Monday, June 3, 2013

A Drifting Stranger from 20,000 Li Away: Kang Youwei in Canada


A drifting stranger from 20,000 li away;
Long white sideburns of 40 years time [born 1858];
Turning to look at the Milky Way and enjoying the bright moonlight;
Most rare on Wen Dao [Coal Island] to chat with fellow villagers;
Ashamed to shock the neighbors with the troubles and disasters of our party;
Ashamed of having accomplished nothing for our fellow countrymen;
Afraid this may be a separation forever from my native place . . .
Kang Youwei spent Mid-autumn Festival, 1899, with a fellow countryman, Su Shiyi, on a rocky forested island near Victoria, BC, talking about "the past, our relatives, our friends, and our country. When I thought of our country, I could not help but worry. I wish to send this message to all that they may know how I feel as an exiled man."  Su recorded the poem as Kang spoke it aloud, and it was printed to mail around the world. [View the full poem at the UCLA Digital Library Tom Leung Collection #135.

Canada was where Kang landed in April 1899 and where he created the Baohuanghui in July. Victoria and Vancouver were the major cities where Chinese settled in Canada.  Li Fuji (Lee Folk Gay) of Victoria and Ye En (Yip En) of Vancouver became prominent members of the international core of the Chinese Empire Reform Association (CERA) and its business offspring, the Commercial Corporation. Kang quickly came to trust these men and sent them to the United States to mobilize chapters and to Hong Kong to pursue business opportunities for the organization. Victoria is considered the birthplace of CERA.

Many other towns in British Columbia and cities elsewhere in Canada hosted Baohuanghui chapters, altogether nearly 40 by the count of Zhongping Chen, University of Victoria (see Mapping the Baohuanghui for details).  Chen and other scholars have recently developed a website devoted to the history of Chinese in Victoria, with entries on Kang, CERA, and the Chinese Empire Ladies Association, as well as Baohuanghui leader Li Fuji. British Columbia scholars have shared archival materials on the Chinese in Vancouver and B.C. on the website, Historical Chinese Language Materials In British Columbia featuring images, links to Chinese Canadian and Chinatown archives all over the province, and biographies of prominent families. See in particular the images in the Alex Chan Family gallery, including this menu from the November 29, 1904 dinner for Kang Youwei in Vancouver.


Menu of the supper tendered in honour of Kang Youwei by the Chinese Empire Reform Association (November 29, 1904)
Menu of the supper tendered in honour of Kang Youwei by the Chinese Empire Reform Association (November 29, 1904) Another excellent source of information on the Baohuanghui in British Columbia is CINARC (Chinese in the Northwest Research Committee), much of the content coming from original research by Ben Bronson and Chuimei Ho.  Their evolving analysis and biographical annotation of the group photo posters of B.C. chapters, including the Ladies Associations, are especially revealing.

As Zhongping Chen has made clear, Kang was profoundly influenced by his 1899 contacts with the Chinese of Victoria and Vancouver. Their strong business interests encouraged him to expand commercial development as part of the Baohuanghui mission, and the discrimination they faced as Chinese immigrants caused him to connect the difficulties they faced abroad with China's sufferings under foreign incursion. See the summary of Chen's presentation, Kang Youwei in Canada and the Early Development of Baohuanghui in North America, 1899-1905, on the Baohuanghui panel at the Association of Asian Studies, 2012.

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