Thursday, September 13, 2007

Treasure is back home
By Eiji
Camille Wing, a diminutive woman of 4 feet 11 inches, stood before a time-weathered, 9-foot Chinese brass sword looming over her, and muttered to herself: "Oh, I'm glad."Wing, 79, founding member of the Hanford Taoist Temple Preservation Society, never thought she would be able to see the sword, a key artifact absent for four decades from the Hanford temple."What a treasure. I'm so glad we got it back in our lifetime," Wing said.After nearly five decades, the broadsword -- a symbol of the Chinese god of war to which the Hanford Taoist Temple was dedicated -- has come home.Instead of collecting dust inside the storage of a San Francisco Chinatown museum, the sword now rests permanently in a dark corner of the historic Taoist Temple, which is at least 114 years old
Camille Wing, a member of the Hanford Taoist Temple Preservation Society and caretaker of the temple, stands in front of the Guan Dao sword of Guan Gong on Tuesday afternoon. (Ralph Berrett/The Sentinel)
The recent repatriation marks the first item recovered from the San Francisco-based Chinese Historical Society of America, which local China Alley advocates say still holds more artifacts from Hanford.They say items including the sword were taken for research and preservation by the San Francisco organization in the 1960s. Since its inception 28 years ago, Hanford's Chinatown preservation advocates have had sporadic correspondance with their counterparts in the Bay Area for the return of the sword.A long-delayed reply to the inquiry came this summer, Wing said."Now that they have staff, there was a person who was going through a box of papers and found my letter. She gave me a call and told me we could have it if we could come and get it," Wing said, referring to the sword.Anna Naruta, director of archives for the Chinese Historical Society of America, said the sword came into the organization's hands in the '60s, when it used to take historical investigative trips into areas previously populated by Chinese immigrants, such as Hanford, and gather artifacts for preservation of Chinese American history.In response to local historical preservation efforts sprouting, the organization has been trying to return artifacts to their original locations, Naruta said."We couldn't be any happier to transfer back the item that the society borrowed a long time ago," Naruta said in a phone interview Wednesday. "It was great to be sharing it ... We are just thrilled to know that there's a strong local organization that is preserving the Chinese American history in partnership."The sword was brought back on Labor Day weekend by Lance Clement, principal of Parkview Middle School in Armona and a member of the temple preservation society."I'm just glad I could get involved in it," Clement said. "I went up there with my wife Marcie and my sister-in-law and my niece, who has never been to San Francisco. We made it our Labor Day weekend."Clement said the sword could be dismantled into smaller pieces so it could be brought back. The sword was reassembled in Hanford, he said.The imposing brass sword -- time-tarnished by its history -- stands so tall that it almost reaches the ceiling of the temple.The sword symbolizes Guan Gong (160-219), one of the best known historical figures in east Asia who played a significant role in the civil war that led to the Han Dynasty during the second and third centuries.Guan Gong's life stories have largely given way to fictionalized ones, mostly found in the historical novel "Romance of the Three Kingdoms." He has been deified and worshipped by Chinese people as the epitome of loyalty and righteousness as well as god of commerce.Among the Cantonese Chinese who emigrated to California during the 19th century, worship of Guan Gong was an important element of their culture.Hanford Taoist Temple, a historical landmark reportedly built in 1893, is a typical example of a historic Chinese shrine dedicated to Guan Gong in California.The crescent moon broadsword known as "Guan Dao" -- named after its creator Guan Gong -- is made up of a long curving blade attached to a long staff.The hero's famed sword has a dragon's head engraved on the shaft. Together with his sword, Guan Gong is often depicted as a red-faced warrior with a long, lush beard. A tapestry of his portrait could be found behind the main altar in the Hanford Taoist Temple.With its elaborate alter, lanterns and kerosene lamps hanging from the ceiling, the temple is a vivid reminder of the 114-plus years of history the building has endured.For Hanford, this temple marks the legacy of Chinatown, which at its height drew the largest concentration of Chinese immigrants between Sacramento and Los Angeles, according to anecdotes.The Temple at 12 China Alley and its museum downstairs are open to the public the first Saturday of every month. The temple will celebrate the annual Moon Festival on Oct. 6.The reporter can be reached at 582-0471, ext. 3059.(Sept. 13, 2007)
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History Buff wrote on Sep 13, 2007 3:56 PM:
" VERY cool.......LOVE our local history. Thanks to Camille, Lance and everyone I can't think of for nurturing this legacy;) "

Willyoupublish wrote on Sep 13, 2007 6:54 PM:
" After sending comments critical of the shody reporting and story writing in this paper, and not having them published.....I would like to say this was a great story. Lots of information and very interesting. Mycompliments to Eiji Yamashita, very nice. "


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