"A Hawaiian Born Native"

With the handwritten phrase, "Weller says that he gave the passport back to this Chinaman," the file of one of world's most important figures of the twentieth century begins on June 10th of 1896. As a faded newspaper clipping in the file proclaims - "A century that began with Lenin, Sun Yat-sen, Gandhi and Wilson was certain to be shaped by ideas," it's evident that this person is no typical "paper son."

Sun Yat Sen is widely known as the "founding father" of the Republic of China, which brought to an end thousands of years of dynastic rule in the largest country on earth. However, few know that Sun Yat Sen was also someone who claimed to be a "native born Hawaiian." His case file includes the handwritten, sworn and signed testimony of both a Hawaiian farmer and that of Sun Yat Sen himself, regarding his birth and early childhood on the island of Oahu. Later, immigration officials find out that his true identity is that of a famous Chinese revolutionary in search of refuge and support for his cause in America. This case file of Sun Yat Sen is certainly one of the most fascinating discoveries in recent history at the National Archives (see re-print of article "No Such Yat-Sen: An Archival Success Story" by Neil L. Thomsen on this web site).

Commentary by Historian Him Mark Lai

During Sun Yat-sen's first trip to North America in 1896 he already had a price on his head as a revolutionary. Tailed by agents of the Imperial government, he was trapped and held captive in the Chinese embassy when he reached London. He was saved only by the intervention of an English friend. Thus, when Sun came again in 1904, it was not surprising that he assumed U.S. citizenship for protection, anticipating any moves that the Imperial government may make against him. Even so, INS detained him for a lengthy period.

After the founding of the Republic, Sun's status changed in that now he was the head of state and the acknowledged leader of China. Thus, the U.S. State Department probably took a long-ranged view looking at Sun's case from the point of view of American interests in China, while INS was only interested in applying the exclusion laws. In the end, the differences within the U.S. government regarding Sun's admission did not come to a head since Sun never returned to the U.S. after the revolution.

SOURCE: Sun Yat Sen, 9995; Arrival Investigation Case Files, 1884-1944; San Francisco District Office; Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, Record Group 85; National Archives and Records Administration - Pacific Region (San Francisco).