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- Victoria Chinese Canadian Veterans Association
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Chinese Empire Ladies Reform Association
The Chinese Empire Ladies Reform Association appeared in Victoria in 1903, and it was the first Chinese women’s political organization in the history of both China and the Chinese diaspora. After Kang Youwei founded the Chinese Empire Reform Association in Victoria in 1899, his second daughter, Kang Tongbi, followed her father’s instructions to “take trips to Europe and the Americas, deliver speeches on national affairs, and pioneer feminist movements” for Chinese women. Her feminist activities in the West started from Victoria in the summer of 1903 and resulted quickly in the establishment of the Chinese Empire Ladies Reform Association in this city. The poster of this feminist organization in 1903 includes not only the picture of Kang Tongbi, the president of this reformist association, but also eighteen local Chinese women, their Chinese names, and their specific positions within the organization.
The poster of the Chinese Empire Ladies Reform Association appeared in Victoria in the summer of 1903. At the top centre is a picture of the Guangxu Emperor, who led the movement for political reform in China in mid-1898 but became a political prisoner after the reform was suppressed by the conservative faction. Two major participants in the 1898 Reform, Kang Youwei and Liang Qichao, appear on the right and left sides of the Guangxu Emperor in the poster because they were major founders and leaders of the Chinese Empire Reform Association. Below the picture of the Guangxu Emperor is the photograph of Kang Tongbi, the major founder and leader of the Chinese Empire Ladies Reform Association in Victoria and North America. The lower portion of this poster includes pictures of eighteen local Chinese women, their Chinese names, and their specific positions, such as president, director, treasurer, speaker, secretary, translator, and supervisor. Two pairs of couplets on the poster call on Chinese women to take on the same responsibility as men for saving the nation of China from crisis, and to follow the examples of heroines in both Chinese and European history, such as Joan of Arc in France and Sophia Lvovna Perovska, an anarchist Russian revolutionary (Harvard-Yenching Library, Harvard University).
After Kang Tongbi left Victoria in late May of 1903, she used the Chinese Empire Ladies Reform Association in Victoria as a model and established similar organizations in Vancouver and New Westminster as well as a dozen American cities, including Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Chicago, and New York. According to a newspaper report in Vancouver, the local branch of this feminist organization had approximately forty members. The available poster of this branch shows pictures of twenty local women, including two Caucasian ladies. Less than six months later, New York Daily Tribune reported the spread of this feminist organization from Canada to the United States. In New York, “the prominent women of Chinatown [had been] enrolling themselves as members…Chinese women who had lived within a few doors of each other met for the first time” in the largest American city.
By Zhongping Chen
Chen, Zhongping.“City Played Key Role in Chinese Reform Movement;” “Victoria as a Political Centre for Globalized Chinese Reforms,” and “Victoria as a Starting Point of Chinese Feminist Politics,” Times Colonist, 24 June 2012.