Sunday, February 26, 2006

15. Old Chinatown - "Tangrenbu"

Those who have visited San Francisco's Chinatown are familiar with the neighborhood's unique urban environment including its dense interplay of housing, commerce, and varied social institutions. However, much of what constitutes today's Chinatown was rebuilt in the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake and fire. Thus, when Dong Hin arrived in Chinatown in 1881, he would have entered a neighborhood that in many ways would be very unfamiliar to us today.1a) Ross Alley viewed from Jackson Street; (1b) "Pigtail parade" (Arnold Genthe, 1895-1906).

Upon arriving at "Dabu," the Cantonese name for San Francisco meaning "big city " or the "first city," Chinese immigrants made their way to the City's Chinese quarter known as "Tangrenbu" (Tong Yen Fau, "port of the people of Tang [i.e. Chinese]"). There had been a Chinese presence in Yerba Buena as early as 1838. As the village grew into the City of San Francisco, the Chinese presence grew concomitantly as waves of Chinese immigrants arrived, first in response to the gold rush and later as labor for the building of the transcontinantal railroad.

Chinatown first sprang up as a collection of Chinese stores on Sacramento Street (as known as "Tangrenjie" or Tong Yen Gaai, "the street of the Chinese People") between Kearny and Dupont (now Grant Avenue). The neighborhood rapidly expanded to a ten block area bordered by Broadway to the north, Kearny Street to the east, California Street to the south, and Stockton Street to the west (figure 2). As anti-Chinese sentiment grew in the mid to late 19th century, the life of Chinese immigrants would largely become restricted to the confines of the growing ghetto.
2) Map of Old Chinatown commisioned by the San Francisco Board of Supervisor's Special Committee on Chinatown. The color coding indicated the locations of "Chinese occupancy, Chinese gambling houses, Chinese prostitution, Chinese opium resorts, Chinese joss houses, and White prostitution" (circa 1885, Library of Congress).

There are few surviving documents that capture life in Tangrenbu during the late 19th century. Fortunately, what does remain are the photographs of Arnold Genthe (figure 1), a German tutor who came to San Francisco in 1895. Fascinated by Chinatown, Genthe taught himself the then-fledgling art of photography and spent the next decade photographing daily life in Tangrenbu. To get a glimse of old Chinatown, I cannot recommend enough the book "Genthe's Photographs of San Francisco's Old Chinatown" with historical context provided by John Kuo Wei Tchen.

As one can gather from the map in figure 2, old Chinatown was a complex neighborhood, very much male-dominated and defined in many ways by the forces of anti-Chinese attitudes. Thus it is no surprise that Chinatown developed a certain reputation for lawlessness and vice. One of the most fascinating descriptions of old Chinatown I have come across is by former San Francisco Chief of Police Jesse B. Cook. He began as a beat officer with the SFPD, and later served as a sergeant with the “Chinatown Squad," a special unit formed in the 1880's to combat "vice" in Chinatown. In a June 1931 article in the San Francisco Police and Peace Officers’ Journal, Chief Cook described the conditions in San Francisco’s Chinatown before 1906 from his perspective as a member of the “Chinatown Squad.” Here are some selected exerpts from Cook's article, some of which focus on some of the shadier aspects of life in old Chinatown:

On Chinese names for the area:

"The State of California was at one time called “Gow Kum Shain,” or Old Gold Mill. Sacramento was known as the “second city,” or Yee Fow, and San Francisco had the Chinese name of Tie Fow, or “the big city.” America, that is the United States of America, was known as May Yee Kwock, or Ah May Yee Kah, also Fah Kay Kwock, meaning the flower flag country. Americans were known as Fah Kay Yen, or flower flagmen.

The Chinese had their own names for the alleys in Chinatown. The main streets, outside of Sacramento Street, were always known to the Chinese by their English names, the other streets, however, were all known by Chinese names.

If you asked a Chinaman where an alley was and gave the American name, he would be unable to tell you, for he would not know. But if you gave him the Chinese name, he would know immediately. For instance, Sacramento Street was known as China Street—in Chinese as Tong Yen Guy. The Spanish originally settled Ross Alley, but when the Chinese came they crowded the Spaniards out. This alley was, therefore, given the name of Gow Louie Sun Hong, or Old Spanish Alley. Spofford Alley was another alley from which the Spaniards were crowded out; this was called Sun Louie Sun Hong, or new Spanish Alley.

Alongside the old First Baptist Church, on Washington below Stockton was an alley, at the end of which was a stable for horses. The Chinese named this Mah Fong Hong, “stable alley.” A small alley off of Ross Alley was known as On New Hong, in other words, “urinating alley,” as the Chinese made it a regular urinating place.

Duncan [Duncombe] Alley is off Jackson Street, below Stockton, and is known as Fay Chie Hong, or “Fat Boy Alley.” This was named after a young boy living on the street who, at fifteen years, weighed about 240 pounds. A little way below, on the opposite side of the street, was St. Louis Alley. In the early days of Chinatown there was a large fire in the alley, which burned up quite a number of houses. The Chinese, therefore, called it “fire alley,” or “Fo Sue Hong.”

Opposite Fire Alley was Sullivan Alley, running halfway through from Jackson to Pacific Street. As there was a restaurant in this alley, the Chinese called it “Cum Cook Yen,” the same name as the restaurant.

Another alley was named “Min Pow Hong,” or bread alley, because there was a bakery on it. Brenham Place, running from Washington Street to Clay Street, back of the square, was called “Fah Yeun Guy,” or Flower Street, because of the park. Bartlett Alley, running from Jackson to Pacific Street, just below Grant Avenue, or Dupont Street, was called “Buck Wa John Guy,” or the grocery man who speaks Chinese. Opposite this was Washington Alley, known to the whites as “Fish Alley.” The Chinese, however, called it “Tuck Wo Guy,” after a store on it.

Waverly Place, originally known as Pike Street, ran from Washington Street to Sacramento Street, above Dupont, and was called “Ten How Mue Guy,” after a Chinese Temple in that street."

