A visual tribute to an overseas Chinese legend

Updated 2018-04-17 15:39:58

Visitors at the ongoing exhibition that marks the 150th anniversary of Situ Meitang's birth.

Once upon a time in the United States, he was an icon in China towns. Situ Meitang (1868-1955) was born in a small village in Kaiping, Guangdong province. However, he sponsored Sun Yat-sen's revolution to topple the Qing (1644-1911) court, befriended Franklin Roosevelt, who later became the US president, and led overseas Chinese against Japanese aggression.

When he returned to his motherland after seven decades abroad, he was invited to attend the founding ceremony of the People's Republic of China in 1949, and later became a deputy to the first session of the National People's Congress standing committee.

Now, as the country marks the 150th anniversary of his birth, a special exhibition is on at the Overseas Chinese History Museum of China in Beijing.

There, dozens of artifacts, including manuscripts, personal belongings and published books, besides photos, give a glimpse of this legend's life.

Speaking about Situ, Qi Degui, vice-director of the museum, says: "He was a flag bearer among Chinese communities abroad.

"And this exhibition is to pay homage to overseas Chinese with patriotic hearts and strong emotional attachments to the homeland."

Kaiping was home to numerous emigrants to the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. There, the migrants often built diaolou - structures blending Chinese and Western styles - which are now inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Some yellowing blueprints of the diaolou are also on display at the exhibition.

A coat presented by Premier Zhou Enlai to Situ.

Situ arrived in San Francisco at the age of 12 looking for job.

And describing his early years, Situ Yuegui, his grand-daughter, says: "He was insulted by white hooligans immediately after landing. Discrimination against Chinese immigrants was common at that time."

Then, from working at a restaurant, he became a butler, and later a chef in the US Navy, which gave him a chance to make friends with people from different social strata.

Besides, he joined Chee Kong Tong, the biggest organization bringing together overseas Chinese communities, which was also leading an anti-Qing campaign.

In 1904, Situ met revolutionary leader Sun Yat-sen.

Sun lived with Situ when he was in San Francisco.

Later, when Sun could not make ends meet after failed uprisings against the Qing in 1911, Situ mortgaged four Chee Kong Tong properties in Canada to sponsor him.

Situ moved to New York City in 1905, and Franklin Roosevelt, then a young lawyer, was hired as his consultant.

"Roosevelt was a legal consultant for my grandfather for about a decade, and they had a close friendship at that time," says Situ Yuegui.

"Perhaps that explains why president Roosevelt actively campaigned to abolish the Chinese Exclusion Law in 1943."

In 1925, the Chee Kong Tong became the China Zhi Gong Party, and its headquarters was moved from San Francisco to Hong Kong.

Situ served as the head of the party branch in the Americas.

The Zhi Gong Party is now one of the eight non-Communist parties on the Chinese mainland. It's mainly composed of overseas Chinese returning to the motherland.

A portrait of Situ.

During the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1931-45), he quit all his business positions to focus on fundraising in the Americas to support the fight to defend the motherland.

A donation check written by him during the war is on display at the exhibition, which runs until May 3.

In the later Chinese civil war, Situ chose to side with the Communist Party against Kuomintang rule.

Also on display at the exhibition is a coat presented to him by Premier Zhou Enlai, showing his close friendship with Communist leaders.

"Situ experienced many crucial moments in recent Chinese history. But he chose the progressive position each time and set an example for future generations," Qi says.

"We admire his contributions and overseas Chinese efforts will continue to contribute to the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation."

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