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Publication Date : 06-12-2013
A new museum celebrates three generations of missionaries who came to Sichuan province in the late 19th century
On the second Saturday of every October, the "CS Kids" gather in a Chinese restaurant in suburban Toronto, Canada.
The annual reunion of a group of Canadians who were born and raised in Southwest China's Sichuan province and attended the Canadian School there has continued for 77 years in the same restaurant. It began in 1936, when some Canadian missionaries in Sichuan who returned to Canada for their furlough met for a Chinese meal on Elizabeth Street.
The Canadian School was a fulltime boarding school set up in Chengdu, the provincial capital, in March 1909 to provide a complete education for the children of missionaries in Sichuan.
The school closed in June 1950, and CS Kids went back to their home country from 1949 to 1953. But the CS Kids who are still alive and are in their 80s and 90s never forget their "hometown" in Sichuan. At the beginning of each reunion in Toronto, they always like to shout "Chi Fan Le" in Sichuan dialect, meaning "Time to have a meal". They bring along their treasured old photos and collections from their time in China to share, and they sing children's songs they remember from Sichuan.
In the recently opened Time-Honoured Photo Museum in Xinchang town, Dayi county in Sichuan, photos of the CS Kids before 1950 and images from their recent reunions are on display with hundreds of other pictures taken by Canadian missionaries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
More than 1,000 Canadian missionaries were appointed to the West China Mission in Chengdu from 1891 in the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) until 1949.
When they started retiring from the mission, some of them had worked in Sichuan for decades. Their love for China often prompted them to adopt Chinese names for themselves, their children and grandchildren.
They took thousands of photos of themselves and the province when few Chinese could afford a camera.
"Their descendants have provided more than 1,000 of the old photos for the museum," says Tian Yaxi, an official of the Chengdu Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries who has worked to collect the photos.
The museum shows how Canadians reached Chengdu from Vancouver in the late 19th century, and how they launched the West China Union University, promoted modern civilisation in Sichuan and introduced the best of Sichuan to the outside world.
The photos include three generations of the Kilborn family who served in China, and Ashley Woodward Lindsay, who is known as the father of modern Chinese dentistry, says Zhou Mengqi, an eminent photographer in Sichuan. Other images are also very valuable, he says, as many of them have not been displayed before: CS Kids, Pandora (the panda which lived the longest outside China before 1949), city walls, streets and people from different walks of life in Chengdu, farmers' lifestyle in suburban counties, and Chengdu's earliest postal plane and mint.
On 4 Oct 1891, O.L. Kilborn sailed from Vancouver, with his medical doctor's degree and his newlywed wife Jennie, and landed in Shanghai on November 3. They took a few months to learn Chinese there and took a boat for Sichuan on 16 Feb 1892. After more than three months of hard travel, they reached Chengdu.
Later that year, Kilborn launched the first Western medicine clinic in Chengdu, introducing Western medicine to western China for the first time. In 1910, he was one of the founders of the West China Union University which is the famous West China Medical Centre of Sichuan University. He taught chemistry, biology and ophthalmology at the university until he passed away in 1920.
In the Revolution of 1911 that overthrew the Qing Dynasty, Kilborn marched through the muddy battlefield to treat wounded soldiers. A picture of Kilborn treating wounded soldiers is among the museum's exhibits.
The Kilborns had four children and eight grandchildren. All of them were born in Sichuan and had Chinese names.
Ashley Woodward Lindsay (1884-1968) obtained his doctor of dental medicine degree from the Royal College of Dental Surgeons in Toronto in 1906. The next year, Lindsay with his bride A.T. Lindsay left Canada for Chengdu as a medical missionary.
When Lindsay left Sichuan 44 years later in 1951, he had founded China's first dental clinic, hospital and school. He also had founded China's first stomatological hospital in the West China Union University, first research laboratory of stomatology and first English-language dental journal.
Enter a famous panda
One day in March 1938, the West China Union University received a request from the New York Zoological Society, which was eager to have a baby giant panda, or a pair if it was possible.
Frank Dickinson, a Canadian professor of biology at the university, immediately wrote a letter to a hunter in Guanxian county in western Sichuan. Not long after that, his wife went to the mountains in the county to take home a cute panda cub.
The couple kept the cub like a pet in their home, giving it the name Pandora.
Two months later, Roy Spooner, a professor of chemistry at the university, took Pandora to the United States on his way back to Canada for a vacation. It was during the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1937-45) in China, where flames of battles raged everywhere and the nation was in chaos.
When Pandora died in the United States in May 1941, it was the panda that lived the longest overseas before the People's Republic of China was founded.
"In recent years, many Chinese pandas have been sent to foreign nations as the token of friendship and peace. But few Chinese have heard of Pandora," says Zhang Hemin, chief of the administrative bureau of the Wolong Nature Reserve in Sichuan, a major panda habitat in China.
After a recent visit to the museum, Liao Yan, a middle-aged woman in Chengdu, was surprised that Canadian missionaries contributed so much to social advances in Sichuan.
"As a child, I was told foreign missionaries came to China as crusaders to occupy China for Christianity. I didn't know Canadian missionaries brought modern concepts to Sichuan by launching western China's first clinic which specialised in Western medicine, China's modern dentistry in Sichuan and Sichuan's first modern printing press," the 36-year-old businesswoman says.
Lorraine Endicott feels moved when recalling her recent visit to the museum.
"I am happy the Chinese people remember and honour my grandfather. I wondered how they thought of my grandfather as a missionary," says the 58-year-old Canadian who works for a magazine in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, Canada.
Museum photos show James Endicott, her great-grandfather, reaching Shanghai in 1893. He went to Chengdu in 1894 and did missionary work in Leshan, Sichuan, the next year. His son Games G. Endicott was born in Leshan in 1898. Under the influence of his father, he became a pastor. During the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression, he led a medical team and saved many lives in the field. After his death in 1993, his ashes were scattered in the Dadu River in Leshan.
"From the photos in the museum, one can see how long the old friendship between China and Canada has lasted," says Lorraine Endicott.