In Memoriam

On Wednesday, October 29, 2008, Prof. Edgar Wickberg, a longtime member of the Department of History at UBC, passed away after a lengthy battle with cancer. Prof. Wickberg taught Modern Chinese History at UBC between 1969 and his retirement in 1992, and achieved an international reputation as a leading scholar of the global Chinese diaspora, but his lasting impact went well beyond his research on the Chinese in the Philippines and in Canada. He helped grow Chinese Canadian history as a subject of study, creating a lasting place within UBC and within Canadian higher education for students and scholars to examine the long complex history of the Chinese in Canada. He will be remembered fondly by many students and colleagues for his kindness and generousity, and his eagerness to discuss every subject from Cantonese opera to AAA baseball. Many Chinese Canadian students will remember his patience during office hours and the depth of his empathy for their personal struggles to understand their identities as Chinese in Canada.

Ed Wickberg's engagement with the many Chinese Canadian communities of Vancouver went well beyond that of scholarship. "From China to Canada," the collaborative book project that he helped co-author and edit, remains a foundational text for understanding Chinese Canadian history, and it revealed his deep commitment to working with a wide range of community members to construct a balanced and nuanced history that went beyond the standard histories of what "had been done" to Chinese in Canada. He believed in the importance of Chinese language sources for understanding the rich lives of Chinese Canadians, and pioneered the preservation and collection of such materials. After his retirement, Ed's commitment to partnerships between academia and community led to his vision for the Chinese Canadian Historical Society of British Columbia, a broad-based society committed to increasing awareness of the importance of the Chinese in B.C. and Canadian history, as well as the collecting and preservation of materials relating to that history. Drawing upon the credibility and trust that he had built up over decades of devotion to understanding Chinese Canadian history, Ed was able to draw together a wide array of scholars and community members who shared his passion to found what became a highly successful historical society.

In gratitude for his vision and his hard work as the Founding President, the CCHSBC created the Edgar Wickberg Scholarship in 2006 to honour his lifetime of passion for Chinese Canadian history by encouraging and supporting students in its study. Ed's expressed wish in the weeks before his passing was that donations be made to the "Chinese Canadian Historical Society of British Columbia" for the Dr. Edgar Wickberg Scholarship fund, as a way to honour his memory. Donations may be sent to:

Chinese Canadian Historical Society of British Columbia (CCHSBC)
Kerrisdale Postal Station
PO Box 18032
Vancouver, BC V6M 4L3

Ed Wickberg's Publications

Compiled by Prof. Wing-Chung Ng, University of Texas - San Antonio

“Spanish Records in the Philippine National Archives.” Hispanic American Historical Review 35 (1955), 77-89.

“The Chinese in the Philippine Economy and Society, 1850-1898.” Ph.D. dissertation, University of California at Berkeley, 1961.

“Early Chinese Economic Influence in the Philippines: 1850-1898.” Pacific Affairs 35.3 (1962), 275-85.

“The Chinese Mestizo in Philippine History.” Journal of Southeast Asian History 5.1 (1964), 62-100.

The Chinese in Philippine Life, 1850-1898. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1965.

“Economic Nationalism and the Chinese in the Philippines.” In Charles O. Houston, ed., Proceedings of the First Colloquium on the Philippines, 29-36. Kalamazoo, MI: Western Michigan State University, 1969.

“Japanese Land Policies in Taiwan, 1895-1945.” Agricultural History 43.3 (1969), 369-78.

“The Chinese in Philippine History.” Asia 4.18 (1970), 1-15.

“The Taiwan Peasant Movement, 1923-1932: Chinese Rural Radicalism under Japanese Development Programs.” Pacific Affairs 48.4 (1975-76), 558-82.

“Land Reform in Mainland China and Taiwan.” Peasant Studies 7.4 (1978), 250-62.

“Spanish Frontiers in the Western Pacific, 1662-1700.” In William S. Coker, ed., Hispanic-American Essays in Honor of Max Leon Moorhead, 12-36. Pensacola, Fla.: Perdido Bay Pr., 1979.

“New Directions in Chinese Historiography, Reappraising the Taiping: Notes and Comment.” With Alex Volkoff, Pacific Affairs 52.3 (1979), 479-90.

