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Mr. and Mrs. Tin-Yuke Char: A Biography

A Picture of Mr. and Mrs. Tin-Yuke CharThe late Tin-Yuke Char was a prominent Honolulu businessman, scholar, and local historian. During their life together, Tin-Yuke and his wife Wai Jane produced numerous books and studies documenting the history of the Chinese in Hawaii. Some of them are recognized as classics: The Bamboo Path; Sandalwood Mountains; Origin of the Hakka; and the Chinese Historic Sites and Pioneer Families series that included Kauai, rural Oahu, and the island of Hawai`i. In the foreword of Tin-Yuke's autobiographical The Bamboo Path, Irma Tam Soong wrote,

Tin-Yuke Char...can rightfully deserve to be called the "Historian of the Chinese in Hawaii." While many excellent works by other authors have provided stimulus and background for his literary contributions, Tin-Yuke Char has been the most singularly persistent and devoted researcher in this specialized field of Chinese-American studies.

Tin-Yuke's parents emigrated from China in the late 1890s. Tin-Yuke was born in Honolulu in 1905. He attended McKinley High School and was a student at the University of Hawai`i for a year. Then he traveled to China with a youth group on a goodwill tour to ease the resentment in Asia over the United States' Oriental Exclusion Act of 1924.

While there, he became enthralled with Yenching University and its faculty. He transferred from UH to Yenching and graduated with honors in 1928. Although he could speak the Chungshan and Hakka dialects when he arrived in Beijing, he needed help from his classmates to learn Mandarin. In The Bamboo Path, he wrote,

I had found a unique way to improve my Chinese. Every weekend, I attended the Peking Opera. Bringing along a Chinese text of the opera, I sat in the front row and listened to the arias...Besides the entertainment, I was getting my money's worth in language study. (24)

After graduation, Tin-Yuke was invited to teach Western History and English at the highly respected Nankai Middle School in Tientsin. He then was invited to return to UH and teach Chinese part-time while he worked toward his master's degree, which he received in 1932. He wrote,

In one of my Chinese classes at the University of Hawaii, I had noticed a girl sitting in the front row. She had an intelligent face, and had graduated from Punahou second in her class. Soon I was taking out Wai Jane Chun in my old Chevrolet coupe. Her mother made deviled egg and string bean sandwiches for us to take along to the beach. (33)

Tin-Yuke and Wai Jane were married in January 1934. Later that year they traveled to New York where Tin-Yuke began his doctoral program at Columbia. It was during the Great Depression, however, and no financial grants were available for him to continue his program, so they returned to Hawaii where Tin-Yuke taught at the University for another year.

In 1936, he became the Registrar and Director of Admissions at Lingnan University. In his resignation letter to UH President David Crawford, he wrote, "This new position...is an opportunity for me to contribute in some small way to the reconstruction of China" (35). In addition to being Registrar and Director of Admissions Tin-Yuke, also taught Chinese civilization and history. But in 1938 he, Wai Jane, and their infant son David, evacuated China, one jump ahead of the invading Japanese army.

Back in Hawaii, Tin-Yuke began a successful insurance business. Wai Jane became a pioneer in shipping orchids and other Hawaiian flowers by air. Tin Yuke writes, "I had often said to my wife and others that if I had not chosen teaching as a career, I would like working in the insurance field. I considered it a form of service of great benefit to others. It could mean satisfying contacts with many individuals, usually friends I cared about" (45).

Over time, Tin-Yuke and Wai Jane became world-class local historians. They were traveling companions, research partners, and collaborators. Writing alone or together, they each established fine reputations.

The Chars' association with Kapi`olani Community College began many years ago when they almost single-handedly transformed neighborhood resistance into community support for the construction of the College's new campus on the gentle north slope of Diamond Head crater.

The Chars realized that Hawai`i's rich ethnic mix was a great asset. And although they concentrated on the local history of the Chinese in Hawaii, they wanted to encourage and promote local history of all Asian-Pacific peoples.

The Chars also wanted to leave an enduring legacy to the people of Hawaii. So before their passing, they donated much of their personal reference collection to the Kapi`olani Library, and founded an endowment to establish the Char Asian-Pacific Study Room in the new library building. The Chars, however, did not want the Room to be simply a quiet place to study. They wanted the Room to sponsor lectures, presentations, forums, workshops, exhibits, cultural events, studies, and other dynamic activities to focus community attention on Asian-Pacific affairs and on Hawaii's role in Pacific history and development.

To help implement Char Room programs, the library assembled a committee of distinguished advisors that includes the Chief Justice of Hawaii's Supreme Court, Hawaii's Attorney General, and other prominent community members, business leaders, and educators. Diplomatic representatives from Asian nations serve as honorary members. Guided by this group, the library has sponsored notable events, including museum-quality historical exhibits, international art shows, speakers' series, cultural events, concerts, and other activities.

The Chars' donation has become the focal point of an internationalization project at Kapi`olani Library. Since the Char donation, the library has attracted several significant book donations to the library's Asian collections. The Char Room has also been the venue for establishing the College's agreements with a number of Asian colleges and universities, including Beijing Union University, Peking University, Baewha College in Seoul, Inha University in Incheon, and others. The agreement with Peking University is particularly fitting because it is located on the campus formerly occupied by Yenching University where Tin-Yuke completed his studies.

The Char Room has also hosted receptions for noted dignitaries, artists, scholars, and educators. It is also a meeting place for the Char Board of advisors.

The Char's gift to the Kapi`olani Library also included an endowment that provides revenues for adding books and other materials to the library's Asian-Pacific collections. Materials purchased through the Chars' endowment become part of the Char Collection.

Mr. Char passed away in June 1990. Mrs. Char followed him one year later in June 1991. Sadly, neither were able to see the finished Char Study Room, which opened in the newly completed library on March 17, 1992. But the values they exemplified--the thoroughness of study and preparation, the lucidity of expression, the caring approach to human experience--will continue to exert their influence through the Char Room.

The Char Room is not a room one might expect to find in a community college library. Despite all the activity and learning the Room generates, there is a tranquility and balance in its overall form. But then the one leads naturally to the other. Knowledge and understanding lead to refinement. And that describes Mr. and Mrs. Char quite well.

 


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