Wordcatcher Tales: Nakayama > Zhongshan

In 1987–88, the Far Outliers spent a year teaching English at newly founded Sunwen College in Zhongshan City, Guangdong Province, China, about an hour by car north of Macao, which at that time was still a Portuguese colony. Our daughter, who was two at the time, learned to recognize the Chinese characters 中山市 (Zhongshanshi), which were ubiquitous on vehicles and signs around the city. (The photo shows her with the principal of her preschool, who was also the auntie of one of our students—otherwise they wouldn’t have taken her. They didn’t realize until too late that she was a year younger than the others in her class.)

We soon came to realize that hardly anyone in China recognized the Cantonese name Sun Yat-sen (孫逸仙), whose famous bearer is known throughout China as Sun Zhongshan (孙中山). The name of the college, Sunwen (孙文) was the same man’s “school name” (学名 xuémíng, informally 大名 dàmíng ‘big name’), the name he signed on official documents. The man had a lot of names.

What I didn’t realize until just recently was that the name by which he is known in China derives from the alias he used in Japan—and not vice versa—at least according to Wikipedia:

In 1897, Sun Yat-sen arrived in Japan, and when he went to a hotel he had to register his name. Desiring to remain hidden from Japanese authorities, his friend wrote down the Japanese family name Nakayama (中山) on the register for him, and Sun Yat-sen chose the given name Shō (樵).

Allegedly, on their way to the hotel they had passed by the Palace of Marquis Nakayama (family home of the Meiji Emperor’s mother) near Hibiya Park in central Tokyo, and so his friend chose the family name which they had seen hanging at the door of the palace.

For the most part of his stay in Japan, he was known as Nakayama Shō (中山樵). The kanji for Nakayama can be read in Chinese as Zhōngshān.

And now you can find universities, roads, and parks named for Zhongshan all over China and Taiwan (thanks to the imperialism of Japanese aliases, or the anti-imperialism of the alias holder, or something).

PS: Our daughter, whose first preschool was Zhongshan No. 2 Preschool (中山第二幼儿园) in Sun Yat-sen’s hometown, later graduated from Sun Yat-sen’s alma mater in Honolulu.

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Filed under China, Japan, language

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