KULA, Hawaii >> The Maui ranch house on the slopes of Haleakala that once helped to raise the founder the Republic Of China is gone.
But a banyan tree next to the former family living quarters of Sun Yat-sen remain, along with remnants of a rock-walled reservoir of a vast ranch that once extended from the mountains of Kula to the coastline of Makena.
Some miles away at a Chinese temple where Sun received support for his revolution, 22 teenage students from his hometown in Southern China have been following the steps of a man who changed the course of a nation.
“He was a brave, great man,” said 11-year-old Hun Juntao, who attends Yang Xian Yi Primary School in a city named after Sun.
Hun, whose school teaches English as a second language, said the Sun family is also admired for supporting his education in Hawaii and the overthrow of the foreign Manchu dynasty from China.
To honor the visit of the student group, Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa proclaimed last Friday as “Chinese History Day,” recognizing the contributions of Chinese immigrants.
At the Maui Council Chambers, the student group was welcomed by Maui County Council chairman Michael White and and Councilwoman Yukimura Sugimura.
Sun was 13, when he and his mother moved from their farm home in Guangdong Province to Hawaii, where his brother Sun Mei had business interests in Honolulu and Maui.
The Sun family lived in a mud hut on the edge of Cuiheng village sharing in common with relatives a couple of acres of rice-growing land, when Sun Mei left China with the hope of finding better opportunities in a region that suffered from famines, bandits, and government corruption, the family said.
Besides becoming a successful farmer on Oahu, where there was a labor shortage due to the decimation of the native Hawaiian race, Sun Mei prospered from recruiting immigrant laborers from his village.
He also acquired the use of thousands of acres on Maui for his ranch, including a lease from the Hawaiian monarchy, according to family researcher Victor Sun.
Sun Mei financed Sun Yat-sen’s education and was a major contributor to the revolution spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to support his brother and overthrow the Manchus.
After the initial revolt in 1895, the ranch served as a safe haven for the family and relatives of the Sun.
Sun Yat-sen, 12 years younger than Sun Mei, was sent to private schools on Oahu, including schools now known as Iolani and Punahou that provided a foundation for understanding the principles of democracy.
In 1882 after three years of study, he received an award in English grammar from King David Kalakaua.
After Sun Yat-sen returned to China, some of his teachers and fellow schoolmates eventually became supporters of his effort to organize revolts against the Manchu’s Ching Dynasty, including Chung Kun Ai, the founder of City Mill, and Tam Kui Fook, whose family once ran Ah Fook Supermarket in Kahului.
The two-story Kwock Hing Society Building in Kula, now a historical landmark, served as a place for numerous meetings supporting Sun Yat-sen.
In 1911, a victory at Wuchang in China established the Republic and Sun Yat-sen was name the nation’s first president in 1912.
Sarah Shim, an Ah Fook relative by marriage, said the Kwock Hing Society Building was a place where Chinese gathered for parties, received information about China, and support the revolution.
“This is how they communicated with all the people back home,” she said.
Starting Monday, the students are scheduled to visit their sister public school Hahaione Elementary in Hawaii Kai for four days, learning about various courses offered from kindergarten through fifth grade, including Mandarin.
They’re scheduled to visit Honolulu City Hall Friday before returning to China.
Leigh-wai Doo, a former Honolulu Councilman and one of the organizers of the trip, said he hopes the visit will help to encourage a better understanding of the ties between China and the United States.