The 1935 Broken Blossoms Case - Four Chinese Women and Their Fight for Justice
Sometimes the most interesting stories are the ones you stumble upon researching something else. In my quest to learn about the music of San Francisco Chinatown circa mid-1800s, I came across references to “sing song” girls who entertained in brothels and restaurants. Who were these women?
As I read about prostitution in San Francisco Chinatown, I came across the little-known Broken Blossoms case of 1935. Four young, beautiful women called “broken or trampled blossoms” by SF newspapers struck a blow for other enslaved women and set a precedent for those who fight sex trafficking today.
Despite death threats, Jeung Gwai Ying, Quan Gow Sheung, Wong So, and Leung Louie Gin testified against their slave owners leading to the conviction, imprisonment and deportation of Wong See Duck, Kung Shee, Jew Gwai Ha, and Yee Mar. Their bravery demolished a major slave smuggling ring.
Amid the musty immigration files at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in San Bruno, California and at NARA Seattle, Washington, photographs, memos, reports and testimony revealed the ordeal of these women and their determination for justice. These women were brought to the U.S. under false promises. However, they were not just victims of circumstance in an isolated event in Chinese American history. The backdrop of this story began decades before their arrival in the U.S. in the late 1920s and early 1930s.
The Roots of Prostitution in San Francisco Chinatown
Chinese immigration to the United States began in the 1850s shortly after the discovery of gold at Sutter Creek near Coloma, California. By 1860, there were 2,719 Chinese in San Francisco; most of them were male. Because of Chinese cultural mores against women traveling abroad, limited economic resources to pay for their passage, and the harsh living conditions in the American West, it was safer to support the family in China from across the ocean. Later, when Chinese men wanted to bring their families to join them in the U.S., they were prevented from doing so by anti-Chinese immigration laws like the 1875 Page Act, which prohibited the immigration of Asian women brought in for prostitution. The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act restricted the immigration of all Chinese workers (merchants, ministers, teachers, students and diplomats were exempted) and only allowed entry for Chinese women who were daughters or wives of Chinese merchants or native-born Chinese. Thus, the Chinese population in the U.S. was over 90% male from 1860 to 1910.
Chinese tongs or secret societies began to import Chinese women to fill the demand for prostitutes by Chinese laborers as well as whites. In early 1854, one company imported 600 female prostitutes to San Francisco. Between 1852 and 1873, the Hip Yee Tong trafficked 6,000 women, earning $200,000 in profit. According to the 1870 census, there were 1,565 Chinese prostitutes in San Francisco, and they constituted 61% of the entire Chinese female population.
By 1880, the population of Chinese prostitutes in San Francisco had declined to 305. This was due in part to the influence of social reformers, the enforcement of anti-prostitution laws, and the exportation of Chinese prostitutes to other cities in California and throughout the western states. During this same period, the number of married Chinese women also rose as men who intended to stay in America began sending for wives. Many former prostitutes left the trade and married Chinese laborers and merchants in America.
To circumvent the law, the slave owners arranged false marriages between Chinese women and American-born Chinese and Chinese merchants. Other women obtained entry as the alleged daughters of American-born Chinese and Chinese merchants.
After they passed interrogation by immigration officials, they were admitted into the country. In many cases, they were auctioned off for sale as prostitutes in a matter of weeks or months. In this manner, the pipeline of Chinese women forced into prostitution continued to be filled despite rigid immigration restrictions.
Even after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake leveled Chinatown, destroying all the slave quarters in one mighty conflagration, the prostitution racket resumed.
Prostitutes were arrested and deported while slave owners often escaped prosecution. In the June 1921 issue of Women’s Work, a Christian journal, Mabel M. Roys, a supporter of the Presbyterian Mission Home, reported on the conviction of one Chinese slave owner who received a one-year sentence. She remarked, “in the course of the 47 years of this rescue work, the convictions have been negligible.”
Thus, the 1935 Broken Blossoms case was a significant victory in the crusade against the prostitution racket where Chinese women were held against their will and forced to work as prostitutes.
Jeung Gwai Ying’s Enslavement
It was a chilly winter evening on December 14, 1933 when Jeung Gwai Ying, who had emigrated in July 1933, dashed to the Presbyterian Mission Home, located at 920 Sacramento Street, just a few blocks from the apartment where she had been held captive.The Presbyterian Church founded the Occidental Mission Home for Girls in 1874 in San Francisco. Scores of young women and girls who had been rescued from servitude were educated and were taught domestic skills such as sewing and cooking.
