My grandfather, the Reverend Daniel Gee Ching Wu (aka Ng Ping), was among the handful of Bay Area Chinese ministers who made regular visits to the Angel Island Immigration Station to minister to the Chinese detainees.
The 1930 U.S. Census gives his birth date as 1884 in China. He never knew for sure, because when he was four or five years old, Ng Ping was kidnapped off the streets of Shanghai by a stranger and taken to a village in Guangdong Province, where he took care of “Uncle’s” household—cleaning, cooking and washing dishes. At fifteen, Ng Ping was brought to Hawaii by “Uncle” to work on the pineapple plantations. Plantation life was harsh, and like many other Chinese contract workers, Ng Ping left for work in the port city of Honolulu as soon as he had fulfilled the three-to-five-year term of his contract.
Becoming a Convert
Sometime between 1900 and 1905, Ng Ping moved to Honolulu’s Chinatown, where he became an outspoken opponent of Christianity and the Chinese Exclusion Act. During his earlier years in Honolulu, he was president of the Confucian Club, a group of young Chinese men who met regularly for debates and lectures, and who stood on the street corners of Chinatown to speak against Christianity. Then he met Deaconess Emma Britt Drant, an Episcopalian missionary from Cincinnati, who started St. Elizabeth’s Mission in Chinatown. Unable to speak Chinese, she advertised for help, and was approached by Ng Ping, who agreed to teach her to speak Chinese if she would teach him to speak English. Later, confiding to his own children, he said, “I thought to myself then, I will take this opportunity to learn as much as I can about Christianity so I can talk against it better.”
Under the influence of Deaconess Drant, however, Ng Ping eventually became a convert. He chose the name Daniel when he was baptized in 1905. Later, because most Americans could not pronounce his surname Ng in Cantonese, he changed it to Wu, the Mandarin equivalent. In 1905 Deaconess Drant was forced to leave Hawaii for California because of ill health. There, she established the True Sunshine Episcopal Mission in San Francisco and the Our Savior Episcopal Mission in Oakland. In 1907, she recruited Daniel Wu to head the two Episcopal missions. While attending to his lay ministry, he studied at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, graduating and becoming an ordained vicar in 1912.
At True Sunshine, Reverend Wu established a Chinese language school for children, and evening English classes for new Chinese immigrants, many of whom he had previously met at the Angel Island Immigration Station on his biweekly visits. He also helped them adjust to their new lives in America. Reverend Wu was assisted by his wife, Won King Yoak, who taught the women not only written Chinese and a bit of English, but also her beliefs in Christianity and the greater role of women in the home and the community. The Reverend Daniel Gee Ching Wu retired in 1948 and lived to be 72 years old.
Opposing Chinese Exclusion
On Monday, July 3, 1905, the Pacific Commercial Advertiser reported a large and raucous meeting of Chinese in Honolulu to denounce the Chinese Exclusion Act. Ng Ping was among the first to speak that evening. Although no attendance numbers are given, the meeting was quite large. The newspaper described “tremendous applause” throughout the evening as different speakers took the floor. Ng Ping is quoted extensively in this article.
Ng Ping spoke on the subject, “How the Chinese Should Regard the Exclusion Act and How to Urge the Chinese Government to Oppose It.” He told how much the Chinese have done for the United States, in building the Pacific railroad and in other great enterprises. “After we have done so much,” he said, “to open up the mineral wealth of America, and to develop the resources of the country, how unjust it is to cast us out. When the first agitation against the Chinese took place in 1875, there were but 100,000 Chinese in the whole United States, while there were more than this number of other foreign laborers in many single states. It is claimed that the Chinese take away work from Americans but these alien laborers from other nations than China are really the ones who are driving out the American workman. Why this discrimination?”
“Now that exclusion is in force and few Chinese are entering the United States, now that there is no danger of a deluge of Chinese laborers, the exclusion laws are being made stricter. Why should this be? It is claimed that there is an exempt class, but the officials are doing all they can to hinder it from entering. This policy is the rankest injustice. When these people get their passports, pass their medical examination, have their clothes disinfected, and take the steamer to the United States, they are turned back. Is this justice?”
“The boycott [of American goods in China] is quite justified if we have a grievance. It is not an extreme stand. But it perhaps may bring the Americans to a realization of what they are losing. Let us all stand together and be firm.” (Tremendous applause)
Missionary Work on Angel Island
The following stories of my grandfather’s missionary work at Angel Island are taken from a 1977 interview that was conducted by Him Mark Lai and Judy Yung with my uncle Thomas Wu, Henry Tom, executive director of the Chinatown YMCA, and Fred Schulze, son of Tye Leung Schulze, interpreter and assistant matron at Angel Island in 1910.