“Some Problems in Chinese Organizational Development in Canada, 1923-1937.” Canadian Ethnic Studies 11.1 (1979), 88-98.

“Chinese and Canadian Influences on Chinese Politics in Vancouver, 1900-1947.” B.C. Studies 45 (1980), 37-55.

“Chinese Associations in Canada, 1923-1947.” In Victor Ujimoto and Gordon Hirabayashi, eds., Visible Minorities and Multiculturalism: Asians in Canada, 23-31. Toronto: Butterworths, 1980.

“Continuities in Land Tenure, 1900-1940.” In Emily Ahern and Hill Gates, eds., The Anthropology of Taiwanese Society, 212-38. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1981.

“Another Look at Land and Lineage in the New Territories, CA. 1900” Journal of the Hong Kong Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 21 (1981), 25-42.

“Chinese Organizations and the Canadian Political Process: Two Case Studies.” In Jorgen Dahlie and Tissa Fernando, eds., Ethnicity, Power and Politics in Canada, 172-76. Toronto: Methuen, 1981.

From China to Canada: A History of the Chinese Communities in Canada. With Harry Con et al. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Limited, 1982.

“Qing (Ch’ing) Land Tenure in South China, 1644-1912.” Chugoku kindaishi kenkyu 4 (1984), 111-20.

“Chinese Organizations and Ethnicity in Southeast Asia and North America since 1945: A Comparative Analysis.” In Jennifer Cushman and Wang Gungwu, eds., Changing Identities of the Southeast Asian Chinese since World War II, 303-18. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1988.

“Some Comparative Perspectives on Contemporary Chinese Ethnicity in the Philippines.” Asian Culture 14 (1990), 23-37.

“Notes on Some Contemporary Social Organizations in Manila Chinese Society.” In Aileen S.P. Baviere and Teresita Ang See, eds., China, Across the Seas: The Chinese as Filipinos, 43-66. Quezon City: Philippine Association for Chinese Studies, 1992.

“Overseas Chinese Adaptive Organizations, Past and Present.” In Ronald Skeldon ed., Reluctant Exiles? Migration from Hong Kong and the New Overseas Chinese, 69-84. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1994.

“Anti-Semitism and Chinese Identity Options in the Philippines.” In Daniel Chirot and Anthony Reid, eds., Essential outsiders: Chinese and Jews in the Modern Transformation of Southeast Asia and Central Europe, 153-83. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1997.

“Overseas Chinese Organizations” and “Relations with Non-Chinese.” In Lynn Pan, ed., The Encyclopedia of the Chinese Overseas, 83-91, 114-21. Singapore: Chinese Heritage Centre, 1998.

“Localism and the Organization of Overseas Migration in the Nineteenth Century.” In Gary Hamilton, ed., Cosmopolitan Capitalists: Hong Kong and the Chinese Diaspora at the End of the Twentieth Century, 35-55. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1999.

“Overseas Chinese: The State of the Field.” Chinese America: History and Perspectives (2002), 1-8.

“The New Chinese Canadian Historical Society of British Columbia.” Chinese America:
History and Perspectives
(2007), 215-218.

“Global Chinese Migrants and Performing Chineseness.” Journal of Chinese Overseas, 3.2 (2007), 177-93.

Friday, November 14, 2008

From Henry Yu

Several weeks before Ed's passing, I was very lucky to have the chance to see him several times. It is a rare opportunity to be able to be able to compose thoughts and be able to share them with someone you care about deeply, and I am thankful, as I am sure Ed's family is, to have had that privilege. I found it difficult, however, to say in person many of the thoughts that ran through my mind, and so I wrote a message that I hoped would make clear the important impact that Ed had had on my life.

First and foremost was my deep admiration for the strength of mind and dignity that Ed and Ellen showed in the face of death, both of them, and the clarity about what life and death should mean at a moment like this. It was a source of inspiration to see both of them calm and accepting of what fate had wrought.

