Rare Books and Special Collections is delighted to host a new exhibition: Sui Sin Far and Onoto Watanna: Writing Hybridity on the Cusp of the 20th Century.
Curated by Jennifer Tang, an undergraduate research assistant at UBC; Dr. Mary Chapman, Professor of English at UBC; and Brandy Liên Worrall-Soriano, an author and editor with an MFA from UBC, the exhibition explores the fascinating story of sisters Edith Eaton and Winnifred Eaton.
Chinese-North American authors Edith Eaton (1865-1914) and Winnifred Eaton (1875-1954) were members of a large Chinese Canadian family who settled in Montreal in 1872. Their mother, Achuen Amoy (1843-1921), had been a Chinese slave girl who toured the world with a Chinese acrobatic troupe. Their father, Edward Eaton (1839-1915), was an Englishman from a Cheshire silk manufacturing town but had worked in Asia.
Born during an era of discrimination toward Chinese immigrants in North America and of even greater discrimination toward mixed-race individuals, the sisters devoted much of their writing careers to exploring the little-understood position of the mixed-race (“hapa”) individual.
Edith published most of her work under the pseudonym “Sui Sin Far,” which is the Cantonese name for a narcissus flower often presented as a gift at Christmas or Chinese New Year. As “Sui Sin Far,” Edith wrote fiction and journalism about the diasporic Chinese community.
Winnifred, by contrast, assumed the pseudo-Japanese name “Onoto Watanna” and wrote novels set in Japan, a land she had never visited. She posed in kimonos for photographers and made frequent public comments about Japanese traditions and politics. Her appropriation of Japanese culture has led some scholars to characterize Winnifred as the “bad” Eaton sister and Edith as the “good” Eaton sister. But is the story that simple?
Sui Sin Far and Onoto Watanna: Writing Hybridity on the Cusp of the 20th Century is on display at UBC Library’s Rare Books and Special Collections on the first floor of the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre through October 15, 2016, and can be viewed Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and on Saturday, October 15, from 12-5 p.m. The exhibition is free and open to the public. For more information, please contact Rare Books and Special Collections at (604) 822-2521 or firstname.lastname@example.org.