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. 



Kang Youwei (top left), Tom Leung (far right) and Zhou Guoxian (with cap and candle). They visited the Original Mine with another group of out-of-towners, the cast of Ben Hur, who were performing in Butte that week. 


The early and remarkable development of the Baohuanghui in Montana is documented by Mark Johnson in the Winter 2014 issue of Montana: The Magazine of Western History Thanks to Montana for allowing us to share Johnson's pictorial essay.   

Johnson illustrates the rise of Chinese nationalism among the politicized Chinese of Montana, beginning with a successful mass protest and legal action by Butte Chinese against a citywide labor union-organized boycott of Chinese businesses in 1896-1897. Thus, writes Johnson, "it is no surprise that Montana's Chinese communities became exceptionally active in the efforts of the Chinese Empire Reform Association, eventually forming as many as twelve branches statewide." He even speculates that the unity and political savvy developed through these movements may have prevented Montana Chinese from falling victim to the Chinese massacres that occurred in other Western states. An archaeological dig in Butte Chinatown in 2007 uncovered one of the few extant Baohuanghui membership badges, which were manufactured in the tens of thousands in 1905 for Kang's first visit to the US. Johnson helped the Mai Wah Society and Museum of Butte identify and document the badge, as described in Artifact of the Month: CERA Medallion.

Mark Johnson, a Montana native, began research on the Montana Baohuanghui while teaching his social studies classes at the Concordia International School in Shanghai to use primary source materials. The bilingual students at Concordia were well-suited to read and learn about the lives and politics of Montana Chinese through materials such as two 1901 posters of the Butte and Marysville Baohuanghui chapters, provided by the Montana Historical Society and reproduced in Johnson's article. They then created impressive multi-media history projects, some of which can be seen on the excellent website Montana's Chinese History to showcase the fruits of Johnson's teaching methods and the talents of the Concordia students. Two students, Jessie Xu and Jonathan Tai, produced well-researched and polished documentary videos about the Baohuanghui. 

Jonathan's 12-minute video "The Chinese Empire Reform Association" tracks closely the content and analysis of Johnson's article on Montana Chinese, focusing on the organizational and political evolution of the Montana Chinese and the origins and development of the Baohuanghui from the Hundred Days Reforms of 1898. Jonathan enhances his slickly-produced video with documents and posters from the Butte, Marysville and Helena chapters and images of the contemporary news coverage of the movement. 

Jessie's 10-minute video, "Kang Youwei and the 1905 Anti-American Boycott," is a well-documented presentation of the rise of Chinese national consciousness from this first mass movement in China. Jessie blends interviews with China scholars including Jeffrey Wasserstrom and Charlotte Brooks with historical photos and film clips, and images and narration of boycott songs and letters written by Kang and others in the Baohuanghui, She argues that "Kang Youwei's legacy engendered dramatic changes for his countrymen and a new-found nationalistic spirit". Jane Leung Larson provided Jessie with her research and writing on the boycott, including an unpublished chapter on Exclusion and the boycott from her book in progress on Kang and the Baohuanghui in North America.

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