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Constitutional Reform Movement Leader
Tang Hualong, ca. 1918 (Photo from Qishui Tang Xiansheng yinian lu, or A memory of Tang Huilong. n.p., 1918).
Tang Hualong (1874-1918) was both a leader of the constitutional reform movement in late Qing China up to mid-1911, and a major founder of Republican China. He visited Victoria twice in the summer of 1918. Tragically, he was assassinated in this city on 1 September 1918, an event that has remained a mystery in Chinese and Chinese Canadian history.
As the eldest son of a merchant and landlord family in the Hubei Province of central China, Tang Hualong earned the highest degree, Jinshi or metropolitan graduate, from the last round of civil service examinations under the Qing government in 1904. After this he went to Japan where he received a Western-style education and became a leader in the political movement for a constitutional monarchy in Qing China. In 1909, Tang was elected as chairman of the Provincial Assembly of Hubei Province. As a constitutional reformer, he led three nationwide petitions for the opening of a parliament in Qing China, but all of these petitions failed to win approval from the Qing government. On October 10, 1911, the anti-Qing revolutionaries in the New Army launched a military uprising in Wuchang, the capital of Hubei Province, and Tang soon turned from a constitutional reformer into a revolutionary leader. After the Wuchang Uprising spread to southern China and the Republic of China was founded on January 1, 1912, he held a series of important positions in the Republican government, such as vice speaker of the Senate (1912), speaker of the House of Representatives (1913, 1916), minister of education (1914), and minister of internal affairs (1917). Because Tang and other former reformers often allied with the military leaders of the Republican Government in partisan struggles against Sun Yat-sen and his revolutionary party, he became a political enemy of Sun and other revolutionaries, although he resigned from his last position as minister of internal affairs in 1917.
Tang Hualong started his North American tour from Victoria on June 19, 1918, and this tour was immediately condemned by Sun Yat-sen’s revolutionary followers, including those in Canada, as an attempt to acquire an American loan for the Beijing warlord government. However, his true travel plan remains a mystery to historians. Tang received a warm welcome from Victoria’s Chinese community leaders until his departure for Seattle on the next day. After more than two months of traveling across the United States and meetings with the state secretary and other American officials in Washington DC, Tang took the Canadian Pacific Railway and returned to Victoria at the end of August 1918. On the evening of September 1, Tang attended a dinner party in Victoria’s Chinatown and then took a tour from Cormorant and Government streets to Fisgard Street, but he was assassinated at the northern entrance of Fan Tan Alley by Wong Chong, a local barber and a member of the Chinese Nationalist League, which was Sun Yat-sen’s revolutionary organization in North America. The assassin also committed suicide on the spot.
After this political assassination happened in Victoria, the Canadian Government banned the Chinese Nationalist League for a while, arrested its members across Canada, and put some of its leaders on trial. But the subsequent investigations and trials never solved the whole mystery of the political assassination, especially of its major conspirators.
By Zhongping Chen
Chen, Zhongping. “Our Past: An Assassination in Victoria.” Times Colonist, 31 August 2008.
Qishui Tang Xiansheng yinian lu (A memory of Tang Hualong). N.p., 1918.
Rowe, Allan. “‘The Mysterious Oriental Mind’: Ethnic Surveillance and the Chinese in Canada during the Great War.” Canadian Ethnic Studies 36.1 (2004): 48-70.