On Chinese boys and school:

"The boys were sent to school; that is, to the Chinese school; they were not allowed to go to the European school. At that time there was one public school of about four rooms, on Clay Street, between Stockton and Powell Streets, those in attendance being mostly Japanese and other races. The Chinese boys went to their own school, from 8 o’clock in the morning until 10:30 at night, with time off for lunch and dinner. In Chinese, each character represents a word, and the only way they had of studying was to memorize these characters, which were placed on a blackboard or hung upon the wall. These were repeated over and over continually all day long until thoroughly imbedded in the minds of the boys. The teachers generally carried a long rattan and were very strict. If a boy made a mistake in reading from a chart, the teacher would hit him over the head with the rattan."

On the vices of Chinatown:

"People, generally, have the idea that Chinese are natural gamblers. This is not true. The old-time Chinese visited gambling houses so much because there were so few places of entertainment. In the first place, very few of them were married men. They could not speak English and, therefore, could not enjoy American dramas, dances or games. The only things left for them to do were either to visit houses of prostitution, gambling houses, lottery houses or the Chinese Theatre."

On fan tan gambling houses:

"In regard to the gambling games in Chinatown—my first trip to Chinatown was in 1889 as a patrolman in a squad. At that time there were about 62 lottery agents, 50 fan tan games and eight lottery drawings in Chinatown. In the 50 fan tan gambling houses the tables numbered from one to 24, according to the size of the room.

The game was played around a table about 10 feet long, 4 feet high and 4 feet wide. On this table was a mat covering the whole top. In the center of the mat was a diagram of a 12-inch square, each corner being numbered in Chinese characters, 1, 2, 3 and 4.

At the head of the table sat a lookout or gamekeeper. At the side was the dealer. This man had a Chinese bowl and a long bamboo stick with a curve at the end, like a hook. In front of him, fastened to the table, was a bag containing black and white buttons. He would scoop down into the sack with his bowl and raise it, turning it upside down on the table. The betting would then start.

After the bets were made, the dealer would raise the bowl and start to draw down the buttons, drawing four buttons at a time. The Chinese would make their bets at the drawing down of the buttons. The dealer would draw down until one, two, three or even four buttons would be left. Sometimes the Chinese would bet that the last four buttons would be all white, all black or that there would be a mixture of black and white buttons."

On lottery drawings (a game similar to keno):

"The Chinese have a very large room, with the doors constructed the same as in the case of a fan tan game room. The far end of the room is partitioned off with wire screens to the full width and about 8 feet deep. In back of the screen are two shelves, one of which acts as a counter for four Chinamen. Each Chinaman has a separate window in the screen. On the other shelf are placed Chinese ink pots and brushes, for the purpose of marking Chinese lottery tickets. Every Chinese lottery ticket has 80 characters on it, 40 above the line and 40 below. Each company stamps their own name at the head of the ticket. These tickets are really a Chinese poem, written by a Chinaman while in prison, and later adopted as a Chinese lottery ticket. There is not a thing on these tickets to designate their real use, although they are never used for any other purpose.

The agents around town had their offices in back of stores where they sell the tickets. Just before the drawing takes place, they present a triplicate copy of each ticket sold to the Chinaman at the window. The duplicate ticket is given to the purchaser, while the agent retains the original. As soon as all the money and tickets are in, the tickets are closed and the lottery is held.

In a little package, about 2 inches square, are 80 slips of paper. On each of these slips is a character corresponding to one of the characters on the lottery ticket. The Chinaman sets in front of him a large pan, like the old-time milk pans we used to set for milk to raise cream, and four bowls, each bearing a Chinese number—either 1, 2, 3 or 4. The small slips of paper are folded into little pellets, thrown into the pan and shaken up. The drawing then begins. The first pellet drawn is put into bowl No. 1, the next into bowl No. 2, and so on, until there are twenty pellets in each bowl.

The Chinaman then takes another small package, containing four little square pieces of paper. On each of these pieces is a figure in Chinese corresponding with the figures on the bowls. The same procedure is then followed as with the pellets. The slip picked from the pan is handed to the clerk, who in turn hands it to a man standing on the shelf in back of him. It is opened, in the presence of everybody gathered there. Of course, the bowl bearing the same number is considered the winning bowl; the other three are placed under the counter.

The pellets are then taken from the winning bowl and are pasted on a board in full view. These are winning characters. The Chinese mark the tickets by daubing the characters that agree with the ones on the board, with a brush. After this has been done, they present their tickets, and come back at the proper time to get their reward; that is, whatever they won."

On tongs and tong wars:

"We now come to the starting of the so-called “tongs,” commonly known as the “hi-binders.” The first tong was the Chee Kung Tong. Every man coming from China became a member of this tong. It was never known to have been in any trouble, for the Six Companies looked after the Chinese and saw that they were properly cared for.

In the early days, a Chinaman known as “Little Pete,” whose Chinese name was Fong Jing Tong, was interested in quite a number of slave dens, gambling places and lottery houses. The hoodlum element of Chinatown would make raids on these places and demand tribute money, or blackmail. It became so bad that Little Pete conceived the idea of forming tongs to protect his interests. The first tongs he started were the Bo Sin Sere and the Guy Sin Sere, and they guaranteed him absolute protection.

About this time there was another Chinaman, Chin Ten Sing, known as “Big Jim,” who also had large interests in a great many gambling, lottery and slave houses. He saw the protection that Little Pete was getting, and as he had to turn to his own houses for protection, decided to start some tongs also. Among them were the Suey Singsa, the Hop Sings and a number of others.

This proved very successful until the tongs started fighting among themselves over slave girls and gambling games. These wars sometimes lasted for several months.

During my first term in Chinatown in 1889, the Chinese did not use revolvers in their tong wars, believing they made too much noise. A lather’s hatchet sharpened to a razor edge was their chief weapon. With this they could chop a man all to pieces and generally, when they did leave him, would drive the hatchet into his skull and leave it there. The men using these weapons were known as Poo Tow Choy, or little hatchet men."

On opium dens:

"The opium den was another thing that the Chinese resorted to because they had no other place to go. At that time nearly every store in Chinatown had an opium layout in the rear for their customers. All the Chinaman had to do was bring his opium. In those days the Chinese were allowed to smoke opium, provided they did not do so in the presence of a white man. If a white man was present it meant the arrest of all who were in the room at the time.

