusion on a farm, protected by all the Chinese who knew him. And I was as proud to have met him as I would be to meet the soldier who shot Osama Bin Laden.
My grandfather was a revolutionary.