Chinese travel back in time at Royal B.C. Museum display

 

A photography exhibition from the Royal B.C. Museum in Victoria has opened in a subway station in Guangzhou, China.

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The exhibition — Guangzhou to British Columbia: The Chinese Canadian Experience, 1858 to 1958 — is at Yuexiu Park station, a busy hub that is used by more than one million people each month, until Nov. 28. No other venues have been set.

The photographs show how B.C.’s gold rush created a link between the city of Guangzhou and B.C., depicting the challenges of migration and settlement for the Chinese, as well as the discrimination they endured in pursuit of “Gold Mountain” — the English translation for what the Chinese called areas they travelled to for gold.

“These compelling images speak to the false hope and struggle of early migration to Canada from Guangzhou,” museum chief executive Jack Lohman said in a statement.

“ ‘Gold Mountain’ was less lucrative than anyone could have imagined, but a number of these stories do end well with success in future generations outshining all other migrant narratives.

“The Royal B.C. Museum’s photographic collections are important witnesses to the herding and discrimination of early settlers from China.”

Exhibiting the photos in a subway station has been working well, said Don Bourdon, who curated the exhibition. Photographs in another group’s exhibition held previously in the same station had inspired people to stop, he said.

“Sure enough, on the day of the opening, we received photographs of people really engaged with the photographs,” he said. “We’re very pleased that it’s working the way we thought it would. People really do seem to stop and question, and become engaged in the photographs.”

Bourdon said he is not sure show how well the history being depicted is known in the area.

The Yuexiu Park showing leads into a much larger exhibition that will run from Nov. 5 to Dec. 20 at the Guangdong Museum of Chinese Nationals Abroad. Called Gold Mountain Dream! Bravely Venture into the Fraser River Valley, it is a travelling version of the Gold Rush! exhibition running until Sunday at the Royal B.C. Museum.

The museum hopes to tell the story of Chinese people in B.C. to a broad audience, as well as to support B.C.’s social studies curriculum, with two web articles at learning.royalbcmuseum.bc.ca — Early Chinese Canadian Experiences in British Columbia and Acknowledging Past Wrongs.

The former looks at the 1858 gold rush as the time of the first major migration of Chinese people to B.C., while the latter explores the discrimination the Chinese faced and how knowledge of the past can help with reconciliation.

The subway exhibition was created in co-operation with the Guangzhou Metro Corporation, and is supported by the Royal British Columbia Museum Foundation, the Francis Kermode Group and the provincial government.

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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