In the old days, at the corner of Washington Street and Spofford Alley, in a room right off the street, anyone could see Chinamen mixing old opium with new. That is, after opium is smoked the ashes drop down into the pipe in the bowl. This is scraped out with certain instruments and saved. It is then known as “Yen Shee,” and is later mixed with new opium. I have seen as many as 100 Chinamen smoking opium in a den in Chinatown. The opium smoke was sometimes so thick in those dens that the gas jets looked like small matches burning."

"Genthe's Photographs of San Francisco's Old Chinatown"
with text by John Kuo Wei Tchen
"Arnold Genthe's 'San Francisco Chinatown, 1895-1906'" (California Historical Society)
"San Francisco's Old Chinatown" (Chief Jesse Cook, 1931)
Chinese San Francisco, 1850-1943 by Yong Chen

Monday, February 20, 2006

14. Hung On Tong

We know little about what Dong Hin did during his first years in San Francisco. He may have had some sort of affiliation with the Sam Yup Company, and perhaps even a family association. However, we do know that he had strong and lasting ties to the Hung On Tong Society (; Pinyin "xíng ān shàn táng").

The Hung On Tong Society was founded in 1858 as a district association for people of Shunde (Shun Tuck; ) descent. Like other associations, the Society's mission included working for the membership's common welfare, helping the old and infirmed, providing a means for Shun Tuck people to maintain contact with one another, and exhuming and returning the dead to China for permanent burial. On this last point, Yong Chen in Chinese San Francisco 1850-1943 notes that "many immigrants requested that their bodies or ashes be [returned to their homes in China] so that they could be united with their loved ones. That wish... demonstrated the immigrant's 'love for his native land, and the desire that his last resting-place shall be where the ashes of his kindred lie'." Though returning remains to China was expensive and difficult, the demand was so great that numerous specialized charity societies were founded to assist individuals and benevolent associations in this process.
(1a) Hung On Tong Society headquarters at 657 Jackson Street. The building was rebuilt in 1908 after the original building was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake; (1b) the Hung On Tong Society logo includes famous Shunde commodities such as silk and fish; (1c) detail of the Hung On Tong doorway. The middle characters are "Shunde," the bottom characters roughly translate as Hung On "travel peacefully" "charitable" Tong "hall"; (1d) detail of Hung On Tong letterhead (photos Steve, 2006).

Presumably with the aid of the Hung On Tong Society, the 14-year old Dong Hin began his lifelong involvement in the Shunde-controlled worker's garment business. Upon his arrival in San Francisco, Dong Hin became a member of the Gon Kee Company in 1881 and served with the firm until 1890. The Gon Kee Company was located at 919 Dupont Street (now Grant Avenue) and was a dealer of Chinese clothing. Unfortunately we don't know much about Dong Hin's role in Gon Kee other than that he eventually became a "merchant" with the company.
(2) Detail from a map of "Old Chinatown" from 1885. The approximate location of the Gon Kee Co. at 919 Dupont is shown. The orange colored block describes the lot as "C. [Chinese] clothing store." The pink lot behind the storefront indicates a gambling establishment (adapted from The Chinese in California, 1850-1925, Bancroft Library, U.C. Berekeley).

Prior to the 1960's, the Society was led by four administrators known as Junglei. Each Junglei assumed a six-month term administering the Society's finances. These administrators came from the four worker's garment businesses owned by the Shun-Tucknese, namely: 1) the George Brothers Co.; 2) the H. Williams Co.; 3) the Quong Lee Co.; and 4) the Ching Chong Co. As we'll learn later on Dong Hin played major roles in both the George Brothers and the H. Williams Companies. Not surprisingly, "Deng Yin," an alternative transliteration of "Dong Hin," was noted as one of the Junglei who led the Society during these years.

In 1960, with the closure of these businesses, the Society reorganized and became a non-profit, tax-exempt organization. Much of the mission of the Society has focused on preserving and promoting Shunde culture and fostering brotherhood within and without the Society through events such as visits to the Chinese cementary during the Ching Ming, Yue Lan, and Chung Yeung festivals. As of 1985, the Society continued its role to aid new immigrants from Shunde transitioning to their new lives in America, just like it helped Dong Hin in 1881.

In 1873, the Hung On Tong Society purchased a building at 657 Jackson Street to serve as its headquarters. Like almost everything else in Chinatown, the headquarters was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake (more on this later). Regrouping in temporary offices on Oakland's Webster Street, Hung On Tong's leaders organized the reconstruction of a new building at the same address two years later in 1908. For almost 100 years, the building has served as the headquarters of the Society. However, a brand new and much larger headquarters designed by Dick W. Wong and Associates was recently completed down the street at the corner of Jackson and Kearny.
(3a) The old Hung On Tong Society building at 657 Jackson Street; (3b) the recently completed new Hung On Tong Society headquarters at 601 Jackson Street (photos Steve, 2006)

As times have changed, the power and influence of many Chinatown associations has diminished. To the best of our knowledge, our own family's direct involvement with Hung On Tong has lapsed long ago. However, the construction of the new and rather large headquarters at the prominent corner location of Jackson and Kearny is clearly suggestive of the Society's wherewithal and aspirations.

A revealing 1999 article by Julie Soo in AsianWeek sheds some light into the financial world of Chinatown associations and Hung On Tong in particular. Soo writes, "Many associations are over a century old, meaning they have amassed real estaste holdings that help feed growing treasuries... [and] the associations [currently] own 30 percent of the property in Chinatown, and they own several cemeteries in San Mateo County. Conservative estimates on the worth of the associations' property holdings in the two counties run upward of $250 million, mostly paid off years ago and taxed at low Proposition 13 property tax rates. The Hung On Tong Society alone had $1.3 million in savings and cash when it confronted the first in a series of legal battles around 1989, according to tax returns. The association also has upward of $5 million in real estate holdings... [and is one of the] city's most affluent associations."

Nearly 150 years ago, the Hung On Tong society was established to help the immigrants from Shunde while maintaining a connection to the homeland. As the world of the 21st century begins to look eastward for new opportunities, it will be fascinating to see how the role of the Hung On Tong Society as a bridge between cultures evolves in the ever-changing relationship between the Shun-tucknese of China and America.

