Sun Yat-sen (1883)

Sun Yat-sen was educated in Hawai`i during his formative, adolescent years. From 1879 to 1883, at `Iolani School and Oahu College, he studied the Western ideals and philosophy that would provide the launching pad for his eventual rise as the Father of Modern China. During Sun Yat-sen's time in Hawai`i, "he was exposed to Western culture, was strongly influenced by it, and in his young mind the seeds of Western democracy were planted." (Ma and Lum, 2)

Sun Yat-sen himself never forgot his early education in the islands. "This is my Hawai`i," he once said. "Here I was brought up and educated; and it was here that I came to know what modern civilized governments are like and what they mean."

During his years in Hawai`i, Sun was also introduced to key members of Hawai`i's Chinese and missionary communities who later provided support to his revolutionary vision for China.



Sun Yat-sen was known by various names during his lifetime, each marking a rite of passage. As a boy in Hawai`i, he was known as Tai Chu, Tai Chock or Tai Cheong.



Born on November 12, 1866, in Cuiheng Village in Guangdong province, China.


Thirteen-year-old Sun arrived in Honolulu, having been sent by his family to join his older brother, Sun Mei, a prosperous rice farmer and manager of a general store in the town of `Ewa on west O`ahu.

1879 to 1882 at 'Iolani School

Sun enrolled as a boarding student at `Iolani School, an Anglican-run school that primarily served boys of Hawaiian descent. Then known as Tai Chu, the young scholar initially spoke no English but upon his graduation on July 27, 1882, was awarded a second-place prize in English grammar by Hawai`i King David Kalakaua.

1883 at Oahu College (Punahou School)

Wishing to advance his studies, Sun enrolled at Oahu College in January 1883, "a high school that was the highest institution of learning in the Islands." (Schiffrin, 3) Founded in 1841 by American Congregational missionaries, Oahu College offered college-preparatory courses in the natural sciences and humanities.

Punahou School changed its name to Oahu College in 1859 to reflect the inclusion of post-secondary courses. In 1934, the school returned to its original name. Sun Yat-sen attended the school when it was known as Oahu College.

Coursework and tuition

Sun enrolled in the Preparatory Course – First Year with 32 other students. He was one of three Chinese students in the coeducational class, which included Hawai`i's Prince Kuhio. School tuition was $1 per week and semesters consisted of 12 weeks. Sun was enrolled for the winter and spring semesters of 1883.

At Oahu College, Sun strengthened his under- standing of Western democratic ideals, especially American history and thought. Al Castle, historian and executive director of the Samuel N. and Mary Castle Foundation, whose family helped support the young scholar's stay in Hawai`i, wrote that Sun likely studied the political and economic thought of Alexander Hamilton, Abraham Lincoln and Henry George.

Educational Philosophy and Faculty

The school's educational philosophy encouraged students to become well-rounded, independent- minded scholars. Castle notes that students were encouraged to both challenge assumptions and devise new approaches to problems. Francis W. Damon, a noted teacher of Latin and Greek and later a Punahou trustee, would become an important benefactor and supporter of Sun.


Christian education was an integral part of the course of study at Oahu College. The theology emphasized the ideal of selflessness and the notion of humanity's fundamental compassion. Sun would have learned that "individuals were, with God's help, capable of self-rule, democracy, social justice and kindness." (Castle, 1) This belief informed Sun's "Three Principles of the People," a defining ideology that envisioned a China based on democracy, nationalism and the people's welfare.

July 1883: Return to China

Sun's increasing embrace of Christianity alarmed his brother, Sun Mei, who hastily withdrew the young man from Oahu College and sent him back to China. Nevertheless, Sun Yat-sen had begun the inexorable journey toward his life as a patriot, idealist and modern leader.



  1. Castle, Al. "Sun Yat-sen's Schooling in Hawaii." Sun Yat-sen: The Man and the Myth: A Humanities Guide. University of Hawai'i, 1991.
  2. Ma, Yansheng and Raymond Mun Kong Lum. Sun Yat-sen in Hawaii. University of Hawai'i Press, 1999.
  3. Schiffrin, Harold. Sun Yat-sen, Reluctant Revolutionary. Little Brown, 1980.
  4. Trustees of Punahou School. Catalogue of the Trustees, Teachers and Pupils of Oahu College. Hawaiian Gazette, 1883.


Punahou Bulletin

Fall 2011


Sun Yat-sen’s Hawai`i

The Friendships and Ideals that Shaped a Movement



Laurel Bowers ’71 Husain
Director of Communications
808.944.5742 Tel