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New Exhibit Honors a Lost Generation of Chinese Immigrants

Commemorating “second burials” at the Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco.


Beginning this month, the Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco will honor one of the most unusual chapters of the Chinese diaspora: when a 19th-century Hong Kong charity organization began repatriating the remains of thousands of immigrants living in the United States.

Following the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, many Chinese immigrants paid into a fund to have their remains sent home for a “secondary burial,” so as not to be forgotten in family worship rituals. For more than 70 years, the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals charity in colonial Hong Kong arranged to have these remains shipped home. (Many still sit uncollected at the Tung Wah Coffin Home.)

That story is now the basis for a new art installation commemorating the 135th anniversary of the exclusion act at the Chinese Culture Center. Bay Area artist Summer Mei Ling Lee’s Requiem, an ash-and-gauze mural being unveiled this month, will be illuminated by light projections and accompanied by an erhu-and- cello rendition of Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem op. 48 alongside film clips of abandoned Chinese tombstones.

“When I saw the bone boxes, I thought, There’s no better story,” Lee says. “It’s also one with a lot of tensions because this story is disappearing. This history is really, really fragile.” 
Oct. 26–Dec. 23

Originally published in the October issue of San Francisco

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