She was 19 years old and hailed from Canton City in China. Coerced into prostitution, Jeung Gwai Ying hated her masters and was determined to break free. In her statement to Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) Inspector August Kuckein on March 7, 1934, Jeung Gwai Ying told about her enslavement and her escape.
Q: How did you happen to come to the Mission Home?
A: …I told one of my customers that I couldn’t stand that kind of life, and he told me there was a Home I could go to where they could not reach me.
I waited my chance, and when I was sent out to have my hair done at 4:30 pm at a place about two houses from my apartment – I had been told that I was to be sent to the country at 5 o’clock (note: most likely to the Sacramento River Delta towns where many brothels serviced the farm laborers) – I went to the beauty parlor and told the girl to curl the ends of my hair only; then I left the beauty parlor and asked a child on the street where the Mission was. I was taken to a Mission on Washington Street and from there I was brought to Miss Cameron’s Home. That was on December 14 last year, or about 17 or 19 days after the final payment was made to Wong See Duck’s wife for me.
Jeung Gwai Ying’s family was very poor. They lived in Heungshan in Guangdong Province where her father was a schoolteacher. Three years before she came to the U.S., Jeung Fat, her father, had died, and Lee Shee, her mother, moved Gwai Ying and her nine-year old sister and seven-year old brother to Hong Kong.
One day a family friend brought an old woman to visit Gwai Ying. The old woman worked for Wong See Duck, a wealthy San Francisco merchant who was also a tong member involved in the prostitution racket. Wong See Duck periodically came to China to recruit women to come to America promising them jobs or marriage to Chinese merchants in America.
Gwai Ying described what ensued: A lady who speaks the See Yup dialect came to see my mother. She told my mother that she wanted me to come to the United States to work, and that if I would like to become a prostitute I could be wealthy within a year or so. … She came to see me ten days before I left Hong Kong for Seattle. There was no work in China, so I thought I would take a chance and come to get a position here. They told me that I didn’t have to become a prostitute if I didn’t want to, that I could get a job…. My mother didn’t want me to come, but our family is very poor, and I thought if I could get work in America it would help my family.
The old lady gave Gwai Ying’s mother $400 in Hong Kong dollars, which was approximately $115 US. A few days later, Gwai Ying went to the Ah Jow Hotel near the waterfront to study coaching papers as she was to immigrate as Lee Lon Ying, the daughter of Lee Wing, a native born Chinese who lived in Seattle. Wong See Duck purchased her steamship ticket, and she prepared to leave China. She studied for three hours a day for three days to learn the names of her false brothers and sisters and the details of life in Wing Soon Village in the Sun Ning District of Guangdong, a place she had never visited.
Gwai Ying boarded the S.S. President Cleveland accompanied by Wong Quong Hing, a friend of Wong See Duck. Gwai Ying arrived in Seattle, Washington on July 21, 1933. Her alleged father, Lee Wing, and her alleged sister, Lee Gim Gook, who had arrived in February 1933 with Wong See Duck were questioned by immigration officials separately from Gwai Ying. Their testimonies about their family history matched with Gwai Ying’s account, and she was landed and granted a Certificate of Identity, which affirmed her legal status as an immigrant. After staying a few days in Seattle, Gwai Ying, Lee Gim Gook, whose true name was Leung Louie Gin, and Wong Quong Hing took the train to Oakland, California where they were met by Wong See Duck. He promptly confiscated Gwai Ying’s Certificate of Identity.
Gwai Ying was taken to apartment nine on the third floor of 900 Powell St. in San Francisco. Lee Gim Gook returned to the home of Wong See Duck and Kung Shee, where she did the family’s washing and cleaning while Wong See Duck sought a buyer for her.
Held Prisoner in San Francisco
Gwai Ying lived in the apartment for several months as Wong See Duck negotiated her sale. She was visited daily by Wong See Duck’s wife, Kung Shee, with her children in tow. They brought food to Gwai Ying and occasionally accompanied her on walks. Gwai Ying was ordered to stay in the apartment. Not able to speak English and without a single friend in San Francisco, Gwai Ying was afraid to go out on her own.
In her statement to INS officials on March 7, 1934, she described how she was sold after several failed attempts.
Wong See Duck’s wife took me the third time to 826 Jackson Street, Apartment 205, San Francisco. At that apartment I saw a lady named Jew Gwai Ha and a lady named Yee Mar. After they looked me over, Wong See Duck’s wife took me back to the apartment where I was living. Wong See Duck and his wife told me I would have to enter a life of prostitution. I refused and Wong See Duck threatened me.
