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In The Shadow of Greatness
While much has been written about Dr. Sun Yat-sen, a forerunner of the Chinese democratic revolution, less is known about his family. With unfettered access to a trove of personal documents and public records, and the cooperation of surviving family members and friends, Shen Feide, of the Shanghai Literature and History Archive Institute, has published "The Republic's First Family - The Sun Family," a book providing insights into Sun's extended family.

In "The Republic's First Family," author Shen Feide explores four generations of Sun Yat-sen's family, shedding light on the struggles and achievements of great man's descendants, including his granddaughter Nora Sun who has made contact with distant family members thanks to the author's research.

Dr. Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925) is held in the highest esteem by Chinese people throughout the world.

For it was Sun who brought an end to 2,000 years of feudalism in China. Known as the forerunner of the Chinese democratic revolution, Sun struggled for over two decades to bring a nationalist and democratic revolution to China, finally triumphing in 1911 with the establishment of the Chinese Republic - which he served as president.

As befits someone of his stature, there have been numerous well-researched academic works and unauthorized biographies about Sun, most of which focus on his political life and place in history.

Shen Feide's recent addition to the cannon, "The Republic's First Family - the Sun Family" is an accessible account of the great man and his descendants.

The love story between Sun and Soong Ching Ling (1893-1981) is one of the most interesting aspects of his private life, and has for long captured the popular imagination - at times relegating Sun's other loves to relative obscurity.

Of Sun's first wife, Lu Muzhen (1867-1952), and his companion in revolution and soul mate, Chen Cuifen (1873-1960), little has been written.

"The Republic's First Family" explores four generations of one of China's most illustrious families, shedding light on the struggles and achievements of Sun's descendants and how they dealt with their relation to such a widely-revered figure.

The idea of writing the book occurred to Shen, 39, a staff member at the Shanghai Literature and History Archive Institute and deputy editor of "Century" magazine, after he met Lan Ni (1911-1996), the second wife of Sun Yat-sen's only son, Sun Ke (1891-1973).

The beautiful Lan - a Chinese Vivien Leigh - was a legend in 1930s and 1940s Shanghai. Born to an affluent family in Yunnan Province, Lan rubbed shoulders with the rich and powerful as a leading Shanghai socialite. She had brains as well as beauty, as her vast real estate holdings in Shanghai attest.

Sun Ke and Lan Ni were wed in secret, with only a few close friends aware of the marriage.

Their lives were shrouded in some secrecy added to their mystique, and even today there is speculation about the nature of their relationship.

Shen spent 10 years collecting archival information about Sun's family. His position at the institute gave him access to a wealth of personal documents and public records. He interviewed surviving family members and old friends, many of whom had never been interviewed before.

This book tells a story of epic proportions, brimming with triumph and tragedy, courage and compliance, self-sacrifice and self-delusion.

Included are 32 pages of rare family photographs, and a detailed family tree in the back of the book is a helpful reference.

Nora Sun, the daughter of Sun Ke and Lan Ni and granddaughter of Sun Yat-sen, is no stranger to statecraft.

As a diplomat, she has served in missions at the US Consulate in Guangzhou, and later in Shanghai and Paris.

"I never met my grandfather; he died before I was born," says Sun, who agreed to be interviewed for the book.

"But all the evidence points to the fact that my grandfather was a great leader because he was so unselfish. He may have been selfish in other ways, but not with the country, not with the people. He didn't do it for personal gain, to have his family make money," she adds.

"Almost everybody in the book had direct interaction with my grandfather, and through them, we see his human side," says Sun.

"I don't think anybody should be put on a pedestal and worshipped. Everyone is human. Even the greatest person has faults. The book shows my grandfather's human side, warts and all, which I think is wonderful, and makes him a real, but no less honorable, human being," she says.

Nora Sun admits that before the book, she knew very little about other branches of the family, and there was little contact among far-flung family members.

But "The Republic's First Family" has given her insight into her extended family.

Thanks to the author's research, she has made contact with distant members, like her cousin Wang Hongzhi, whom she met for the first time in 1999.

"I hope this book will be translated into English so that non-Chinese readers, who have an interest in my family's history, can enjoy this authoritative account," says Sun.

(eastday.com September 30, 2002)

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