JOSE RIZAL AND SUN YAT SEN: ASIA’S FOREMOST NATIONALISTS
by Chris Antonette Piedad-Pugay
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines “nationalism” as generally used in describing two phenomena: the attitude that the members of a nation possess about their nation’s identity and the actions that the members of a nation take to achieve and attain self-determination. In the case of the Philippines and China, both issues of self-identity and self-determination prompted the Chinese and Filipino patriots to lead their people in freeing themselves from foreign domination and in taking actions to enjoy the benefits of liberty.
During the late 19th century, two great Asian leaders rose and lead their people in fighting for reforms—Jose Rizal and Sun-Yat-Sen. Though their means may be totally opposite–Rizal adhered to diplomacy and peaceful reforms while Sun resorted to leading and funding revolutionary movements–both exhibited paramount love for the countries of their birth and for their people.
Dr. Jose Rizal, the national hero of the Philippines, also referred to as the “First Filipino” was born in Calamba Laguna on 19 June 1861. Sun Yat Sen, on the other hand, was born on 12 November 1866 at Guandong, China. He was a nationalist and revolutionary and is often referred to as the “Father of Modern China.” Both received their early education in local schools in their provinces, and pursued further education abroad. Rizal initially studied in Biñan, Laguna under the guidance of Maestro Justaniano Aquino-Cruz and went to Manila with his elder brother to continue his studies at Ateneo de Manila. In 1882, Rizal took Licenciate in Medicine at the Universidad Central de Madrid and afterwards specialized in Ophthalmology in France and Germany under Dr. Louis de Weckert and Dr. Otto Becker.
Sun-Yat-Sen studied in Guangdong province and pursued his higher educations at the Iolani School and later at Oahu College in Hawaii. He also studied medicine at the Guanzhou Boji Hospital under the medical missionary John Kerr and earned the license of medical practice as a medical doctor from the Hong Kong College of Medicine for Chinese in 1892. Both patriots practiced their profession and established clientele in Hong Kong.
The education of the two patriots were supported financially by their elder brothers only that Paciano was more supportive to the nationalistic activities of his brother compared to Sun Mei who showed more apprehensions. While studying abroad, Rizal wrote the Noli me Tangere and El Filibusterismo—novels that spurred nationalistic fervor among the Filipinos who felt the need of launching an armed struggle to achieve independence. Upon his return to the Philippines, he founded La Liga Filipina, a socio-civic society that aimed to demand reforms from the Spanish government and unify the Filipinos in the entire archipelago.
On the other hand, Sun, initially aligned with early reformists who wanted to transform China into a constitutional monarchy. China during the time was under the foreign Qing Dynasty. He wrote a letter that embodied his suggestions on how to strengthen China, and sent it to the governor-general of Zhili. Unlike Rizal who was very good in letters, Sun was never trained in the classics and his opinions were rejected by the courts men on the grounds that he did not belong to the gentry.
When his diplomatic crusade did not work, he shifted to revolutionary struggles.
For his almost ten years of stay abroad from 1882 to 1892, Rizal made sure that his time was duly spent in various efforts in securing better status for the Philippines. He had proven that distance is not a hindrance in fulfilling one’s commitment to a noble purpose. Sun also spent the fruitful years of his life abroad as a political exile. While in exile, he founded the Revive China Society, an organization composed of Chinese revolutionaries and expatriates belonging from the lower classes and launched a series of coups to overthrow the Chinese monarchy.
When the Philippine Revolution broke out in 1896, Rizal was in Dapitan as an exile. Patriotic leaders attempted to secure Rizal’s approval of the revolution, but Dr. Pio Valenzuela, Andres Bonifacio’s emissary, revealed in his 1896 account that Rizal did not favor it. In his later account, however, Valenzuela reversed his earlier testimony by saying that the hero was not against the revolution, instead, provided advices that could be of help to the revolutionaries. On 16 October 1911, the Wuchang Uprising took place and it initiated the struggles that put an end to the two thousand-year old imperial rule in China. Though he was not directly involved in Wuchang Uprising, Sun’s name was evoked for keeping the spirit of revolution and nationalism aflame.
Rizal and Sun may not be direct participants to the two phenomenons that greatly affected the Philippines and China, but their names were both evoked by the partakers and will always be honored as inspiration and guiding force in the success of the said historical episodes.