Q: In what manner did Wong See Duck threaten you?
A: He told me that if I refused to go it was either a case of “he dies or I die.” He had spent so much money in bringing me to this country, how could I pay him back the expenses? He told me that he would take me out of the apartment and place me in a very dark place.
A few days later, Gwai Ying returned to the apartment on Jackson Street with Kung Shee. A man named Sheung, who had negotiated the sale, was also present.
Gwai Ying described the final sale: “Eight or nine days after, a man came up to get my luggage and I was moved to 826 Jackson Street, apartment 205. .. Jew Gwai Ha gave me two checks and some currency totaling $4,000, not including the $500, previously given me. (note: Jew Gwai Ha had given $500 to Jeung Ying, who gave it to Wong See Duck, as a deposit on her sale.)
As soon as they (the money) were given to me I gave them to Wong See Duck’s wife. Jew Gwai Ha said to me “Now you see, the money has been transferred; now you belong to us” and that if I changed my mind Wong See Duck had to pay the money back to them… Jew Gwai Ha told me that I would have to become a prostitute. That night an automobile came for me to take me to an apartment on Powell Street, where five or six men were present. A feast was then held. I stayed there that night with one man. Next morning, about 10 or 12 o’clock, Yee Mar came for me and took me back to 826 Jackson Street… The man with whom I stayed that night was named Chan Cheung, a merchant of the Yee Cheung Co. of Seattle. He gave me $25. When I returned to the apartment at 826 Jackson Street, I gave $21 of that money to Jew Gwai Ha. I kept $4.”
In her March 12, 1934 statement to INS officials, Gwai Ying stated: “I went to whatever hotel that my two owners sent me for the night. I practiced prostitution two times at the Tai Sing Hotel (706 Jackson St. at Grant Ave.) on two different nights; and over ten times at the Grand View Hotel (605 Pine St. at Grant Ave.). I was also taken to men’s rooms on Powell Street on three different occasions… Some paid me $25 and some $30 for the night, but I had to turn in $21 as that was required by my owners for the night.”
Quan Gow Sheung’s story bolsters Jeung Gwai Ying’s accusations
Gwai Ying was not the only young woman at the Presbyterian Mission Home who had escaped from her slave owners. Although Quan Gow Sheung did not know Gwai Ying, they had something in common – both women had been owned by Jew Gwai Ha and Yee Mar. On November 10, 1934, Quan Gow Sheung, who was 21 years old, gave a statement to INS officials.
Quan Gow Sheung arrived in Seattle on November 7, 1927 on the SS President Jackson under the false name of Fong Dai Muey, the daughter of Fong Lem.
Q: Who is your real father?
A: I don’t remember my father’s name, as I was supported by relatives since I was quite small, as I was from a very poor family. My mother came to see me once in a while. My mother was Muck Shee….When I was about four or five years old, my mother could not afford to keep me as I was the youngest of a large family, and so they gave me to her relatives at the time, and I went to Macao.
Q: How were you enabled to pose as a daughter of a Fong Lem when you entered the U.S.?
A: The coaching matter was sent and a picture of my alleged father, older brother, a younger brother, were sent to China for me to study. They told me that I had to study this matter if I wanted to come to the U.S. to get married, so I did, but when I came here I found out it was otherwise.
Quan Gow Sheung was met in Seattle by Goo Goo Yung, wife of the man who tricked her into emigrating. She was taken to San Francisco and told that she would become a prostitute, the property of four women, Goo Goo Yung, Yee Mar, Jew Gwai Ha, and Yuen Yow. She lived under the watchful eye of Yee Mar and her husband Yee Mee on Commercial Street near Kearny St for one year. Then she was sent to Sacramento to work for Yuen Yow.
Q: How much did you earn, approximately, during the time that you stayed with the four persons mentioned?
A: More than $20,000, United States currency.
Q: Did you practice prostitution every night during that period of one year?
A: That is correct.
Q: On an average, how much per night did you earn as a prostitute?
A: In the city here, $21 per night. In the country towns, I have made over $100 per day.
Q: Upon leaving Sacramento… where did you go?
A: I returned to San Francisco.
Q: To what address in San Francisco?
A: To the home of Yee Mar on Commercial Street between Kearny and Grant, and also to the home of one Shuck Mo and another turtle woman now deceased. (Note: in Chinese turtle women are women without virtue, i.e. prostitutes or owners of prostitutes.)