"Strained Relations" by Julie Soo (AsianWeek, 1999)
"Hung on Tong Society, Reunion Banquet - Special Edition" (1985, provided by Judy)
Chinese San Francisco, 1850-1943 by Yong Chen

Sunday, February 05, 2006

13. Family Associations & the Chinese Six Companies

With his arrival in San Francisco in 1881, Dong Hin would soon become part of the incredibly complex business and societal organizations that effectively ran Chinatown. The fundamental building block of Chinese society has always been the family unit, through which social order was maintained. This basic tenet was no different for the earliest Chinese immigrants to America. As family or clan members arrived, they shared unique dialects, customs, and loyalties and thus would naturally band together as they began to create a new life in America. Often the center of this activity was in a merchandise store operated by one of the clan members. Once the store began to grow, the owner would send for more relatives or others with similar family-names from China to join the company. This mechanism of overlapping social and business “recruitment” would lead to the phenomenon of particular families controlling particular industries. Examples include our own family’s involvement in the worker’s garment industry; the Dear (also transliterated as Dea, Dere, Jear, Jay, etc) family’s control of fruit and candy stalls and stores; and the ownership of better class restaurants by the Yee’s and Lee’s.

As the immigrant population grew, a need arose for organizations to maintain social order. Unfortunately, because of the growing prejudice and hostility of Americans, the Chinese could not turn to the “American courts for settlement.” Instead, a complex set of social institutions evolved in Chinatown, designed to maintain order in the fledgling community.

Family Associations were created with membership based on the same surname. With the rising wave of immigration, family associations grew and eventually purchased buildings as headquarters for the group. The elders of the family associations were responsible for maintaining order within the association by settling disputes, helping the needy, and disciplining the unruly.

Further maintaining ties to their homeland, the Chinese of San Francisco established district associations based on one’s place of origin. In Chinese these associations were called or "huìgǔan," roughly translated as "organization/meeting" and "public building." Of the approximately 90 districts of Guangdung of the time, about twenty-four were heavily represented in Chinatown. Like the family associations, these district associations played a major role in keeping order in Chinatown. However, instead of focusing on individual disputes within clans, the district associations dealt with problems between businesses and groups or issues “between” districts.
(1) The evolution of the Sam Yup Benevolent Association and its relationship to the "Chinese Six Companies" which would become the CCBA (adapted from the Chinese Historical Society of America).

By about 1862, there were six major district associations: 1) our own Sam Yup (Canton Co.); 2) Kong Chow; 3) Ning Yeung; 4) Yeong Wo; 5) Hop Wo; and 6) Yan Wo. Seeing the need and realizing the advantage of combining power, these district associations joined together to form the “Chinese Six Companies.” This organization would remain the unchallenged supreme authority in Chinatown for more than 50 years. In 1901, the Six Companies was incorporated and officially became known as the “Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association” or “CCBA.”
(2a) The Sam Yup Benevolent Association building at 835 Grant Avenue; (2b) the doorway to the Sam Yup Association (photos, Steve, 2006).

It’s difficult to overstate the power of the “Chinese Six Companies.” At its peak, the “Six Companies” was empowered to speak on behalf of all Californian Chinese, was the “official board of arbitration for disputes between the various district groups,” and “before the establishment of any Chinese consular… agency in America, the Chinese Six Companies acted as spokesman for the Imperial Manchu government in its relations with the Chinese in America.”

If you’re confused by all these groups, you’re not alone. Probably the handiest way of picturing this is to think of the way the American legal system is organized: 1) family associations are like municipal courts; 2) district associations serve the role of the state supreme court; and 3) the “Chinese Six Companies” was the final arbiter of all issues as is the federal supreme court.
(3) Legal and administrative hierarchy of various organizations with Chinatown. As a district association, the Sam Yup Co. dealt with matters internal to the district, but also had a major voice as a member of the Chinese Six Companies.

Some of the “Chinese Six Companies” noteworthy accomplishments include maintaining a Chinese census, starting Chinese language schools, establishing the Chinese Hospital (particularly important since the Chinese could not be admitted to the San Francisco County Hospital during the 1860’s and 1870’s), and fighting all anti-Chinese legislation enacted by the City, state, and federal governments. However, there was a dark side to the power amassed by the “Six Companies.” The organization was effectively a nonvoluntary "voluntary association" – businessmen had to pay membership dues if they wished to stay in business. Additionally the Six Companies controlled movement back to China through the issuance of “exit permits.” The CCBA convinced steamship companies like the Pacific Mail Steamship Company not to sell tickets to Chinese who wished to return to China without an “exit permit.” Of course, a fee was associated with these permits, and the fee became an important "tax power” that would remain in place until the 1949 Communist takeover of China.
(4a) The CCBA building at 843 Stockton Street; (4b) CCBA letterhead; (4c) the door way to the CCBA; notice the last two characters to the left over the doorway: or "huìgǔan (photos, Steve, 2006).

The CCBA still exists today, its headquarters located at 843 Stockton Street at Clay (by the post office). Though still somewhat a secretive institution, its aspirations and history are readily apparent in the wording on its letterhead:

“The Official Representative Association of Chinese in America”


A History of the Chinese in California: A Syllabus, Thomas Chin (ed)
"Chinatown Introduction: a Tale of Four Cities," Randolph Delehanty

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

12. Arrival

The arrival and docking of a great steamship in nineteenth century San Francisco at the conclusion of a trans-Pacific crossing was always a dramatic affair. We can imagine that Dong Hin, aboard the Pacific Mail Steamship "City of Peking," observed a spectacle much like that described by Albert Evans in 1869 in the Atlantic Monthly as the ship made her approach for the Pacific Mail Steamship dock located at 1st and Brannan Streets (Figure 1, circa 1875, San Francisco History Center). Evans wrote:

"[The ship rounds] Rincon Point, and is laying in the stream, off the southern end of the wharf, with hawsers out, vainly endeavoring, against the strong ebb tide, to warp into her berth on the western side. The bow hawser parts at last, and she drfits out towards Yerba Buena Island, then swings slowly around under steam, heads toward San Jose, and then, when about half a mile away, turns gracefully, and with her monster wheels beating the bay into foam, comes rushing at full speed directly down toward the wharf... The monster of the deep obeys her helm to perfection, comes swiftly into her berth right alongside the wharf, and before we have ceased wondering at the immense proportions of this magnificent specimen of American marine architecture, her wheels are reversed, and she has ceased to move."

