Chinese Culture · Chinese Genealogy · Genealogy How Tos

Travels in China – Introducing Dr. Selia Tan

Dr. Selia Tan, Wuyi University

On our tour, we were blessed by the presence of Dr. Selia Tan (Chinese: 谭金花) and Dr. Henry Yu (UBC). it was like being shepherded through China with walking encyclopedias of arcane and specific knowledge. This was far more than general history – this was the history and culture of our families, our ancestors, our schools, and our villages, seen through our lens. Until this trip, I hadn’t fully appreciated the subtle difference in learning the history of the Overseas Chinese by Chinese, for Chinese. It’s our lived experience, together.

Here’s a writeup on Dr. Tan from the Chinese Canadian Historical Society of BC:

Dr. Tan, of Wuyi University, is the leading expert on the history and culture of the home regions of overseas Cantonese migrants, and the lead researcher responsible for the designation of the Kaiping diaolou​ (fortress mansions) as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. She has organized tours, lectures, and meals cooked by local master chefs and traditional villagers.

Cangdong Heritage Education Centre, Guangdong

Dr. Tan is also the expert in the heritage preservation, conservation, and management of the Cangdong Heritage Education Center in Kaiping, Guangdong Province, China. It was here that we spent many of our days getting a crash course in Chinese culture: medicinal plants, traditional foods, celebratory events and the basics of a good classical Chinese education, including playing the zither and picking up a calligraphy brush.

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All photos from Cangdong Village, Oct 2019. © 2019 Past Presence. All rights reserved.

If you’d like to see more about this innovative endeavour, here is The Cangdong Project (English subtitles) from 2016:

Video from Jeff Lee, available on YouTube here.

Dr. Tan’s research on the Overseas Chinese
Dr. Tan and me. Wuyi University, Jiangmen City, Guangdong, China. Oct 2019. © 2019. All rights reserved.

I was thinking How can I share some of Dr. Tan’s work with you? Here are 6 mini-videos – all are in English. If you can’t take the tour, you can at least learn from home.

Here she is in 2012, talking about the effects of the Overseas Chinese migrants on their wives who were left to take care of the families in China:

Both videos from SFU2C, available on YouTube here.

Dr. Tan is an expert on Chinese dialous (碉楼), the fortress mansions built by the Overseas Chinese in the 1920s and 1930s. Reflecting on these buildings, she said (two parts):

Both videos from SFU2C, available on YouTube here.

Dr. Tan talks about the process of sending money back to China – remittance – with a personal story (two parts):

Both videos from SFU2C, available on YouTube here.

The photo

Dr. Selia Tan stands at Baihe Pier in Baihe (百合), Guangdong Province, to continue her lecture on the topic of bone repatriation.
Dr. Selia Tan, Baihe Pier, Baihe, China. Oct 2019. © 2019. Past Presence. All rights reserved.


We visited this incredible restaurant called “AMO Organic.” The owner, Amo, joined us after dinner, offering to do a group photo. We enthusiastically agreed, but Dr. Tan had wandered off to talk to other people she knew.

Where is your laoshi? Amo said, We can’t take the picture without her.

I was so touched by his respect, and the honorific he used. He called her laoshi (老師), or “teacher,” conveying in that one word a thousand years of respect for the still-noble profession of dedicating your life to educating others.

Next time

I’ll introduce you to Dr. Henry Yu, talk about some of Wuyi’s genealogy resources, and let’s not forget the food. Yum! Here is the link to the next post.


2 thoughts on “Travels in China – Introducing Dr. Selia Tan

  1. Linda
    We’re so proud of you ‘re interest into our heritage, our family back ground…and finding your Uncle Yim.
    Uncle Hoy & Grace

    1. Without your work, mine wouldn’t have been possible. I can’t wait to share with you when next we meet up.


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