Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation

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IMMIGRANT VOICES

Wong Chong Mun: Hero to His Son

by Linda Wing

Wong Chong Mun was born in 1871 in the village of Cheng Gong. He was an only child.

Chong Mun wanted to become a doctor but his father Wong Hoy Fun rejected this idea because he believed that bad luck would strike if a patient passed away. All the same, Chong Mun became well educated, obtaining the equivalent of a Ph.D., financing his schooling with money his father sent home to China from the US where he was a sojourner.  Hoy Fun encouraged Chong Mun to become a government official and live off graft, as was the custom of the time. Accordingly, Chong Mun went to Beijing to take the imperial examination to qualify for a government position, but he did not do well on the test.  Village school superintendent was the job he subsequently found instead.

 

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Wong Chong Mun, 1899

Chong Mun married Mah Gee Zee. They had three sons and one daughter. The sons were Wong Gin Wing, born in 1893, Wong Koon Wing, born in 1895 and Wong Chong Wing, born in 1900. The daughter was named Wong Yuey Yen, born in 1898.

 

In 1899 Chong Mun left his family in China and came alone to the US through San Francisco under the name of Ching Du Ming. We do not know the origin of the name Ching Du Ming. It was likely the name on a merchant’s passport that Chong Mun bought. At the time he immigrated to the US, the Chinese Exclusion Act was in effect. This law, passed in 1882, prohibited the immigration of Chinese laborers, but permitted the immigration of Chinese merchants. Chong Mun, however, was a school superintendent, not a merchant. A merchant's passport could be purchased for several hundreds of dollars from tongs both in Hong Kong and the US.

Chong Mun’s father was not in favor of his son coming to the US. His experience as a laundryman in Deadwood, South Dakota told him there were no good jobs open to Chinese. Accordingly Hoy Fun did not send money to Chong Mun to immigrate, a stance underscored by Hoy Fun’s return to China in 1901. To finance his way to the US, Chong Mun sought and received the help of a man in Hong Kong who was the father of one of his boyhood schoolmates and the uncle of another.

Chong Mun worked as a teacher in a Chinese school in San Francisco and then moved from the Bay Area to the San Joaquin Valley town of Selma to open a grocery store.  When his son Gin Wing arrived from China in 1909, Chong Mun brought him to Selma to live. The store went out of business three months later, at which point Chong Mun and Gin Wing moved to nearby Fowler, where both worked for a Chinese-owned gambling house. In 1910, the gambling house closed.

Between 1910 and 1913, Chong Mun was unable to find work. Gin Wing supported him. First, Gin Wing found a job about 60 miles to the east – in the timber land town of Shaver Lake, where he worked as a waiter/dishwasher for a lumber company earning $35 per month. After a year, he returned to the San Joaquin Valley, to the town of Coalinga, to work for Standard Oil for $45 per month, also doing kitchen work.

In 1913, Chong Mun found a job managing six lottery houses in Fresno that were owned by his Wong clansmen.  A member of the Mah clan called the police. The police raided the lottery houses and closed them down. Chong Mun moved to Seattle, probably to work for gambling houses; but in 1915, the gambling houses apparently failed, and he became unemployed yet again.

Fortuitously, Gin Wing had just returned to the US after spending two years in China to marry. He found a job as a cattle ranch cook in the San Joaquin Valley town of Dos Palos starting at $35 per month. Soon after he received a raise to $45 per month and then to $65 per month. These were good wages that enabled Gin Wing to support his father and himself, as well as to send money back to China.

 

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Wong Chong Mun, 1916

Chong Mun returned to California from Washington in 1916, settling in Stockton where he lived for the rest of his life. One of the few Chinese who was literate, Chong Mun made a living as a scribe, writing letters for others, who sent them home to China.

 

All in all, Chong Mun had “lousy jobs” and “no luck” in the US, according to his grandson Gin Wing. Chong Mun went “broke” multiple times.

Still, Chong Mun was able to pay for the building of a new family home in China, in the village of Cheng Gong’s “best location,” next to the social hall and in front of the pond. Additionally he financed and arranged the passage to the U.S. for two of his three sons – Gin Wing and Gin Wing's younger brother Koom Wing.

Of great importance, Chong Mun engendered great affection and respect from his son Gin Wing. Gin Wing remembered his father as a “good guy,” who did not drink, did not “play around with women,” and did not gamble, even though he worked in the gambling syndicate. Chong Mun advised Gin Wing never to bet money and to stay away from clubs, advice that Gin Wing always followed.

Chong Mun was not only a good father, but also an attentive grandfather. In 1919 Gin Wing opened a restaurant in Evanston, Wyoming. Over time, he and his wife Mah Yel Sen had six children. Chong Mun visited his grandchildren in Evanston every three-to-four months, always bringing them lots of toys ordered through the Sears catalogue. He especially liked to take his oldest grandchildren, Wayman and Lily, to the park. The three of them would play all day at the park, with Wayman and Lily loving to climb all over their grandfather.

Chong Mun’s wife had died in China when she was only 45 and so he did not yearn for his village of Cheng Gong. For Chong Mun, going to Evanston was going home.

Moreover, Chong Mun was a civic leader in the Stockton Chinese community. Known as “the peacemaker,” he was twice elected president of the Bing Gong Tong.  When Chong Mun died of pneumonia in 1930, he was serving as the president of the Wong Family Association.  All the Chinese stores in town closed for his funeral, which was held in a huge hall, in order to accommodate all those who wanted to attend. Chong Mun’s granddaughter Lily remembered that everyone wore white to the funeral and bowed in front of the coffin. Afterwards her parents, in one car, and she and her siblings in another, participated in a long funeral procession throughout the town.

Gin Wing always remembered Chong Mun as “a very good father.” He maintained that the Wong clan “lost lots of strong,” when Chong Mun passed away.


 

Linda Wing is the great-granddaughter of Wong Chong Mun.

Place of Origin
Chenggong, China

Place of Settlement
Stockton, California

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