Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Charter 08's Qing Dynasty Precursor

This article is re-published to salute the life and work of Chinese political reformer Liu Xiaobo. Liu died in custody on July 13, 2017 at age 61, effectively executed by his government as he languished in prison with untreated liver cancer. Inside China, few have heard of Liu, who was imprisoned for his involvement in the Charter 08 petition movement calling for constitutional and political reform. Sadly, the world also abandoned Liu even after he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010. 

Charter 08's Qing Dynasty Precursor by Jane Leung Larson with commentary by Chinese Australian scholar Feng Chongyi (who was himself detained on his last visit to China) first appeared in Asia Pacific Journal in July 2011. Kang Youwei's 1908 constitutional petition is a forerunner of Charter 08, comparable not only as a comprehensive program to reform China's autocracy but for how the Chinese government responded. The article opens:

Over the gulf of one century and two revolutions, two groups of Chinese petitioners drafted remarkably similar blueprints for political reform. Both groups sought civil rights and political responsibilities for Chinese citizens and a Western-influenced form of constitutional government to replace rule by autocracy. Today, China’s autocratic government is ruled by the Chinese Communist Party, and in the waning years of the Chinese empire, it was ruled by the Qing dynasty. The striking differences between these petition movements are as instructive as their similarities, reflecting not only the qualities of the movements themselves but the radically different political environments—inside and outside China—from which they emerged.

In 2008, Charter 08 declared that “freedom, equality, and human rights are universal values of humankind, and democracy and constitutional government are the fundamental framework for protecting these values.”[1] Charter 08’s drafters, of whom the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo is the most prominent, describe themselves as inheriting China’s historical legacy of political reform. They called for a citizens’ movement “so that we can bring to reality the goals and ideals our people have incessantly been seeking for more than a hundred years.” They credit the 1898 Hundred Days of Reform led by the Guangxu Emperor to transform China into a constitutional monarchy with being China’s “first attempt at modern political change,” and the first sentence of their petition reads, “A hundred years have passed since the writing of China‘s first constitution.” 


Indeed, this decade, 1898 to 1908, foreshadowed what has been more than a century-long sporadic, often marginal, and as yet unfulfilled movement to eliminate China’s autocratic system and give Chinese people the right to take part in national affairs. As Charter 08 acerbically notes, with “the revolution of 1911, which inaugurated Asia’s first republic, the authoritarian imperial system that had lasted for centuries was finally supposed to have been laid to rest.” All too soon, “the new republic became a fleeting dream.” And, finally, “the ’new China’ that emerged in 1949 proclaimed that ‘the people are sovereign’ but in fact set up a system in which ‘the Party is all-powerful’. . . . Unfortunately, we stand today as the only country among the major nations that remains mired in authoritarian politics.





[1]China’s Charter 08,” translated from the Chinese by Perry Link, New York Review of Books, January 15, 2009http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2009/jan/15/chinas-charter-08/

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Boise, Idaho Signboard for the Imperial Constitutional Association

Signboard from Baohuanghui
Building, Boise, Idaho
Courtesy of Asian American
Comparative Collection,
University of Idaho,
AACC-2015-20.
This is the only extant example of a Chinese Empire Reform Association (CERA) signboard. It comes from a CERA building that was constructed after Kang Youwei visited Boise, Idaho from October 18 to 25, 1905. We do not know when this building at Seventh and Front Street was completed, but  on February 26, 1907, the local reform association led a parade with a 20-man dragon that ended at this address ("Chinese Lion to Protect Joss," Idaho Statesman, February 21, 1907). The CERA building was one of several new Baohuanghui buildings erected beginning in 1905 in Victoria, BC and Los Angeles, among other places. The Boise brick and stone building was to cost about $3,000 to build, with two stories (ground level for retail use, the second floor for the CERA meeting hall) ("Chinamen Plan $3000 Building," Idaho Statesman, November 14, 1905).

Seals "Kang Youwei yin" and "Gengsheng."
Courtesy of Asian American Comparative Collection,
University of Idaho, AACC-2015-20.



"Diguo Xianzhenghui" or Imperial Constitutional Association is carved and painted on the wood signboard. On the left are two seals, the top reading "Kang Youwei yin" (the seal of Kang Youwei) and the bottom " "Gengsheng" ("born again"--Kang Youwei's nickname during his exile). Because Kang changed the name of CERA in Chinese from Baohuanghui, or Protect the Emperor Association, to Xianzhenghui on the lunar new year (February 13, 1907), we know the sign dates from 1907 or later.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Baohuanghui in Montana and Beyond: Discoveries and Interpretations from the Concordia International School in Shanghai

Kang and his traveling party visited the Original Mine (copper) in Butte, Montana Sept. 29, 1905. Kang Tongbi South Windsor collection, privately held in China. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Chinese Empire Reform Association of Marysville, California, 1904

Courtesy of Community Memorial Museum, Yuba City, California

An unusual poster from California's third largest Chinese community, Marysville, illustrates both the unity and the diversity of the Baohuanghui. The poster [here in higher resolution] was printed from a glass plate donated to Yuba City's Community Memorial Museum and brought to our attention by volunteer curator Patricia Justus and historian of Marysville Chinese, Paul Chace.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Baohuanghui Archives

Baohuanghui Archives are publicly available archives either online or in libraries,  not in private collections or on websites with restricted access. This is a Google doc that you may download.

Please comment on additions or corrections to this document at http://baohuanghui.blogspot.com/

A Chinese Reformer in Exile: Kang Youwei and the Chinese Empire Reform Association in North America, 1899-1909



A book in progress . . . 
By Robert L. Worden (Library of Congress, ret.) and Jane Leung Larson (independent scholar) With Zhongping Chen (University of Victoria), Chen Xuezhang (independent scholar, Guangzhou), and Evelyn Hu-DeHart (Brown University)

A Chinese Reformer in Exile will be a narrative history of the North American decade (1899 1909) of the radical Qing reformer, Kang Youwei, and his political movement. 

Our book will fill a critical gap in late Qing political history and in the biography of China’s most famous reformer. This will be the first book in English devoted to Kang’s exile and transnational political organization, the Baohuanghui or Chinese Empire Reform Association (CERA). Traversing the United States, Canada, Mexico, and China, this will become an authoritative reference for historians of the Chinese diaspora as well as political scientists studying Chinese dissidents, Chinese political organizations, and the development of Chinese liberalism.

We demonstrate that Kang’s fifteen years in exile—especially the decade spanning his visits to North America—were the most productive in his life. Kang embraced a new persona as politician, statesman, business speculator, and inveterate traveler, while assiduously adding to his already voluminous written legacy of books, essays, letters, and poems. North America inspired Kang’s transformation from a utopian philosopher into a more practical visionary consumed with the material world, which he now believed was the means of national salvation for China.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Kang Tongbi Collection of South Windsor, Connecticut--New England AAS Presentation



American academics previewed the newly-discovered South Windsor collection of Kang Youwei and Baohuanghui documents at the New England conference of the Association of Asian Studies on October 4, 2014. 

Linked here is Jane Leung Larson's PowerPoint presentation with speaker notes. A more detailed exploration of the collection is in Larson's paper. In March 2016, Larson revised her paper and presentation for a panel on transnational Chinese political feminism organized by Zhongping Chen at the national Association of Asian Studies in Seattle, These are the documents linked to above.