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Lahaina museum to be featured in film on China’s Revolution

By Staff | May 26, 2011

From left, Theo Morrison, Bobby Santos and Busaba Yip discuss an exhibit on Dr. Sun Yat-sen and his brother, Sun Mei, in the Wo Hing Museum for a camera crew from China. The crew is researching how Chinese overseas helped the 1911 Revolution in China.

LAHAINA — Lahaina Restoration Foundation and the Wo Hing Society last week Wednesday hosted a television crew from China filming a documentary on “Overseas Chinese and the Centenary of 1911 Revolution” at the Wo Hing Museum on Front Street.

The film is a joint production by China Central Television (CCTV), Zhongshan Foreign and Overseas Chinese Affairs Bureau and the Zhongshan Broadcasting and TV Station.

With authorization from CCTV, crews from Zhongshan Television are visiting Maui and other parts of the U.S. for the documentary that will air in China on Oct. 10, 2011, for six days in a row.

The film will explore connections among overseas Chinese with Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s 1911 Revolution, which led to the end of China’s feudalism and his presidency of the new Chinese Republic.

“It is important to honor the significant contributions of overseas Chinese (in Lahaina),” said Busaba Yip of the Wo Hing Society and Lahaina Restoration Foundation. 

“Dr. Sun Yat-sen once remarked that overseas Chinese were the mother of the 1911 Revolution.”

Yip said Maui played an important role in the life of Yat-sen. His brother, Sun Mei, operated a 3,000-acre cattle ranch in Keokea.

He, as well as many other Chinese on Maui, provided financial support to the revolution. 

The Wo Hing Society in Lahaina, started in 1900 or earlier, was a center for the Chinese community of West Maui.

Preliminary research on the Wo Hing Society’s collections found that a relationship existed between Maui’s Chinese and Dr. Yat-sen. There is also evidence that Wo Hing Society members supported his 1911 Revolution. 

The film crew was really interested in the 100-year-old documents that Yip is translating and looking for connections to Dr. Yat-sen.

Theo Morrison of Lahaina Restoration Foundation explained that the documents were found when LRF restored the building in 1984.

“However, it was not until Busaba was hired in 2000 that the importance of the documents was discovered. She enlisted the help of researchers from around the world, who connected to the project over the Internet,” Morrison noted.

“The writing on the documents is an ancient form of Chinese and not many people today can read it.”

Yip, who has worked for many years as a docent at the Wo Hing Museum, said most visitors are unaware of the history of Sun Mei and Sun Yat-sen on Maui.

“Sun Mei, an elder brother of Sun Yat-sen, was the hero behind Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s 1911 Revolution,” she commented.

Sun Mei came to Honolulu in 1871 as a vegetable and rice planter, as well as a labor contractor. He moved to Maui in 1881 and opened a store in Kahului. Sun Mei also leased land from the government to run a 3,000-acre cattle ranch in Keokea.

In 1884, Dr. Sun Yat-sen — then 18 and using the name Tai Cheong — made his first trip to Maui. During his lifetime, he made six trips to Hawaii and spent more than seven years in the islands.

In 1906, Sun Mei went back to China. “He supported the revolution and gave it all what he had, besides the financial support to the revolution,” Yip noted.

Sun Yat-sen’s brother provided a safe home for his family. They moved to Maui in 1884 and lived with Sun Mei’s family in Kula until 1907.

In 1908, Sun Mei’s wife sold the ranch to Antoine Tavares. His son, William Tavares, kept two artifacts from the range: an old Chinese rosewood settee and a Japanese Samurai sword.

In 1928, Sun Mei’s land was sold to Haleakala Ranch Company. Today, there is a Sun Yat-sen Park facing his brother’s land.

The first recorded arrival of Chinese in Hawaii — 50 carpenters, blacksmiths, craftsmen and sailors — was logged in 1788. They were involved in Sandalwood Trading from 1788-1838 and brought in to work at plantations from 1852-98.

Yip is proud to share their heritage and contributions in Hawaii.

“We are looking forward to welcome more visitors, both Chinese and non-Chinese, to Maui… and we are proud to share the rich Chinese history with them at the Wo Hing Museum,” she said.

Located at 858 Front St., the Wo Hing Museum is the only Chinese museum in Hawaii.