Quan Gow Sheung was sold in 1929 to another slave owner, but she escaped with her friend Yoke Lan. She was 19 years old when she arrived at the Mission Home.
Despite Quan Gow Sheung and Jeung Gwai Ying’s sworn statements, Assistant U.S. Attorneys A.J. Zirpoli and Arthur Phelan proceeded cautiously and spent a year amassing more evidence. The INS files show that Wong See Duck, Kung Shee, Jew Gwai Ha and Yee Mar had been suspected of criminal activities for many years.
Building a Case Against Wong See Duck, Kung Shee, Jew Gwai Ha and Yee Mar
The INS files revealed that Wong See Duck was a member of the Suey Sing Tong and had been arrested on January 9, 1934 along with 17 other men at a tong meeting in Oakland Chinatown. Although no charges were levied, police were investigating a potential tong war between the Suey Sing Tong and the Sen Suey Tong over an estate valued at $200,000 left by a deceased tong leader.
It is important to understand that not all members of tongs or community associations are criminals. Wong See Duck was a prosperous merchant who owned a hardware store on Grant Ave. As a merchant, his legal status allowed him to travel back and forth to China, and his wealth allowed him to finance the purchase of false identities and import women for sale into prostitution.
Wong See Duck came to the United States in 1908 when he was 19 years old under the false name of Leong Chong Po, a son of a merchant. He worked for several Chinatown companies and returned to China in October 1913. He stayed over a year in China and married Kung Kwei Ngoot in December 1914. In 1923, he returned to China and brought his wife, Kung Shee and their son and daughter to the U.S.
In October 1932, Wong See Duck went to China and recruited three women to come to the U.S. on the pretense that they would become married to Chinese merchants. He returned to the U.S. on February 7, 1933 with Lee Gim Gook, a 21-year old woman who posed as the eldest alleged daughter of Lee Wing, a native born Chinese.
Yee Mar arrived in San Francisco on September 25, 1909. She was 23 years old and entered as Louie Shee, the wife of a native-born Chinese, Low Git, who worked at the Denver Bar on Fillmore Street. The couple moved to Watsonville, California where Low Git worked as a cook in a Chinese restaurant. It was not a happy marriage. When Low Git applied to visit China in December 1914, he told INS officials that his wife had run away to San Francisco and become a prostitute.
When Yee Mar applied to visit China in October 1930, INS officials noted that Low Git had accused her of being a prostitute. Immigration Inspector H.F.Duff interviewed Sergeant John J. Manion, head of the SF Police Department’s Chinatown Squad, who recognized the picture of Yee Mar and identified her as the wife of Yee Mee, a member of the Hop Sing Tong and Bing Kong Tong. He had operated the Siberia Gambling Club, an establishment that was known to have prostitutes on the premises. He had been arrested several times on gambling charges, and police shut down the club in 1916.
Although Yee Mar claimed to be a seamstress, her neighbor Mar Lock Gee told Inspector Duff that he had never seen her operate the sewing machine in her apartment in the ten years that he had known her. Yee Mar also told immigration officials that she had $1,000 in the bank and $1,000 in her travel funds. Seamstresses in Chinatown were making less than $10 a week. Yee Mar would have had to be sewing night and day to amass such savings.
Yee Mar’s files also included testimony given in 1930 by two former slave girls Sheet Bing and Hing Foon who confirmed that Yee Mar had been a prostitute and a slave owner. Both women were deported to China and feared retribution from the tongs even in China. They only agreed to testify if their statements were sealed from public disclosure. Thus, no charges were filed against Yee Mar.
Yee Mar and Yee Mee were investigated again in May 1932. Tien Fuh Wu, Chinese Associate at the Presbyterian Mission Home, heard that Yee Mar was planning to land a young slave girl who was accompanied by a 60 year old merchant at the Angel Island Immigration Station. That girl was never found by immigration officials. It is estimated that Donaldina Cameron and her associates rescued over 3,000 Chinese women and girls who were in servitude as prostitutes or domestic workers.
The file on Jew Gwai Ha, who was admitted to the U.S. on October 1, 1923 under the name Fong Shee, does not contain much background information. She was granted admission to the U.S. as the wife of Hom Ngee, a native-born Chinese, who worked on a flower farm in Belmont, California. At some point, she left him and moved to San Francisco where she gave birth and named her daughter, Ruby Tom, in December 1926.