Welcome to San Francisco!

Continuing with Evan's evocative 1869 description:

"Then, for the first time, we observe that her main deck is packed with Chinamen - every foot of space being occupied by them - who are gazing in silent wonder at the new land whose fame had reached them beyond the seas, and whose riches these stalwart representatives of the toiling millions of Asia have come to develop. The great gangway-planks... are run out from the wharf and hoisted into place... [and] the custom-house officers ascend to the decks, the detectives and policemen range themselves at the gangways fore and aft... The forward gangway is reverved for the diembarkation of Chinamen exclusively; the after gangway is for the cabin passengers, mostly Americans and Europeans."

In those early years before the Exclusion Act of 1882 (more on this later), Chinese immigrants could pretty much come and go freely. As immigrant Huie Kin noted "in those days there were no immigration laws or tedious examinations." This relatively unrestricted movement was reflected in the number of Chinese immigrants coming into the US and San Francisco (see figure 2). Between 1860 and 1880, the Chinese population tripled to nearly 100,000. Only later, as enforcement of the Exclusion Act began, would severe immigration restrictions be set in place and would an immigration station be established in an old two-story shed at the Pacific Mail Steamship Company wharf. The more infamous immigration station on Angel Island would not open its doors for another 30 years until 1910.
(2) Cartoon showing the influx of Chinese immigrants into San Francisco from the Pacific Mail Steamship Company (on the left) and from Canada (on the right). Note the overalls building in the middle-left (18--, Bancroft Library, U.C. Berkeley).

After the cabin passengers disembarked, Evans wrote that a "living stream of the blue-coated men of Asia, bearing long bamboo poles across their shoulders, from which depend packages of bedding, matting, clothing, and things of which we know neither the names nor the uses, pours down the plank the moment that the word is given, 'All ready!'...

...As they come down upon the wharf, they separate into messes or gangs of ten, twenty, or thirty each, and, being recognized through some (to us) incomprehensible freemasonry system of signs by the agents of the 'Six Companies' as they come, are assigned places on the long, broad-shedded wharf... Each man carries on his shoulders, or in his hands, his entire earthly possessions, and few are overloaded. There are no merchants or business men among them, all being of the coolie or laboring class... There is a babel of uncouth cries and harsh discordant yells, accompanied by whimsically energetic gestures and convulsive facial distortions, as the members of the different gangs recognize each other in the crowd, and search out the places assigned to them."

From the perspective of a Chinese immigrant, Huie Kin recalled,

"[somebody] had brought to the pier large wagons for us. Out of the general babble, someone called out in our local dialect, and, like sheep recognizing the voice only, we blindly followed, and soon were piling into one of the waiting wagons… The wagon made its way heavily over the cobblestones, turned some corners, ascended a steep climb, and stopped at a kind of clubhouse, where we spent the night.”

Who were the agents of the "Six Companies," the people who called out in a local dialect and collected the gangs of men with their "freemasonry signs" and brought them to a "kind of clubhouse?" These were the representatives of the district associations such as the Sam Yup District Association and the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association. Though we really don't know exactly what Dong Hin's arrival in San Francisco was truly like, its certainly likely that these associations played a key role in helping him get settled and secure a job in this new place.

I think Albert Evans displayed amazing insight into the significance of the Chinese immigrants' arrival in San Francisco. He concluded his 1869 article saying:

"We had indeed stood on the farther shore of the New World, and seen the human tides which have surged around the globe from opposite directions meet and commingle... It was a sight worth living long and coming far to look upon - a scene to wonder at, to ponder over and reflect upon - to gaze upon once and remember through all the coming years of life - a scene such as our fathers never beheld nor dreamed of, and of which our children's children only may know the full import and meaning."

The Chinese in California, 1850-1925, Bancroft Library, U.C. Berekeley
"Steamer from China" in More San Francisco Memoirs, 1852-1899 , Malcolm E. Barker (ed)
A History of the Chinese in California: A Syllabus, Thomas Chin (ed)
The Chinese American Album by Dorothy & Thomas Hoobler

Saturday, January 28, 2006

11. San Francisco!

Dong Hin sailed through the narrow Golden Gate into San Francisco Bay for the first time in 1881 aboard the S.S. City of Peking. It surely must have been both a stunning and welcome sight after a long and possibly difficult voyage across the wide Pacific. The San Francisco that greeted Dong Hin in 1881 was in many ways still in its infancy. A little bit of San Francisco history helps to paint a picture of what the emerging metropolis looked like 125 years ago upon Dong Hin's arrival.
(1) The Golden Gate as seen from Telegraph Hill (1873, adapted from the Anchor Steam Beer website). And nope, there's no bridge yet.

There has been a Native American presence in San Francisco for millenia. When considered on that time scale, it was only fairly recently then that, in 1770, San Francisco Bay was "discovered" by Spanish explorer Don Gaspar de Portolà. Six years later in 1776, the Spanish, under the guidance of Franciscan priests Fathers Junipero Serra and Francisco Palou established the Mission San Francisco de Asis, or Mission of St. Francis of Assisi. (The Mission would eventually take its nickname, "Mission Dolores" from the nearby, but now long-gone "Lago de los Dolores" or "Lake of the Sorrows"). Simultaneously the Spanish military established the Presidio as a small fort to defend both the Bay as well as the tiny village of Yerba Buena located on the northeastern tip of the SF peninsula. Yerba Buena was originally a small collection of ramshackle shacks and adobe homes centered around a small plaza facing the Yerba Buena Cove in an area now occupied by Chinatown and San Francisco's financial district. The village of Yerba Buena would eventually become the nucleus for the City of San Francisco. (2a) An illustration of San Francisco from 1846 (adapted from; (2b) A map of San Francisco police districts from the late 1850's - notice the wharfs projecting into Yerba Buena cove, the reclaimed area that is now the financial district (adapted from the history of the SFPD).

Little changed in the quiet burg even upon Mexican independence from Spain in 1821. Though now nominally in control of the former Spanish territory, the Mexican government was too overtaxed and otherwise occupied to pay too much attention its new northern territorial holdings and San Francisco fell into sleepy isolation. During this time, a variety of countries, seeing the geographical value of San Francisco Bay Area, vied for territorial expansion into the region while under the lackadaisical rule of Mexico. In some ways, this was the start of the multicutural nature of the City.