My other thoughts were on the deep legacy that Ed has created both personally for me and for a wide array of students and colleagues. As I sat later that night thinking back on the two decades I have known Ed, I realized how important a mentor he had been, from the earliest days when I was a student at UBC through graduate school and my book and then upon my return to Vancouver five years ago. It has always struck me that the greatest lesson that I learned from Ed was that when you treat a student as an equal partner in the pursuit of knowledge, that they become empowered to treat their own project with the seriousness of purpose that it requires and deserves. Never at a single moment, whether it was an undergraduate paper or a book chapter or describing over dinner what I had been finding in the archives during graduate school, never once did I ever feel that Ed did not think that what I was doing was just as important for our collective enterprise as what he was doing in his own research. This is perhaps more important a privilege than most people realize, and I can never thank Ed enough for the simple and yet all important act of treating me not as the student who needed to learn more in order to be worthy of respect, but with an abiding respect that inspired me to learn more because the knowledge pursued was worthy.

I also thought about how grateful I am that these last years I had the chance to work with Ed as a colleague and a friend, and to be a part of all that he has helped build that is so unique and such a reflection of him. To be involved in those meetings after meeting to found the Chinese Canadian Historical Society of British Columbia was to realize that without Ed's wisdom and experience and patience, it could not have been done, and that the balance and linkage between community and academia was the legacy of his own practices over these last decades. Without the goodwill that he had built over the years, CCHS could not have been the broad-based and broad-minded organization that it has become. Without his leadership, I cannot imagine that CCHS would exist, and nothing that I have been trying to do at UBC would be possible. The scholarship that bears his name that the CCHS endowed to honour his role in founding the organization may be a concrete legacy of all the hopes and aspirations that we hold, but the organization itself and the connections it makes in its everyday operation is a monument to the vision that Ed brought, and perhaps only Ed could have brought, to its founding and growth.

My thoughts those last few days also constantly dwelled on Ed's generousity. I am sure that his humility in this matter would prefer as little mention as possible, but I thought about it constantly as I wrote to other students that Ed had mentored about what debts of gratitude I felt I owed him for all that he had done for me, for the time and attention given to reading drafts, to the suggestions and questions he raised, for the introductions to colleagues and scholars whom he thought might help, for the sheer energy that he spent thinking about what would help me and others in our pursuits. I hope that all that time and energy he had given to help the work of others had not in even the smallest way been at the expense of his own, but now that I have students of my own and the demands on my time of scholarly reviews and manuscript reports and book evaluations, I realize more than ever what great service he gave to the development of the field of Overseas Chinese studies and Chinese Canadian studies, and beyond even my own debt of gratitude, I hope that Ed saw as I do that a great part of the legacy that he left will lie in the work of those he so generously helped along the way.

I had been thinking for almost five years now of organizing a festschrift, or some kind of essay collection honouring his impact on so many of us. I hesitated, both because I was not sure it was my place to initiate such a thing, but also because I feared that it would appear morbid or bespeak a premature anticipation of his passing. All of us are "Chinese" enough to abide by the superstition, or maybe just "injunction" that speaking of death is to be avoided, lest we curse our fate to come into being. I regret that I gave into that anxiety, since it would have been a festive gathering, I think, rather than the object of foreboding I feared. There are many former students who feel strongly that they owe Ed a debt of gratitude for his generousity over the years, and perhaps a gathering would have allowed them the chance to express it to him in some small measure. It is now too late, I regret terribly, for such a gathering to proceed in a way that he will be able to appreciate such sentiments. But with many of the messages that came to Ed in his final days, I know that he knew that many nonetheless hold such sentiments deeply.

With Ed's permission, we will still organize such a gathering for the summer of 2009, even if he will not enjoy its conviviality and conversation.

We will also be dedicating a forthcoming collection of essays, entitled Learning Chinese Canada, to Ed. In many ways, this volume expressed the broader scope of Ed life's work, tying community history and academic history and institution-building together, rather than just containing academic research. It also, like the CCHS bilingual publication of Finding Memories, Tracing Routes before it, contains the powerful message of Chinese and English sitting comfortably side by side that Ed believed in, rather than just being in English.

I had thought that we had more time before we would lose Ed, and the loss now seems unbearable.

Two weeks after his passing, it is even more clear to me what a hole in my life Ed's passing has left.

It is an honour to be able to say that Edgar Wickberg was my teacher, colleague, and friend.

Henry Yu
Associate Professor, Department of History, UBC
Acting Principal, St. John's College, UBC


Allan Cho said...

