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Behind the Dancing Lion: A Video Producer's Journey

Kevin K. Li Lion Dancing at Aberdeen Centre
Kevin K. Li Lion Dancing at Aberdeen Centre

As we're getting ready to celebrate Lunar New Year, I reminisce and think back to when I used to perform the lion dance.

Kevin K. Li showing a parade goer the lucky lion

In high school, my friend asked if I was interested in learning kung fu and lion dancing at a martial arts club in Vancouver's Chinatown. Having experienced racism and bullying, I thought this would be good for my personal health and self-confidence, so I excitedly accepted the invite. Little did I know that this would have a huge influence on my broadcast career later down the road.

Kevin K. Li being interviewed by Omni TV News for his documentary

This club was Hon Hsing Athletic Association, the youth branch of Wong’s Benevolent Association of Canada. In the past, only people with the surname Wong could join, but later it opened up to other surnames as well. To learn kung fu and lion dancing was free; the only thing they asked was that we would volunteer our time to perform what we learned, when we can, as a way to carry culture and tradition forward. I would spend the next 20 years learning and performing lion dance for various celebrations throughout the year, including the Lunar New Year parade.

Brotherhoods, Clans and Secret Societies of Vancouver's Chinatown, Little Ram Productions Inc.

Lion dance wasn't the only thing I learned there; I also learned Hon Hsing was founded in 1939 as a way for the youth of Wongs to fundraise for war efforts when Japan invaded China during WWII. This led them to be the 2nd oldest lion dance club in Vancouver (possibly Canada). Hon Hsing was also one of many ‘tongs’ in Chinatown. Tongs, roughly meaning ancestral hall association, were once known as secret societies that only members could access. They were distinguished by last name, area of origin, and political affiliations and each club would have their own lion(s) as a representation of their club.

The History of Hon Hsing Athletic Association

More importantly, I discovered the hidden stories that the elders often felt were "not important" enough to tell — narratives of brotherhood, tribulations, and perseverance during their lonely journey's to Canada. These accounts have inspired me to produce more content showcasing the experiences of ethnic Canadians, shedding light on our rich and diverse heritage whenever I can.

Canadianize Me, Little Ram Productions

When you see lion dancers this Lunar New Year, just remember, you are seeing hundreds of years of culture and tradition passed down through passionate volunteer community students and teachers. They also represent the perseverance of Chinese Canadians who first arrived, laid down roots, and called Canada home, without forgetting where they came from.

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