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. 

Since the conference was held at the University of Connecticut, several of us also visited the nearby Starr Tudor home in South Windsor, CT, where the collection originated. It was left behind with her host Mary Starr Tudor by Kang's daughter, Kang Tongbi, in 1907. Today, the bulk of the materials are in China, but some remain in South Windsor. We hope that local New England historians take an interest in further exploring the little-known Chinese connection.

The full collection includes approximately 225 letters (50 from Kang Youwei); 36 photographs; many miscellaneous items (receipts, Baohuanghui posters, membership rosters, printed reports from Baohuanghui headquarters, newspaper articles, published and unpublished poems and other writings); a portion of Kang Tongbi's 1904 diary; and what may be the earliest extant version of Kang’s self-written chronicle, “Wo Zhuan” [My autobiography].

Most of the correspondence deals with Baohuanghui operations. The collection provides a great deal of supplementary evidence and concrete detail needed to answer many questions about what actually happened during Kang’s first journey to the United States, evidence that was previously missing from the historical record. For example, there is vivid detail on Kang’s managerial style, Baohuanghui morale and internal squabbles, Chinese feminism, fundraising for Baohuanghui activities and for Kang’s costly travel and lodging expenses, and challenges from the revolutionary movement in the United States. 

The South Windsor is composed of two sub-collections, the Beijing collection and the Starr collection. The Beijing collection was sold on eBay by a New Hampshire auction company in 2013 and is owned privately in Beijing—it is the larger portion, including Kang’s nianpu, Kang Tongbi’s diary, and about 4/5 of the correspondence and other items; most items date from mid-March to October 1905. The Duo Yun Xuan Auction House in Shanghai plans to sell the collection again by the end of 2014.  The Starr collection is owned by Bob Starr of South Windsor and is considerably smaller. However, it is historically significant because most materials are earlier than the Beijing collection, taking us back to fall 1904. 

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