Friday, June 27, 2014

The View from South Windsor: Kang Tongbi's Newly Discovered Cache of Documents, 1904-1905

Kang Tongbi, Victoria, BC, 1903

A new, on-the-ground picture of Kang Youwei’s first American sojourn in 1905 and the internal workings of the Baohuanghui is being revealed by a just-discovered collection of documents. Sold on eBay in fall 2013 by a New Hampshire auctioneer, the collection is now in a private collection owned by a Hong Kong investor. The collection will ultimately be published and exhibited in Beijing. The owner has provided scans of the materials to scholars associated with the book project, A Chinese Reformer in Exile: Kang Youwi and the Chinese Empire Reform Association in North America, 1899-1909 in return for documentation and analysis of the materials. We hope to share these documents in the future.

Left behind by Kang’s second daughter, Kang Tongbi, when she moved from South Windsor, Connecticut to New York City in 1907, this collection includes letters, photographs, receipts, Baohuanghui posters and membership rosters, a portion of Kang Tongbi's 1904 diary, and most valuable, what may be the original version of Kang’s self-written chronicle (nianpu). The collection was sold to the French family auction business in Warner, New Hampshire many decades ago and only last year put on the market. .

Kang Tongbi was tutored privately and also studied at Hartford High School or the Charles C. Stearns School for Girls from 1903 to 1907, when she went to New York City and attended Barnard College. She lived with a prominent woman physician in the Hartford area, Mary Starr Tudor (1840-1917). Tudor was  undoubtedly recommended to Tongbi by her father’s friend, Yung Wing [Rong Hong] of Hartford. An earlierBaohuanghui Scholarship post analyzes two letters from the Harvard-Yenching Library that were written to Tongbi by her mother Madame Miaohua and sister Kang Tonghe in Macau. We now know these letters were originally part of the South Windsor collection. 

Another group of documents from the original collection before it was taken to New Hampshire was found this June in the attic of 621 Main Street in South Windsor by the descendant of Mary Starr Tudor, Robert Starr. This smaller group of materials includes photos of Kang Youwei and Kang Tongbi, as well as writings by Kang and other letters. Chi Jeng Chang and Jane Leung Larson visited South Windsor, met the Starrs, were delighted to see the new materials, and were promised by the Wood Memorial Library in South Windsor that they would be scanned and uploaded for our research group. The library took an oral history about Kang Tongbi's life in America and beyond.

May 14, 1905, Kang Youwei to ?, from Kansas City, Missouri
Almost all of the materials date from fall of 1904 to fall of 1905 and cover such topics as Homer Lea and the Western Military Academy, Kang's meetings with President Theodore Roosevelt and the 1905 anti-American boycott, Baohuanghui internal disputes, and relations with Sun Yat-sen and the revolutionaries. There are about 30 letters from Kang to his daughter and many from other Baohuanghui disciples who traveled with or were in communication with Kang during his American journey. These include Tang Mingsan, editor of Zhongguo Weixin Bao in New York City; Liang Wenqing, also with the New York newspaper; Chen Yuesong of Chicago who was Kang's (and likely Ou Jujia's) secretary; Zhou Guoxian, Kang's English language interpreter and secretary; Tom Leung and his wife Wong Bing Woo of Los Angeles.

The letter on the right is from Kang who was staying at The New Coates Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri, his first stop on his train trip from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. to meet with President Roosevelt. 

It is one of the shorter letters in the collection. Yet it includes Kang's reaction to the kickoff meeting of the 1905 anti-American  boycott, mentions Homer Lea,  and the hope that his nianpu will be translated by Yung Wing with the help of Chen Yuesong. We do not know who the letter was sent to, but possibly someone in New York City, such as Zhao Wansheng (Joseph Singleton), to be passed on to Tang Mingsan, Liang Wenqing, and Kang Tongbi. Nor do we know what Kang is referring to when he says Lea did not want to be a consul.

A rough translation follows; thanks to Chi Jeng Chang for his help.:

May 14, 1905

Arrived Kansas City today, Homer Lea accompanying me on this trip; members came to greet us with several carriages, including director Lee Zhaocao, Dr. Yang Xiangchi[1] , Liang Liyuan with more than ten comrades to welcome us at our large hotel. Gave a speech that evening. Tomorrow morning we are going to St. Louis, estimated to reach there tomorrow evening. Letters can be sent to St. Louis. In Shanghai there was a big gathering to boycott American goods [Shanghai General Chamber of Commerce meeting was May 10], and it is expected to be successful.  Lea does not want to be a [consul] 堪不願做領事; we can stop talking about this matter now.

Show this letter to Mingsan and Wenqing.

11th day, 4th month

Gengsheng (KYW)

After I arrive in St. Louis, I would like ask Chen Yuesong come to translate the book with Rong Hong, as it is not sure if Rong has time to do it.
Send this letter to Tongbi to read.

[1] 楊鳴鳳 Yang Mingfeng (Xiang Chi); Dr. Mon-fung Young, St. Joseph, MO; naturalized citizen; wrote letter to Roosevelt re exclusion 12/04; see Tom Leung letters # 261, 260 (QCL), 551 (2/20/1903), 557 (2/21/1903), 556 (2/20/1903).


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