Of course, things would not remain like this for long. In 1846, after many machinations, a group of Californians (spurred by the US government and led by nutty rabble-rouser John C. Fremont) "seized" Sonoma and declared independence from Mexico, creating the California "Bear Flag Republic." Soon after, the US navy sloop-of-war "Portsmouth" under the command of Captain John B. Montgomery sailed unchallenged into San Francisco Bay and took control of San Francisco for the US. Fortunately, San Francisco's liberation from Mexico was a bloodless affair as the few remaining Mexican soldiers had long since departed.
(3) The US Navy sloop-of-war "Portsmouth" (San Francsico History Center)

If you're a little confused by the apparent interchangability of the names "Yerba Buena" and "San Francisco," you're not alone. To settle the matter once and for all (and to get a jump on rival settlers who were trying to establish a competing city at the site of present day Benicia to be named "Francisca"), the City's first American Alcalde (mayor) Washington Bartlett issued the following proclamation on January 30, 1847:

AN ORDINANCE WHEREAS, the local name of Yerba Buena, as applied to the settlement or town of San Francisco, is unknown beyond the district; and has been applied from the local name of the cove, on which the town is built: Therefore, to prevent confusion and mistakes in public documents, and that the town may have the advantage of the name given on the public map; IT IS HEREBY ORDAINED, that the name of SAN FRANCISCO shall hereafter be used in all official communications and public documents, or records appertaining to the town.

And with this little ordinance in place, the City officially became "San Francisco." You can read more about this story in the San Francisco History Index.

If one could identify a single historical center of San Francisco, it would be that little plaza in the middle of the village of Yerba Buena. With the arrival of the US military, that main plaza of San Francisco was renamed "Portsmouth Square" after the sloop-of-war, and it was here that the stars and stripes were raised for the first time near the old Mexican adobe custom house on July 9, 1846. Now if you look carefully at the maps in figures 2a-b, you'll see how the City was configured around this time and how much has changed since then. The small town was built around a small harbor, and "Portsmouth Square" was just a block or two up from the water line. The road running just along the water front was rechristened "Montgomery Street" in honor of the "liberator." Eventually Yerba Buena cove was reclaimed with landfill (including the abandoned ships of the soon-to-arrive prospectors), creating the terra firma that now consititutes much of present-day downtown San Francisco. And Montgomery street, the street that once ran along the edge of the harbor, now runs smack-dab through the middle of downtown.

Change was beginning to accelerate for this tiny town. On May 11, 1848, the Mormon elder and newspaper publisher Sam Brannan announced Sutter's discovery of gold in historic Portsmouth Square, and the gold rush was on. Simply looking at the population change during these years illustrates clearly the explosive growth that was taking place:

1842: 196 residents
1846: 200
1848: 850
1849: 5,000 (July)
1849: 25,000 (December)
1860: 56,802
1870: 149, 473
1880: 233,959

(4) Portsmouth square, 1858 (San Francsico History Center)

The time period between 1849 and 1881 was a period of intense change for the City. San Francisco suffered six major conflagrations that burned the City to the ground, developed a reputation for lawlessness and vigilantism, and became a major economic, shipping, and military center for the western United States. In September 9, 1850, partially in response to the influx of 49ers seeking to strike it rich in the gold fields, California became the 31st state admitted to the union, and San Francisco became a center of power for the fledgling state. If you compare figure 2a (1846) to the panorama picture of the City in figure 5 (1878), you can see just how much much the City was begining to grow. By 1880, San Francisco had become the ninth largest city in America.

(5) A panorama of San Francisco by Eadward Muybridge (1878, adapted from AmericaHurrah).

The Muybridge panorama is probably very similar to the sight of San Francisco that first greeted Dong Hin in 1881. The young City, really only 30 years old, was still establishing its identity and character. The influx of Chinese immigrants and their culture at this time (along with the arrivals of so many other peoples of the world), played no small part in helping to shape and develop the unique and special characteristics of San Francisco.

[Note: At the end of every post, I try to place links to the sources of information if you're interested in going a little further in depth in a particular topic. This week I'm listing a number of links I consider really amazing, links I think everyone should try to check out.] is the source for incredible, free podcasts about the history of San Francisco, covering everything from the City's birth to ephemera like those identical twins who dress alike and make the rounds downtown. A must-listen!

San Francisco history section of is a terrific resource full of stories, pictures, and plain-old San Francisciana. If you ever wondered about the origin of a SF street name, this is the place to go to first.

San Francisco (wikipedia)
City and County of San Francisco official website

Monday, January 23, 2006

10. First Pacific Crossing (1881)

As a gum shan haak, or “traveler to the Golden Mountains,” Dong Hin would have had to raise the $25 to $60 required to pay for the 7,000 mile journey from Hong Kong to San Francisco. This was not an insubstantial amount of money as it was often more than an entire family’s annual income. Dong Hin may have saved money. However, given his young age, he more likely may have borrowed money from his family or money-lending associations known as hui. His family in China would be responsible for repaying the debt to the hui in the event Dong Hin was unable to do so.

Alternatively, by the late 1870’s, Chinese merchants began to sell “credit tickets.”
Emigrants who used the credit tickets agreed to repay the cost of the ticket with interest after securing employment in the United States. With the increasing volume of emigrants traveling from China, businesses known as gum shan chong, or “Golden Mountain Firm(s)” began to appear as well. These companies aided the immigrants by taking care of the necessary paperwork and booking the passage. Here is an exerpt from a credit ticket from 1850:

"... From the time of leaving Shanghae, the expenses of provisions and vessel are all to be defrayed by the head of the Tseang Sing Hong. On arrival, it is expected that the foreign merchant will search out and recommend employment for the said labourers, and the money he advances on their account, shall be returned when the employment becomes settled. The one hundred and twenty-five dollars passage money, as agreed by us, are to be paid to the said head of the said Hong, who will make arrangments with the employers of the coolies, that a moiety of their wages shall be deducted monthly until the debt is absorbed, after which they will receive their wages in full every month..."

