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Wo Hing Museum celebrates the 150th Anniversary of Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s birth

By BY CINDY SCHUMACHER - | Nov 3, 2016

In the front yard of the Wo Hing Museum is a bronze bust and marble pedestal monument to Sun Yat-sen courtesy of the Sun Yat-sen Foundation for Peace and Education. Dr. Busaba Yip, cultural director, researcher and docent of the Front Street museum, puts lei on the statue. PHOTO BY KRISTIN SHERWOOD.

LAHAINA – Dr. Busaba Yip, cultural director, researcher and docent of the Wo Hing Museum on Front Street in Lahaina, believes that all people are interconnected. Through her work, she continuously strives to increase community understanding of the ancient Chinese culture in Hawaii, bridging the past, present and future.

The Wo Hing Society Hall was established in the early 1900s as a center for the Chinese community of West Maui. Primarily a meeting place for those working in the sugarcane industry and entrepreneurs who opened businesses, it doubled as a social and fraternal hall.

“Today it’s a museum rich with the history of the Chinese immigration to Maui and the state,” said Dr. Yip.

Upon entering Wo Hing, one can view a collection of rare Chinese artifacts and shop for unique gift items. The temple’s altar on the second floor is open to the public only by special arrangement. Adjacent to the museum is the old Wo Hing Cookhouse, built for preparing food for social gatherings. The building now displays the old cooking woks, steamers and other utensils used by the society families.

“The memorabilia from that time in history are messages that show the quality of life of our ancestors, their values and beliefs,” said Dr. Yip.

The Wo Hing Society built this two-story social meeting hall in 1912 using private donations. PHOTO BY TOM BRAYTON.

At present, a small theater in the cookhouse runs films of life in the islands made by Thomas Edison between 1898 and 1906, as well as segments of the film “Finding Sandalwood Mountain,” a documentary that portrays the legacy, history and accomplishments of Hawaii’s Chinese families.

In 1982, the two-story society building and cookhouse were added to the Hawaii State Register of Historic Places and the National Register of Historic Places. The Lahaina Restoration Foundation began to refurbish these valuable sites in 1983 under a long-term agreement with the Wo Hing Society to operate it as a museum. Boxes of old Wo Hing Society documents were found, and both organizations agreed to engage in their translation and preservation.

Many of the Wo Hing Society documents recount the history of the society and the Chinese people on Maui. The Hawaii Council for the Humanities and the County of Maui joined the vital historical project to preserve and translate books of Chinese political writings.

Found among the texts and artifacts, the story of Dr. Sun Yat-sen and his political movement was of great interest to Dr. Yip.

“Two particularly interesting documents consisted of a pamphlet of speeches by Dr. Sun Yat-sen, and a booklet about his Revolutionary Party,” Dr Yip noted. “To hear the dynamics of this period is to uncover a fascinating chapter in Hawaiian history. It was here, in Hawaii, that Sun Yat-sen was brought up and educated. It was here that he learned how modern democratic governments operate and that universal love and peace are based on equality, freedom and respect.”

“Dr. Sun’s goal was to transform culture and ideologies for the development of education and economic industry for modern China and the world,” she added. “His practical ideas were to develop China’s infrastructure by building ports, railways, highways and waterways to improve transportation and commerce, and to develop critical industries for the nation.”

Sun Yat-sen wrote in his Testament to the People, “A peaceful world results from respect for one another and weaving the wisdom of ancient and modern principles with domestic and foreign considerations. For forty years I have devoted myself to the cause of the people’s revolution with but one end in view, the elevation of China to a position of freedom and equality among nations. My experiences have firmly convinced me that to attain freedom and equality among nations we must bring about a thorough awakening of our own people and ally ourselves in a common struggle with those peoples of the world who treat us as equals.”

Sun Yat-sen’s older brother, Sun Mei, financed his younger brother’s revolution. With business dealings in Kahului and Kula, Sun Mei was his brother’s greatest supporter. He eventually sold all of his properties and businesses – and even his home – to support Sun Yat-sen’s efforts. These two brothers are deeply rooted in the history associated with the Sun family and the freedom they fought for.

“Although Sun Yat-sen is considered one of the greatest leaders of modern China, his political life was one of constant struggle and frequent exile,” said Dr. Yip. “Yet, his dream is alive.”

“Global harmony was Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s dying wish,” she continued. “Today, we face much in the world that can be quite overwhelming, such as hate, aggression and open-ended conflict. However, education, brotherhood and faith in the human spirit can help us move closer to Sun Yat-sen’s vision. Our ongoing purpose is his: to achieve a peaceful international community by weaving the wisdom of both ancient and modern principles in an ideal that all humanity can live by.”

Dr. Yip is continuing her work at Wo Hing Museum to discover hidden meanings from the past that can enrich the future. On display in the cookhouse, for the first time, is an original copy of Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s book, “Fundamentals of National Reconstruction.”

“This book is an outline of how to build a good government for the development of the country and for the benefit of the people,” said Dr. Yip. “It was generously donated by the granddaughter of Sun Yat-sen, Dr. Lily Sun.”

“You will gain a greater understanding of the Sun family by viewing the new exhibit, film tributes and displays depicting the life of Sun Yat-sen from China to Maui,” Dr. Yip added.

“Come and honor the life and achievements of Dr. Sun Yat-sen.”

The public is invited to visit Wo Hing Museum on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 11 and 12, to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of Sun Yat-sen’s birth and his connection to Maui. The festival will be celebrated from 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. both days.