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From Exclusion to the Inclusive Sphere: A Critical Analysis of Sun Yat-sen’s (1866-1925) Emancipatory Communication and China’s Modernisation

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

China’s social, political and economic modernisation in the first decades of the 20th century has been attributed to Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925), who countered dynastic despotism and foreign imperialism, and to his political philosophy best defined as emancipatory communication. Sun’s exposure to Western influence such as Christianity, Western language and medical science inspired him modern rationality, which, he believed, was the key to the nation’s modernisation. However, rather than blindly adopting Western advancements, Sun endeavoured to reconcile Chinese and Western values and systems. As a physician, Sun formed a detailed diagnosis of China’s ailments, concluding that a revolution was unavoidable in order to save the nation. Sun advocated national unity, which catalysed the 1911 revolution and, eventually, the establishment of the first Chinese republic. The tenets of “Three Principles of the People”, Sun’s core emancipatory communication, comprise nationalism, democracy and the people’s livelihood. Firstly, the minzu principle (nationalism) emphasised national unity to preserve Chinese race and its territory. The second principle of the discourse is minquan principle (democracy), wherein Sun stressed the imperative for balance between citizens’ rights and the powers required of the state, proposed a supporting constitution as the essential framework. Thirdly, the minsheng principle (people’s livelihood) argued for the equalisation of land to protect tenant farmers’ economic rights. In propagating his agenda, Sun focused on the role of print media, public speech and pledging allegiance in order to raise the people’s political awareness. Furthermore, Sun’s Tongbao inclusion, conceived by reconciling Confucian fraternal love and Christian universal love, helped the overseas Chinese overcome their geographical distance and psychological liminality in building transnational patriotism. On the other hand, Sun argued that the absence of national unity was due to the culturally rooted Chinese loyalty to the emperor and family, and he tried to transfer the people’s loyalty to the nation by invoking anti-imperialism and anti-Manchuism. In the process, the racially defined nationalism of Sun’s minzu principle supported the ethnic majority of Han race, ignoring the rights of ethnic minorities. Moreover, in the minquan principle, Sun’s proposal of a three-stage national reconstruction plan imposed military operation and political tutelage to be administrated by elites, compromising individual freedom and equal citizenship. Sun’s land equalisation plan in the minsheng principle created tension with the landlords due to his morally charged assertion that economic harmony was attainable through cooperation in dealing with material conflict concerning landownership. Sun’s emancipatory communication brought forth a modern Chinese nation-state, but Sun’s struggle in modernising China represented his inner conflict with relinquishing his pedagogical paternalism to the autonomy of Chinese people.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date2017


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