The world-renowned Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the modern-day revolutionary who ended the Chinese dynasties spanning more than 5,000 years of Chinese history and was born 146 years ago Monday, spent some of his formative years in Hawaii.
Sun Mei, his eldest brother who blazed the pathway to Tan Heong Shan, is seldom acknowledged as a historic figure. Born at Choy Hung, Guangdong Province in 1854, "Ahmi," as he was known in Hawaii, left his village of about 100 families and sailed to Hawaii in 1871.
Much talk by fellow villagers and returning sojourners about opportunities and favorable working conditions in Hawaii convinced the young lad to try his luck, too.
The families of Sun Yat-sen, the revolutionary who ended China’s imperial dynasty, and his brother, Sun Mei, pose for this photo in Kula in 1903. Sun Mei is the fourth from the left in the back row. The next person over is Sun Yat-sen.
Sun Mei was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He grew up working with his father in the family's rice fields, then hired out to work as a farm laborer in the village of Namlong 10 miles away. The stocky young man applied himself and became a hard worker.
He paid his dues as a laborer, successfully paving his way in the school of hard knocks by the sweat of his brow. Ahmi had a very basic, rudimentary formal education in the village, at best, but it would be sufficient for his business ventures later.
Young Sun Mei arrived at Honolulu in 1871 and began a career as a hired vegetable gardener. Before the end of the year, he went into business for himself by leasing land at Ewa, Oahu. He cleared the land and planted rice. He began to prosper after a short period of time and opened a store on Nuuanu Street where Chinatown was and still is today.
Being an extrovert and friendly sort, he made solid business contacts by supporting his fellow countrymen and acquaintances, such as Chun Afong from Meixi, Zhuhai, China.
Despite his limited academics, he was very clever, always looking for business opportunities. Ahmi pursued real estate, and his money tree began to grow. In 1877 he returned to Choy Hung to get married, and at the same time recruited fellow villagers to work in Hawaii.
Sponsored by the Hawaiian government, laborers were contracted to work on the sugar plantations. Ahmi earned a tidy sum for each recruit but that was not the end of it. He opened a recruitment office in Choy Hung and provided services to the hired Chinese workers at his store on Nuuanu Street in Honolulu.
In 1881, Sun Mei opted to leave for Maui as the sugar industry there began to blossom. He purchased a store at Kahului and named it "De Chong Long" after his son, Sun Chong. The Kahului business had several shops and became his headquarters and official residence. Ahmi delved headlong in real estate and provided services to his countrymen on Maui.
For Sun Mei, business was very good. With money in the bank and land opportunities available, Ahmi decided to invest in a ranch.
Two years before, in 1879, his brother Tai Cheong arrived in Honolulu. He matriculated and graduated from Iolani School, studied at Oahu College for a semester and returned to Choy Hung after a squabble with his brother regarding Western religion. He went to Hong Kong and studied at a medial college and graduated as a Western doctor.
Dr. Sun Yat-sen and Sun Mei finally saw eye to eye and mended their relationship. Ahmi supported his brother's revolutionary ambitions and committed himself wholeheartedly as a full-fledged revolutionary, donating a huge sum of money and providing moral support to the cause.
On the recommendation of Ahmi, Sun Yat-sen founded the Xin Zhong Hui in November 1894 in Honolulu and the following year armed action was taken.
Haleakala became the place of refuge for the Sun family. The "House of the Sun" was the safe haven after Sun Yat-sen's failed first Canton uprising in October 1895. The failure made the Sun family fugitives from the Ching government. Three hundred thousand teals of silver was the reward offered for Dr. Sun Yat-sen's head.
He was wanted dead or alive by the Ching government, and, if captured, the entire Sun family would be put to death. Fortunately, the Sun family left Choy Hung village and fled to Hong Kong. They booked passage on a ship bound for Japan and escaped.
Unnoticed, they then sailed to Honolulu. The family arrived safely at their final destination, Kahului. It took them several months to accomplish that noteworthy venture.
Sun Mei's mother, Yang Si; Sun Yat-sen's wife, Lu Muzhen; their son, Sun Fo; and daughter, Sun Miao Xi, were met and greeted at the port by Tam Shi, Ahmi's wife. The family members traveled by wagon and horses on a six-hour ride to the sanctuary at Kamaole Ranch, down the road from Keokea.
Ahmi began to build the ranch around 1892. By the time everyone arrived some years later, the refuge was ready to welcome them.
Sun Mei had built a lava-walled rectangular enclosure similar to the walled enclosures at Choy Hung. It was also a self-sustained ranch with a water cistern, vegetable garden, fruit trees, chicken coops, animal pens, a school and assigned horses for everyone.
A gong, an innovative feature, was installed to call the pigs home for dinner. More importantly, it served a dual purpose and could warn everyone at the ranch of unwelcome intruders, like the gongs did at the Kaiping diaolou in southern China as they warned villagers if bandits were approaching. Ahmi also had more than 30 workers at the ranch.
The Makena storekeeper Hung Tai was the lookout if Ching agents landed there. At his Kahului "De Chong Long" establishment, sentries were posted and alert for Manchu bounty hunters. As Sun Mei belonged to the Tao Yee Kwock Society in Wailuku, his fellow colleagues willingly kept an eye out for shifty-eyed strangers.
He also had in his employ more than 1,000 workers, all quite loyal to him. Another ace Ahmi had up his sleeve was the sailboat he purchased, which could provide a means of escape by sea from Kamaole through Makena Landing where it was docked.
Barren Kamaole was not easily accessible by foot or on horseback due to its isolation and desertlike terrain. Sun Mei had arranged a protective network of obstacles, sentries and escape hatches, which provided a safe ranch of refuge for his family on Maui. His remarkable foresight kept the Sun family members safe until they all left Maui by the end of 1908.
* Maui-born Robert Cup Choy was raised in Makawao and now lives in Montebello, Calif. He owns a home in Kihei. He has been a student of Chinese history and has written a book about his uncle, David Cup Choy. He is writing a book about Sun Mei.