It is not clear when she became a slave owner. On March 19, 1934, SF Police Inspector Manion went to Jew Gwai Ha’s apartment accompanied representatives of the Presbyterian Mission Home and Quan Gow Sheung, who sought to reclaim her personal possessions. Police also confiscated photographs of Jew Gwai Ha in the company of other slave owners.
In December 1934, arrest warrants for Wong See Duck, Kung Shee, Fong Shee aka Jew Gwai Ha, and Louie Shee aka Yee Mar were issued. They were rounded up in January and February 1935 by San Francisco police officers and INS officials and held briefly on charges of “illegal importation for immoral purposes and receiving and benefiting from prostitution.” After pleading not guilty at arraignment hearings in early February, Wong See Duck was released on bail, which was set at $2,500. Bail for Jew Gwai Ha, Kung Shee, and Yee Mar was set at $2,000 each.
The Broken Blossoms Trial Begins
On March 5, 1935, the trial began in federal court at the San Francisco Post Office Building in the chambers of Judge Albert Morris Sames. Unfortunately, trial records were destroyed in 1945. However, through the INS pre-trial interviews with the accused, we have a reasonable idea of the facts that the prosecution would have presented in court, particularly the contradictory statements made by the accused.
The INS questioned Wong See Duck and his wife Kung Shee on December 17, 1934. When confronted with Jeung Ying’s statements, regarding her sale into slavery, Wong See Duck acknowledged that he had met her but said he did not know her well. He denied any guilt in the matter.
Kung Shee, Wong See Duck’s wife, was questioned on the same day. She started with a straightforward denial of knowing Jeung Gwai Ying or having provided her food. However, when pressed by INS officials, Kung Shee did admit to receiving the $500 deposit on Jeung Gwai Ying’s sale.
Questioned by INS Inspector August Kuckein on January 28, 1935, Jew Gwai Ha acknowledged being introduced to Jeung Gwai Ying by Yee Mar, her neighbor at the apartment building on 826 Jackson Street.
On the critical issue of the money exchange that occurred as Jeung Gwai Ying was sold into slavery, Jew Gwai Ha verified that all the parties were together at the apartment. This is a crucial point because Yee Mar in her statement to INS officials denied even knowing Jew Gwai Ha let alone being a party to a sale.
Yee Mar was arrested at her apartment on February 13, 1935 and questioned that day. She shared apartment #306 with Yee Ah Lee aka Yee Sheung, who was cited by Jeung Gwai Ying as one of the brokers of her sale from Wong See Duck. Yee Mar’s main line of defense was that she was in Los Angeles for most of 1933. Thus, she could not have been involved with any sale.
Prosecutors had ample ammunition to expose the slave owners, but the trial did not prove to be an easy one.
A Difficult Trial
A brief article in a San Francisco newspaper described Gwai Ying’s testimony: “The star witness was Jung Gwai Ying, purported slave girl, who, it was charged, was smuggled into this country from Hong Kong and sold for $4,500. She testified she had been sold by her mother, taken to Seattle as the daughter of an American-born Chinese and turned over to Wong Duck and his wife to be marketed to the highest bidder.”
Defense attorneys for the accused subjected Gwai Ying to intense cross-examination. On March 14, the attorneys seized upon a misstatement by Gwai Ying about being sold in Hong Kong to Wong See Duck to say that all her testimony had been perjured. Mildred Crowl Martin, author of Chinatown’s Angry Angel: The Story of Donaldina Cameron writes, “Kwai Ying hesitated, tried to answer, floundered under the cruel rain of words, and fell silent, covering her face with trembling hands.”
In the end, ten jury members cast a guilty vote, but two jurors were not convinced beyond a shadow of doubt that the accused were guilty. The judge declared a hung jury; the accused were released. However, the slave owners were not completely exonerated.
Wong So Paves the Way for a Second Trial
Gwai Ying had spoken to INS officials about another young woman who was at Wong See Duck’s Powell Street apartment and who had been sold into slavery. Her name was Wong So, but she could not be located during the yearlong investigation before the first trial. Three days after the trial ended, she was arrested in Salinas, California at the Republic Hotel and brought to the Presbyterian Mission Home in San Francisco. In a series of interrogations by the INS from March 16 to 20, 1935, Wong So revealed how she was sold into prostitution.
Wong So was an only child. Born in Ching Jow village in the Heungshan district of Guangdong Province China, she moved to Macao with her father, who owned a small grocery store. After he died when she was 13 years old, she went to live with a distant cousin in Macao and worked at a firecracker factory. One day Wong Gwong Tin also known as Wong Quong Hing, a friend of her cousin, visited the family and suggested that Wong So come to the United States and get married. This man was the same man who accompanied Jeung Ying to the U.S. in July 1933. Acting on behalf of Wong See Duck, Wong Gwong Tin arranged for Wong So’s sale.
