October 11 will be the 120th anniversary of Sun Yat Sen's kidnapping in London. Paul Charman says a newspaper article foiled the plot to kill "the Father of the Chinese Republic".

Last week, while on holiday in London, I realised Sun Yat Sen's London memorial was only a short walk from our hotel at Lincoln Inn Fields.

My wife and I soon tracked down the modest plaque on the side of a building in the City Law School, just off Chancery Lane, and spent a short while reflecting on events it recalled.

Okay, in wonderful London - where it seems there's some fascinating historic site every few paces - this one looks to be nothing special in itself.

It was being largely ignored by staff and tradesmen working at the law school the afternoon we visited, but then again we were a few weeks ahead of the anniversary it recalls .

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And what momentous events . . . a story long-overdue for a movie or television series.
The 1896 kidnapping of Sun Yat Sen is remembered by millions of people in both China and Taiwan, where he is still revered.

Sun headed up the revolution which toppled the Manchu Dynasty, becoming first president and founding father of the Republic of China.

Like some shadowy Gandalf, much of his revolutionary career was spent travelling incognito, in his case through the China, Hawaii, the Americas, Japan and Europe.

He remained on the move to raise money from the far-flung Chinese diaspora, to network with supporters of the revolution and write its manifesto.

Being a kind-hearted Christian doctor, Sun was an unusual revolutionary to say the least.
But he was also a man of steely purpose, determined to overthrow of the emperor; drive out colonial powers bleeding his country dry and uplift of the Chinese people.

During his brief 58 years Sun succeeded in the first goal and began to the long process to achieve the next two - not half bad for a revolutionary whose tools were letters and sailing ships, rather than emails and jet travel.

Yet regardless of how highly you how highly you rate Sun's revolutionary career, almost exactly 120 years ago it nearly came to an abrupt halt.

For the full story visit http://www.sunyatsenhouse.com/kidnap-in-london, but for my brief resume, read on:

Imperial agents - who had secretly tailed Sun from America - snatched him as he walked from his London digs to the nearby British Museum.

He was first tricked, then shoved into the Chinese Legation.

On Sunday, October 11, he was walking to the home of missionary friends, the Cantlies, when a Chinese person came up and engaged him in conversation.

A second man joined them and invited Sun to come and "enjoy a smoke and a chat". A third man joined the group, and (in Sun's words), " the door of an adjacent house opened, and I was half-jokingly, half persistently compelled to enter by my companions . . . I was not a little surprised when the front door was somewhat hurriedly closed and bared behind me."

Paul by Sun Yat Sen plaque. Photo / Supplied
Paul by Sun Yat Sen plaque. Photo / Supplied

Sun was locked away to await the arrival of a ship on the Thames.

The plan was take him all the way back to China for torture, during which it was planned to extract the names of his many accomplices and contacts around the world.

But a few days after he vanished, his close friend - British missionary James Cantlie - got word of the plot.

Cantlie gave the story to a Times reporter but even the so-called "Old Thunderer" showed disgraceful lack of interest.

The English establishment "wanted no incident with China", with which it did good business.

Cantlie then lobbied Whitehall, Scotland Yard, the Foreign Office and even applied to a judge for a writ of Haebeus Corpus, but all to no avail.

Perhaps the establishment considered the affair "a cultural thing", best left to the Chinese sort out themselves.

In any case, there was some doubt as to whether he'd entered the Legation voluntarily . . .
But the main barrier was a man working behind the scenes to stymie all efforts to free Sun, Sir Halliday Macartney.

An elderly gentleman with white hair and a beard, Sir Halliday was a well-respected member of the British establishment - and also a trusted lieutenant of the Manchu dynasty.

Sir Halliday persuaded those in authority that it was best to let the Chinese solve the affair their own way.

But Cantlie had one last shot to fire.

Fortunately the competitive nature of the late Victorian press came to his rescue.

Another newspaper, "The Globe", found out about the story and printed it, with headlines "Startling Story! Conspirator Kidnapped in London! Imprisonment in the Chinese Embassy!"
By October 23, the British press had surrounded the Legation building.

At 4.30 pm Cantlie knocked on the front door with Inspector Jarvis of Scotland Yard and a messenger from the Foreign Office at his side.

Sir Halliday appeared and was forced to hand Sun over to officials and the waiting media.

Following an impromptu press conference and some formalities at Scotland Yard, Sun was free to go home with his friends.

Sun later recalled that after dinner that night, he sat on the sofa and listened to the Cantlie boys playing - "You be Sun, you'll be Sir Halliday and I'll do the rescue".

Of course, being a man of prayer he credited the Almighty with delivering him from his enemies, later writing:

"In those days of suffering I only beat my heart and repented and earnestly prayed. For six or seven days I prayed incessantly day and night. The more I prayed the more earnest I was in my prayer. On the seventh day I felt suddenly comforted. I was absolutely without fear. The state of feeling comforted and feeling brave came to be unconsciously. This was the result of prayer. How fortunate I was to receive the Grace of God."

Well and good, but taking nothing away from Sun's piety, I'll point out that that the instrument used to achieve his deliverance was actually robust and genuine competition in the media.

And, as far as I am concerned, God help the country that loses that.