Thanks Henry for sharing your touching thoughts and memories of Ed. I'd like to share some of my thoughts. I met Ed about seven years ago, when I had interviewed him for a Perspectives article on the History of Chinatown in Vancouver. Ed was so generous with his time and resources, as we waited for me in the lounge of the History Department, and then gave the interview in his emeritus office, which took more than an hour. We just talked history for that hour, and he opened my horizons about Chinese Canada. It was really Ed who had urged me to go into graduate studies in History, and at the time, told me "Go to Berkeley!" Two years later, Ed gave Perspectives Newspaper another interview about the Chinese Head Tax. all topics near and dear to Ed's heart. He gave a great deal to a clueless student whom he had barely known. And I'm forever grateful for the brief but memorable discussions and impressions he has given me.


David Wong said...

Ed was a gentleman scholar, who loved life and loved his friends. Ed used to drop by my old office, and we’d go for lunch and I’d often ask him, how it was, that a white person developed such an infectious passion for Asian history. In particular, at a time when the world was a bit simpler and perhaps, a bit less progressive.

Ed would always give me his trademark chuckle and share with great energy, so much of his fascinating anecdotes.

I was never a student of Ed’s, and only got to know him well during our start up efforts for the CCHS in my old boardroom. I may as well have been a student of Ed’s… as I learned a lot about our Nation’s political system, and those of other Nation’s directly from Ed.

I know my friends and colleagues will miss Ed dearly.

I am forever grateful and fortunate to have met you Ed. Rest in peace, dear friend.


Keng We Koh, Shao Chinese Overseas Center said...

Many thanks to Henry for starting this blog and sharing his memories of Prof. Wickberg. I only got to know Prof. Wickberg late last year, but he has left a deep impression on me with his generosity, helpfulness, and passion for the study of the Chinese overseas. I had long been an admirer of his publications on the Chinese in the Philippines. It was only after getting to know him that I got to know his work on the Chinese in Vancouver and University of British Columbia as well. I was new in my job at the Shao Overseas Chinese Center when I first contacted him. It was Prof. Wickberg who provided me with contacts of scholars working on the Chinese in North America and in Southeast Asia who were then based in British Columbia and answered many of my queries about possible projects on the Chinese Overseas. I was hoping to meet him in person someday. I am very sad that I shall never have this chance and honour. He did say, then, that he was in poor health, but little did I expect him to leave us so soon. Farewell Prof. Wickberg, we shall miss you..

Anonymous said...

I’ve relied on Ed’s work to do my own writing, both fiction and non-fiction. He was a trail-blazer, and I’ll always be grateful to him. His work was thorough and thoroughly-documented.

I first came across Ed’s name in A MODERN CHINESE-ENGLISH DICTIONARY FOR STUDENTS, published in 1968. Ed had helped edit it, and I found it to be remarkable because at that time, the other Chinese-English dictionaries I knew all used the “radical” system. Ed’s dictionary was based on number-of-strokes, which made it much easier to use. It was also alphabetically arranged, by pronunciation, so if you had an idea of what the word sounded like (as you might have, based on Cantonese references) you could find out what the word looked like. I’m still using that dictionary today. It’s falling apart now, but a few years ago, I asked Ed if the dictionary might be re-issued. He shook his head.

I took Ed’s fourth-year modern Chinese history course at UBC in the late 70s to finish my BA. Our class met in Brock Hall, where the rooms seemed to have low ceilings. In any case, Ed looked really tall. And like a typical Chinese-Canadian student of that era, I sat at the back of the room. I recall he had a battered briefcase, but I don’t think he lectured from notes.

I knew then that Ed was working on the FROM CHINA TO CANADA book, and I was getting interested in Chinese-Canadian history on my own. But I was very conscious of being an undergrad, and I never approached Ed to discuss my favourite topic. My loss.

Then I started my MA in history on a part-time basis at UBC. For the language requirement, I had to translate something from Chinese into English. Ed gave me my assignment. Much to my relief, it was a piece of modern Chinese writing, not classical. I had been worrying, because research into Chinese-Canadian history involved classical Chinese. But learning classical Chinese wasn’t something that could be learned in one or two courses. It would have taken years to master the conventions around the non-punctuated, allusive texts.

I moved from Vancouver in 1988, feeling exhausted by volunteer work in Chinatown. I was very happy to hear that Ed was lobbying to start the Chinese Canadian Historical Society of B.C.

Thanks, Ed, in so many ways.

Paul Yee