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Punahou's connection with China
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Sun Yat-sen's Education in Hawaii

"Before coming to Punahou, Sun Yat-sen had spent three years at 'Iolani – another school in Hawaii – so we can take more modest credit for educating him after he graduated from 'Iolani." Scott continues: "Our records show that Sun Yat-sen was exposed to Western thoughts and groundbreaking ideas in philosophy, religion, literature and history when he attended Punahou. We'd like to say that the combination of his education at 'Iolani and Punahou Schools exposed him to the early seeds of Western thought."

In the 1870s, the 13-year-old Tai Cheong boarded a ship bound for Hawaii. His elder brother, who was a successful Honolulu rice farmer and merchant, enrolled him at 'Iolani School where the boy mastered the English language in only three years. Upon graduation, Tai Cheong received an award in English grammar from King David Kalakaua.

Old School Hall, where Dr. Sun Yat-sen could have attended classes at Punahou [Kathleen Connelly/Punahou School]
Old School Hall, where Dr. Sun Yat-sen could have attended classes at Punahou [Kathleen Connelly/Punahou School]

In the spring of 1883, Tai Cheong entered Punahou (which was known as Oahu College, and was the only institution of higher education in Hawaii at that time) to pursue advanced courses in mathematics, geography, history and other subjects. Tai Cheong's study at Punahou was terminated in June of that year when his brother became aware of the boy's growing fascination with Christianity.

"His brother said: 'I brought you here to be educated, to read books and help my business, not to let you become a revolutionary.'" This is another reason why Dr. Sun Yat-sen was forced to leave Punahou, noted Dr. Scott. Parents want to make sure their children are ready to face the world, but they have a difficult time letting go of their ties. "The same is true in 1883 and 2008 – 125 years later. Some things never change," Scott laughs. "Even today we have the same tension. Parents want their children to be obedient and grow up to make them proud, but our students tend to be independent thinkers, which is exactly Punahou's goal."

Established in 1841, Punahou is one of the oldest schools in the US. It occupies 76 acres and has a current enrollment of 3,760 students. "We are the oldest school in the West, and we are also the largest single-campus independent school in America, educating students from kindergarten through the 12th grade." Dr. Scott observes that what makes Punahou unique is its history and tradition. "Punahou is confident and it is well-regarded. Because of that, we can be innovative and creative in terms of curriculum. We strive to maintain a balance between history and change."

The interactive mode of education at Punahou encourages its students to ask probing questions, challenge assumptions, and formulate their own answers to difficult societal issues. "Essentially, our mission is to help students become independent learners and to make them responsible for their education. Students have to learn to think critically and creatively." Dr. Scott notes that these are some of the qualities of leadership that alumni such as Barack Obama and Sun Yat-sen exemplify.

Punahou's distinguished alumni include Steve Case, who co-founded AOL, and Pierre Omidyar, who founded eBay. "So you can see our graduates excel in many fields — in government, art, business, sports and sciences," says Scott. He notes that Punahou is proud of all its graduates.

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