Today a trip to Hong Kong from San Francisco would take about 12 hours by plane. You might enjoy some airplane food, watch a couple of movies, and sleep a bit. In the late 1800’s the trip was substantially different. Sailing ships and steamers made the trans-Pacific crossing in anywhere from three weeks to two months. Conditions in steerage were often miserable and crowded. The “unusual” Anglo food provided by the ship was often of the poorest quality and unpalatable by Chinese sensibilities. Therefore, the emigrants often brought their own provisions and cooking utensils. Many emigrants had to fight off seasickness as well as loneliness during the long and trying passage to San Francisco.

(1a-c) During the voyage, emmigrants endured poor and overcrowded conditions (adapted from The Chinese American Album).

It was under these conditions in 1881 at fourteen years of age that Dong Hin boarded the Pacific Mail Steamship Company's steam-fitted schooner the "City of Peking" bound for San Francisco and the “Gold Mountain.”(2) The "City of Peking" was built in 1873 and was the first iron-hulled, propeller-driven steamer built for the Pacific Mail Steamship Company (from the APL website).

The Chinese American Album by Dorothy & Thomas Hoobler
"On Gold Mountain" exhibition
Chinese San Francisco, 1850-1943 by Yong Chen

Sunday, January 22, 2006

9. Gold Mountain Calls

In spite of his older brother's purported advice to remain in China, Dong Hin decided to seek his fortune in the “Land of the Flowery Flag” (the field of stars in the U.S. flag reminded the Chinese of flowers). Once again the circumstances that prompted Dong Hin to leave China and his family are unknown. However, the mid-to-late nineteenth century was a period characterized by large movements of Cantonese to the United States. More than 60,000 Chinese came to the United States between 1850 and 1860 alone. Initially many were enticed by the promise of instant wealth from the 1849 gold rush in the Sierras. Later, many Chinese were recruited as laborers to build the railroads of California and the western United States. Reports and rumors from these early immigrants to America filtered back to China - California became known as the “Gold Mountain” ("Gum Shan") strewn with gold for the taking and offering prosperity to all.
(1a) Chinese prospector panning for gold (1852, adapted from Sacramento Bee); (1b) Chinese workers building the Loma Prieta Lumber Co.'s railroad, California, about 1885 (adapted from America on the Move wesbsite).

For example, numerous circulars, such as this one sent around Guangzhou by Chinese brokers representing foreign shipmasters, were broadly distributed to encourage potential emigrants to seek their fortune:

Americans are very rich people. They want the Chinaman to come and will make him welcome… There will be big pay, large houses, and food and clothing of the finest description. You can write your friends or send them money at any time, and we will be responsible for the safe delivery. It is a nice country, without mandarins or soldiers. All alike; big man no larger than little man. There are a great many Chinamen there now, and it will not be a strange country. China God is there now, and the agents of his house. Never fear, and you will be lucky…

Whatever the specific inducement, the opportunity afforded in the United States was probably difficult to ignore considering the meager options available to most people in China.

"On Gold Mountain" exhibition
The Chinese American Album by Dorothy & Thomas Hoobler

Thursday, January 19, 2006

8. Dong On, Chan Shee, & Dong Hin (1867)

In a sense, our story really begins in Loo Jow on October 13, 1867 with the birth of Dong Hin ( ; Pinyin, "dèng xián") to our forebears Dong On and his wife Chan Shee. Unfortunately, we know nearly nothing about Dong On, Chan Shee, or life in Loo Jow. Concerning his parents, Dong Hin told an immigration inspector in 1921 that " my father, Dong On died about two years after I arrived in the U.S. [in 1891] and my mother, Chan Shee died about four months before my father."
(1a) Dong Hin's Chinese name from an application for immigration visa (May 22, 1925, NARA); (1b) Dong Hin's English signature from a 1921 immigration application (March 16, 1921, NARA)

A few notes about names. "Dong" (; Mandarin, Pinyin : "dèng"; "deng4"; Cantonese, Yale: "dang6"), as you know, is the family surname. The name "Hin" (; Mandarin, Pinyin : "xián"; "xian2"; Cantonese, Yale: "yin4") translates as "virtuous, worthy, good, or able." In several immigration documents, Dong Hin reported that he went by two other names as well: "Dong Gin Chong" and "Dong Wai Lum." It was the common practice of the time to have a family name "Dong," a generational name that all siblings would share ("Gin" or "Wai"), and a personal name ("Chong" or "Lum"). As for Chinese female names, married women were typically referred to by their maiden name ("Chan") and the character ("Shee") to indicate their marital status in the same way "Mrs." is used in English. Hence, Dong Hin's mother was from the Chan family.

Little is known about Dong Hin's childhood, though anecdotally we believe he may have had an older brother and a sister. If so, Dong Hin would certainly have been influenced by the exploits of his older brother, who is thought to have been a sailor. Family stories suggest that Dong Hin’s brother was the first member of the Dong clan to make his way to America. However upon returning to China, he advised his younger brother not to come to the United States. Dong Hin’s brother eventually was lost at sea.


Perhaps. But there is no question that China had a very rich maritime tradition and that many Chinese were sailors, not just cooks and stewards, onboard nineteenth century ships. G.R. Worcester, a British authority on junks and sampans wrote in "Sail and Sampan in China" (London, 1966):

"The Chinese sailor appears to fluorish not only in his own country, but abroad. The emigrating portion of the Chinese maritime population comes, strangely enough, from a relatively small area in the provinces of Kwangtung and Fukien; but wherever they go, they never fail to adapt themselves to their environment, whatever it may chance to be. Some Chinese were employed very successfully as sailors by the early East India-men; so they were initiated to the foreign style of ships and gear a very long time ago... Their courage and skill in navigating and handling their own junks about the China seas is well known. Such work for generations past amid perilous conditions has evolved a hardy race of seamen, whose skill and resourcefulness is second to none in the world."

(1) Historically, the Chinese have contributed several essential advances to shipbuilding and design including the rudder, sail rigging, bulkhead hulls, and the use of the compass for navigation. The junk Keying (above) travelled from China to the U.S. and to England between 1846 and 1848 (wikipedia).

For more information about Chinese sailors of the nineteenth century, I heartily recommend checking out Robert Schwendinger's article "Chinese Sailors: America's Invisible Merchant Marine 1876-1905" in California History magazine.

