East Asian Library receives gift and visit from family of modern China’s founding father

Pearl Sun Lin with a donation item
Pearl Sun Lin, granddaughter of the founding president of the Republic of China, stands behind a scroll depicting her grandfather’s swearing-in ceremony. (Photos by J.Pierre Carrillo for the UC Berkeley Library)

Pearl Sun Lin — granddaughter of Sun Yat-sen, founding father of the Republic of China — visited the C. V. Starr East Asian Library on Friday, gracing the space with not only her company, but also a historic gift.

In 1911, Sun Yat-sen and other revolutionaries overthrew the Qing dynasty, the last imperial dynasty of China. During her visit to the library, Pearl Sun Lin revealed the donation of a trove of family relics to the library, including materials related to her grandfather.

According to Peter Zhou, director of the East Asian Library, or EAL, the gift marks the first time Sun Yat-sen’s descendants have given such materials to an American institution. At the event, Pearl Sun Lin thanked the library for its future stewardship of the collection, saying she was “honored” to have it find a home at EAL.

Items include an illustrated book depicting Sun Yat-sen’s state burial in Nanjing, accompanied by Pearl Sun Lin’s account of the event; historical photos of Sun Yat-sen; books about him; and memorabilia.

Two men hold a donated itemType-written pages on a table
Top to bottom: Left to right: Peter Zhou, director of the East Asian Library, left, and Sharat Lin, the great-grandson of Sun Yat-sen, show memorabilia donated by Sun Yat-sen’s family; Pearl Lin Sun’s two-page account of Sun Yat-sen’s burial in 1925 — when she was 6 — accompanies an illustration of the ceremony, another gift.

Zhou said the family became acquainted with EAL last year, when the library was gifted the archives of the Chee Kung Tong — a benevolent society that helped Sun Yat-sen mobilize the Chinese diaspora for their support of the 1911 Revolution.

“Sun Yat-sen was affiliated with the Chee Kung Tong in San Francisco when he came to the United States at the turn of the 20th century to spread his revolutionary ideas and messages,” Zhou explained. “The Tong was instrumental in many ways to help him in his efforts to awaken the Chinese and overthrow the feudal Qing dynasty.”

The Tong archives include meticulously sorted documents and correspondence from the late 19th and early 20th century, as well as many photos.

“It’s a really complicated history — the history of these various revolutionary factions working together to overthrow the Qing government,” said Deborah Rudolph, curator of EAL’s rare materials. “These archives are really significant for that study.”

Zhou said Sun Yat-sen’s family was impressed by EAL’s history of curating and protecting special and rare materials such as the Tong archives, and that they hope to donate more items in the future.

“This shows that the library enjoys respect and trust among the public,” Zhou said.