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Sir Robert Hotung Bosman, KBE JP (1862 – 1956) was a Hong Kong businessman and philanthropist in British Hong Kong known as "the grand old man of Hong Kong". He has a colorful history, being the richest man in the colony at 35 and the first Eurasian allowed to live up on 'The Peak' (Victoria Peak or Mount Austin) and etc.

He funded Sun Yat-sen in his 1911 Xinhai Revolution, which overthrew the last dynasty of China (the Qing), ending thousands of years of dynastic rule and giving birth to the Republic of China, ROC. But after that the country broke down into Civil War, with warlords and factions fighting each other, among them the Republic of China (KMT, Kuomintang) and Communists (CCP, Chinese Communist Party) - with the Communists finally winning in 1949 and establishing the People's Republic of China, PRC, driving the KMT Socialists to Taiwan, which remains the ROC to this day.

But Sun Yat Sen and the KMT were socialist. As early as 1905 (6 years prior to the 1911 revolution which Hotung funded), Sun Yat Sen was espousing socialist economics in the founding goals of the Tongmenghui (his revolutionary society which would become the KMT after the revolution). It's goals were:

"To expel the Manchu people, to revive Zhonghua (i.e. China), to establish a Republic, and to distribute land equally among the people. (驅除韃虜, 恢復中華, 創立民國, 平均地權)."

He was espousing his Three Principles of the People from 1905, the third of which was socialism (ideas he picked up from 1896 to 1898 during his three-year trip to Europe). As all of that was prior to the 1911 Xinhai Revolution, Hotung should have been well aware that he was funding a socialist. So the question I want to know and can't find any source material to answer is: What were the exact politics beliefs of Sir Robert Hotung regarding socialism and communism?

"In a nutshell, it is my idea to make capitalism create socialism in China so that these two economic forces of human evolution will work side by side in future civilization. If we use existing foreign capital to build up a future communist society in China, half the work will bring double the results." Sun Yatsen (Source: Socialism with Chinese Characteristics: Sun Yatsen and the International Development of China, The University of Chicago Press)

The first two principles of nationalism and democracy are not hard to swallow, and it's easy to understand Hotung's support for founding overthrowing the extraordinarily backward Qing monarchy and founding a republic, but the third principle of socialism remains an issue to this day, and both communist China (The People's Republic) and Taiwan (The Republic) call him "Mr. Sun Zhongshan, Father of the Nation" (國父 孫中山先生) [Note: Zhongshan means 'Fragrant Mountain' and is an epithet] [Note: And that large space between '國父' and '孫中山先生' is a full-width (1 character wide) space which is a traditional homage symbol to denote respect, called Tai Tou]. The Communists even call him the "Forerunner of the Revolution" (革命先行者) [i.e. of their Communist revolution]. Also, Sun Yat Sen's widow Soong Ching-ling sided with the communists during the Chinese Civil War and served as vice-president/chairwoman of the PRC (1949-1981) and as honorary president shortly before her death in 1981.

So, the KMT themselves were socialists (Socialist ideology of the KMT) with deep ties to the Soviet U.S.S.R., modelling both their party and military academy on Soviet lines, and their leader after Sun Yat Sen was Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, who was called the "Red General." In Shanghai, after (and while) crushing the communists, he turned on the capitalists of the International Settlement, blocking them from gaining any political power or voice in his regime, attacking them and confiscating their capital and assets for the use of the government, and using gangster connections to do so, with the KMT media openly denouncing capitalism.

The factionalism also spread to South China where Hotung lived (but in Hong Kong, then a British colony, until its much later handover in 1997), which is in the South China Guangdong region. The Old Guangxi Clique disagreed with Sun Yat Sen and squeezed him out of power, only to be defeated by him and the Yunnan clique in the Guangdong-Guangxi War of 1920.

Note: Interesting links regarding these southern factions and their disputes: Lu Rongting, Chen Jiongming. I read (but can't find a link now) that it was Sun Yat Sen's socialism which was one of the issues which caused the mercantile south to take up arms against him, but we also read: "Chen disagreed with Sun about the direction that reform should take—Sun wanted to unite the country by force and institute change through a centralized government based on a one-party system, while Chen advocated multiparty federalism with Guangdong becoming the model province and the peaceful unification of China. Sun became suspicious that the federalist movement was being exploited by the warlords to justify their military fiefdoms."

So what were the nuances of Hotung's political beliefs on this topic, including whether they changed or not (with age and with the changing tides of the civil war), and if so then how and when did they change?

One of his sons, Robbie Ho Shai-lai (1906–1998) [second son with his second wife Clara] was a General of the KMT 'Nationalists' (socialists), who even renounced his British nationality to became a citizen of the Republic of China. He also served as ambassador to Japan for the Republic of China and was a member of their military delegation to the United Nations.

Looking backwards, Sun Yat sen was a schoolmate of Robert Hotung's younger brother Ho Komtong, both being born in 1866 and being graduates of The Government Central School (大書院/ 中央書院) (now called Queen's College). Kom Tong Hall, which Ho Komtong owned, is now the Dr Sun Yat-sen Museum (though Sun Yat Sen never stepped into the building himself).

Later, in 1923, the association continued: "When Dr Sun left Shanghai for Guangzhou via Hong Kong, he called at Hotung's house on 18 February 1923. Two days later, Dr Sun was accompanied by Hotung to Loke Yew Hall at the University of Hong Kong, where he was warmly received by the representatives of the University, including Ho SaiKim, son of Hotung and Chairman of the University's student union. Ho SaiKim even sat beside Dr Sun while a group photograph was taken after the function."

So through all of the tumultuous factionalism of the Chinese Civil War, what - if anything - were the solid political beliefs of Sir Robert Hotung on this matter of socialism (and of communism)? Are there any known private letters in which he stated his beliefs? In 1923 the South China Morning Post (a newspaper) reported that he suggested a Modus Vivendi for the warring factions of China to reach a settlement (Bernard Shaw's Bridges to Chinese Culture, Kay Li, pg. 83).

He hosted George Bernard Shaw, the famous Fabian Socialist, as well as US Vice President John Nance Garner in 1935.

  • 1
    Fine research and the question could benefit from editing. – Aaron Brick Mar 22 at 16:05
  • Political beliefs when? People's political beliefs change over time, so there is no guarantee that documents or evidence as you seek are relevant to the time period of your interest. – Pieter Geerkens Mar 22 at 18:09
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    It seems to me the question is more about ideology rather than specific beliefs per se. Feel free to revert if this is not so, but exact beliefs can change rapidly based on political realities whereas ideology is a more stable overall lean. – Semaphore Mar 22 at 21:20
  • @Semaphore I'm really looking for a detailed understand of his beliefs, as far as possible, down to the changes and nuances. Part of the problem of the history of the civil war is the lack of access to exactly these details I think. Question updated accordingly. – Johan88 Mar 23 at 10:10
  • If so then you might find it more advisable to pick a specific incident, topic, or time period to focus on (and ask as many questions as you require). Detailing beliefs over a lifetime may approximate a biography which would be too long for most people to answer. – Semaphore Mar 23 at 10:19

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