NARA (National Archives Pacific Region)
China Connection by Jeanie W.C. Low
"Chinese Sailors: America's Invisible Merchant Marine 1876-1905" by Robert J. Schwendinger in California History 62, no.1 (Spring 1978): 58-69.
Chinese seafarers (Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding, UK)

Monday, January 16, 2006

Time out...

... for a little announcement.

(kung hei fat choy)

Chinese New Year 2006 (or 4703, depending on your calendar), the Year of the Dog is just around the corner!

Check out some of these events:

New Year's Flower Market Fair
Saturday, January 21, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.
Sunday, January 22, 9 a.m.-6 p.m.

Flowering quince, gladiolas, orchids and blooms and produce of all kinds are for sale in a street fair along with traditional Chinese dance, music, art, and cultural displays. Saturday, on Grant Avenue, from Broadway to Clay Street. Sunday, on Pacific Avenue, from Kearny to Stockton. Free

Chinese New Year Day - Year of the Dog
Sunday, January 29

Miss Chinatown U.S.A. Pageant
Friday, February 4, 7:30 p.m.
Since 1958, Chinese American women from across the country have competed for the title of Miss Chinatown USA.

Chinese New Year Parade
Saturday, February 11, 5:30 p.m.-8 p.m., RAIN or SHINE

And, of course, our own family dinner at Tong Palace on Saturday, February 4th!


Check out the for a full listing of New Year's events.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

7. Loo Jow, now

The district of Shunde and the town of Loo Jow (Luzhou, figure 1b) have certainly changed in the 125 years since Dong Hin first left his village for San Francisco. Unquestionably the pace of change has accelerated most dramatically within the last ten years. What was once a relatively quiet and underdeveloped part of China, is now one of the country's largest centers of manufacturing and trade. Near Loo Jow and what we think is our maternal ancestral village, Ping Po (Pingbu, figure 1b) is Lecong City (figure 1a).

(1a) Modern map of the Shunde region, highlighting the location of Lecong City, just south of Foshan (adapted from Lecong International Exhibition Center website); (1b) modern map highlighting the location of Loo Jow (Luzhou), home of Dong Hin, and Ping Po (Pingbu), ancestral village of Mok Shee.

Here is a description of Lecong from a New York Times article from Januray 2004:

"The main street of Lecong is a five-mile Vegas-like stretch o
f gaudy showrooms and exhibition centers, factories and cavernous warehouses, leather suppliers and timber yards, all dedicated to making and selling furniture.

Until a decade ago, this town, in
Guangdong Province in southern China, was mostly rice paddies and sugarcane fields. Now Lecong, which promotes itself as the 'furniture capital of the world,' is a sales hub for the province's booming furniture industry, with 3,500 furniture stores and wholesalers representing many of the 6,000 or so furniture factories in the surrounding Pearl River delta region.

Much of the growth has come from exports. In the last eight years, China's total furniture exports grew about 30 percent annually, to about $7.3 billion last year, and more than half of the exports came from Guangdong."

Another illustration of the pace of change comes first-hand from Ron and Judy. In 1997, Richard, Joe, Diana, Dan, Bernice, Ron, and Janet visited Loo Jow, guided by a distant cousin from Hong Kong. Eight years later in December 2005, Judy visited the area while on an educational exchange mission. Here are some of their thoughts and impressions...


Ron (1997):

"It was a Sunday afternoon in 1997 when we arrived at Loo Jow after a 30 minute taxi ride from the ferry terminal. A relative of our Hong Kong cousin who had lived here, when he was younger, was our escort for the day. Low Jow is located just off a main highway.

At the entrance is the town square with a huge gateway. There w
ere twogeneral stores and an area where a farmers market does business in the morning. The streets and alleys in the village are narrow and restricted to pedestrians, bicycles, and motor cycles. The buildings, compounds are mostly of brick and stone construction. They are very old and in disrepair. This village probably [hasn't] changed too much for over a hundred years - it is still quite primitive.

(2) Reading from right to left, the gateway sign reads (in Pinyin, the standardized form of Mandarin transliteration): "Lù Zhōu Cūn Zé Pŭ Dà Dào"; this very roughly translates as the "boulevard (Dà Dào) by the large canal (Zé Pŭ) to the village (Cūn) in the land filled (Zhōu) with egrets (Lù)"; the gate and sign are no longer there, torn down as part of a modernization campaign (photos Ron Dong)

Because it was a Sunday all of the public facilities were closed so we were not able to do any family history research. We wandered around for about an hour and observed a stone staircase leading down to a water inlet and saw a woman doing the laundry by hand. In a small factory there were two young girls working on machinery making metal door hinges.

(photos Ron Dong)

Traffic in the village was minimal except for an occasional cyclist. There were no cars in the village which was nice but one can easily get lost in the maze of narrow paths, alleys, and streets. Of course, we got lost and had to ask two young boys for directions back to the entrance.

We were lucky to have visited Loo Jow before modernization completely takes over as already there are signs of demolition and constructions ever
ywhere. The highway that runs by is heavily used and congested. Will Loo Jow be saved?"


Judy (December, 2005):

"LeCong: rapid modernization, busy with vehicles and workers moving at a quick pace in the furniture manufacuring and marketing business.

LooJow: very serene in comparison to Lecong. It was a warm sunny day and walking down the clean lane was a cozy feeling. One house had red banners and double happiness pasted around the doorway indicating a marriage in that house; definitely
a good omen.

(photos Judy Dong)

I wanted to sit alone by the creek under the old tree to quietly soak up the surroundings, gentle flow of the creek, warm sun and lack of automobile and factory sounds to try visualizing what life might have been like on a busy wash day at the creek. Whose family was downstream? Whose [family] was across the foot bridge?

[The] Ancestor house opened [my] mind to [imagine] what it would have been like to be with family within the four walls.

(1a) A water well in Loo Jow that may have been used by the Dong clan; (1b) the alleyway leading to the site of the Dong family compound (photos Judy Dong)

I was struck by the contrast of the modern three story homes and the anticipated increase in student enrollment at the new preschool and elementary school rise in number of students. The student id badges that monitor student attendance was something I would love to have at Hoover. Imagine how much easier 1300 student attendance would be compared to our daily scan strips that teachers need to bubble in with #2 pencils."