For fifteen years, my grandfather traveled to Angel Island twice a week to preach and to help Chinese immigrants there. This was not an easy task. Because of the Chinese Exclusion laws and the fear of collusion between Chinese detainees and visitors on passing the interrogation, the Chinese as a rule were not allowed visitors until their cases had been settled. The exceptions were missionaries and social workers, who were all carefully monitored by immigration officials. As a young boy, my uncle, Thomas Wu, occasionally accompanied his father, the Reverend Daniel Wu, to Angel Island.
Wu: The law at that time was to bar Chinese from coming and if there’s any way that they can bar Chinese they would do it. Liver fluke worm is one thing, alleged paper is another thing, and then people talk about luk yee. Well, what is luk yee? Those are the immigration officials that come to arrest Chinese and after the luk yee come, we don’t see the Chinese person anymore. That’s why we always call “luk yee! luk yee!” It’s not the police department; it’s the immigration officials who wear the green garments and come to arrest us. Those are the luk yee. … Those are the disclosures we used when we were young.
Tom: When the Chinese are confined over there, there was really no date in which they could expect to be released. So it’s really a very tedious, frustrating, and discouraging thing. Now, the immigration department did permit the Methodist Church to send Deaconess Katharine Maurer over there to teach detainees the Bible and different things like that. She usually gave out toys to the kids and tried to make life more enjoyable for the immigrants. The deaconess sort of designated the YMCA as the main contact from Chinatown. When we went over, we usually bring a minister with us, and also some Chinese newspapers, recreational equipment like volleyball, and games for the kids—checkers, Chinese chess, and things like that. We taught them different games and the preacher would give a talk about Christianity. We drew mostly on Rev. Daniel Wu because he did not have a village tie in China. He’s from Hawaii, so there isn’t a suspicion that he will want to help some of the detainees.
Tom: The immigration administrators trusted Katharine Maurer and she trusted us. We didn’t try to make personal contacts or talk to them about any personal matters whatsoever. We were not allowed in the dormitories. We talked to the boys in the recreation yard and to the girls in the dining hall about what they should expect when they land in Chinatown. We referred them to the churches. All of them had night school and English classes. We usually stayed three-quarter of an hour, sometimes two or three hours. We would get some kind of game going. If it was a Christmas party or special occasion, we would stay longer. The YMCA also helped the Chinese men organize the Gee Gee Wui or Self-governing Association, which collected dues and wrote to us to help them buy certain supplies, phono-records, and recreational materials. We got the Chinese American Citizens Alliance to donate a pool table to them once.
Wu: On the way over, we were in a little boat. My father always liked to tell stories and there were always some funny incidents. And I remember he always tried it out on me first and see whether I actually laughed or not. [When we got to the island,] my father would give a sermon. Usually, the sermon was not the serious type, but a story with a lesson behind it. It’s usually that way. He continued that when many of the detainees came to our church school on Friday nights. He would tell a little story and give a sermon, and every Friday night, the place would be packed. Then after that, everybody would bow their heads and say a prayer before they went home.
Wu: I mainly talked to the younger boys. They were interested in some of the American games. We used to play shuttlecock and marbles. They would tell me how they kept score on shuttlecock and I would tell them how to make a ring to play marbles. I also taught them how to play jacks and hopscotch, things like that. I remember one time we had a book that was given to us by the Children’s Aid Society. This book showed how to fold papers to make into birds, airplanes, and things like that. And I remember leaving the book with them so they could make their own toys out of paper.
Wu: Later, as far as church attendance, True Sunshine had the biggest congregation of the seven churches in Chinatown every Sunday and the largest attendance in night school. The majority were former detainees from Angel Island. It was packed every night with volunteers—twelve, fifteen Caucasian teachers, and anywhere from 125 to 175 students. And we had at one time over 250 children in our Chinese school. It was that big!
Greg Jue is a grandson of Rev. Daniel Wu. He graduated from the University of California, Berkeley where he was active in the 1969 student strike that won establishment of one of the first Ethnic Studies Departments in the country. He currently lives in Evanston, Illinois, where he is a business administrator at Northwestern University.
Special thanks to Laurene Wu McClain and Judy Yung for their assistance on this article.