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Chinese Freemasons get image fixed

Updated: 2015-07-16 09:43
By Kelsey Cheng (China Daily USA)

A scholar and a professor emeritus at the University of Victoria, David Chuenyan Lai, 77, has spent the past 50 years researching the history of Chinese Freemasons in Canada, with only one mission in mind - to keep the legacy of Hongmen alive, even among today's members.

More than 60 people attended Lai's talk on the history and contributions of the Hongmen society on Friday, at the Richard Charles Lee Canada-Hong Kong Library at the University of Toronto. His appearance was one in a series of events in the Hong Kong Canada Crosscurrents project, a platform for researchers to share insights on immigration and cultural studies.

"A lot of current Hongmen members don't know any of the history of the society they're in," Lai said. "I want to leave all my research for the future generations of members."

The Chinese Freemasons, otherwise known as Hongmen, were previously called Hong Shun Tong and Chee Kung Tong, known to be one of many secret societies formed to take part in the anti-Manchu revolution between 1911 and 1912.

Sun Yat-Sen, known to many as the founding father of the Republic of China, was said to have joined the Hongmen society in 1904. According to Lai's research, records show that he rallied for funding from members to help him overthrow the Qing government.

With no Qing dynasty to overthrow today, Sunny Law, grandmaster of the Chinese Freemasons of Canada, says the society now focuses on helping Chinese immigrants adapt to life in Canada and occasionally hosts community events.

"I am truly grateful to Professor Lai for his research and dedication," Law said. "He helped correct many misconceptions about us."

He said people today tended to associate Hongmen with Chinese triads and organized crime.

"It's not true - that's only in movies," Law said. "We are good people."

The first Hongmen society in Canada was formed in 1863 in Barkerville, BC, a mining town. They quickly formed mutual aid societies in Quesnel Forks, Quesnelle Mouth and Victoria in the 1870s.

In the past, the society would only accept men as members, but today women are admitted too. Lai said it was extremely difficult to keep track of the exact number of existing members. It is estimated there are currently more than 2,000 Hongmen members in Canada.

"There aren't many well-kept records, and societies won't tell me anything since I'm an outsider," said Lai, who is not a member of the Chinese Freemasons.

"I was really interested in the topic," said Jenny Cheng, a member of the audience. "I immigrated to Canada over 40 years ago and I had no idea what Hongmen meant at all - so I came."

Now, Cheng said, when she passes the Hongmen sign on Dundas Street West, she'll know what's behind it.

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