Q: Did you see the money change hands?
Q: What persons were present at that time?
A: Myself, Wong Gwong Tin, Wong See Duck and Sam Goo.
Q: On what date did that transaction take place?
A: I don’t remember the exact date, but it was on the day that Wong See Duck departed from Hong Kong in route to the United States with Lee Gim Gook.
Q: In what form was the payment?
A: In Hong Kong paper currency.
Q: Did it amount to five hundred odd dollars Hong Kong currency, or United States currency?
A: I think it was $580 in Hong Kong currency.
Q: Who produced the money?
A: Wong See Duck.
Q: Did Wong See Duck ever tell you in China for what purpose you were to come to the United States?
A: Yes, he said he would get me over to get married.
Q: How would he make money by such a deal?
A: Well, he would get so many thousand dollars from the man who would marry me.
In order for Wong So to immigrate to the U.S., she would need to assume the identity of Lee Choy Ying, daughter of Lee Wing, a native of the U.S. Wong So was given a 100 page coaching book and was tutored by Wong Gwong Tin for a month at the Ah Jow Hotel. There she learned about Lee Wing’s birth village and her six false brothers and two sisters. She boarded a steam ship by herself and arrived in Seattle on May 28, 1933. She was met in Seattle by Wong See Duck, who brought his wife Kung Shee and Lee Gim Gook with him. Lee Gim Gook testified on behalf of Wong So to verify that she was her sister. Lee Wing, her false father, also gave testimony. After staying in a Seattle hotel for one week, Wong So accompanied by Wong See Duck, Kung Shee and Lee Gim Gook traveled by train in San Francisco. Wong So moved into Wong See Duck’s house at 750 Washington Street and shared a room with Lee Gim Gook. There, she waited to be sold in prostitution.
Q: Were you urged often by Wong See Duck to become a prostitute? In what manner?
A: He asked me to become a prostitute in order to make back the few thousand dollars to pay him back.
Q: Were you held in restraint while you were living in Wong See Duck’s house?
A: Yes, I was held. … They kept me in the house and didn’t permit me to go anywhere.
A few weeks after Wong So’s arrival in San Francisco, negotiations began with Ho Sek Mo (the wife of Ho Siu Hon, President of Bing Kung Tong), a slave owner who lived at 805 Kearny Street.
Q: When and where did he tell you that?
A: When we came back after the second visit to Ho Sek’s house. He told me that I had to go because he had already received some money (note: $200) from Ho Sek’s wife as a retainer for buying me, and that I had to go, but I told him that I did not take any money into my hands and I was not willing to become a prostitute. Then he said that if I was not wiling to go he would take me to a far-off place and sell me there. Then he threatened me with a revolver.
Q: Did you see him secure the revolver?
A: Yes. He went into his room and came back with the revolver.
Q: Was anyone else present on that occasion?
A: Yes his wife was present… his daughter An Ngan was present.
A week later, Wong So returned to Ho Sek Mo’s house, accompanied by Wong See Duck, Kung Shee, and Wong See Duck’s older son. Ho Sek Mo gave $5,200 in currency to Wong So, who then gave it to Kung Shee, who gave it to Wong See Duck. Thus, for a total price of $5,400, Wong So was sold into prostitution on July 1, 1933.
Q: Did you practice prostitution at that address or did you always go to some outside address for that purpose?
A: I always practiced prostitution in the Republic Hotel (located at 710 Grant Ave.), but sometimes I stayed in other hotels… Grand View, Chung Hing, and Tai Shing Hotels.
Q: What did you do with your earnings from prostitution while you lived at Ho Sek’s house?
A: I turned my earnings over to Ho Sek Mo.
Q: How much did you turn over to her?
A: On an average of $50 to $60 a day.
After a month in San Francisco, Wong So was sent to Walnut Grove, California, a small town in the Sacramento River Delta She stayed with Ho Sek Mo and Yuet Lin, a prostitute, on 2nd Street. Then she was sent back and forth from San Francisco to Delta towns such as Isleton, Walnut Grove, Locke and Stockton and to Salinas, California in the Central Valley. In the 1930s, Chinese, Filipinos, and Japanese were the main laborers in these rural towns. Prostitution and gambling were thriving enterprises in the Delta towns.
Wong So’s testimony bolstered Gwai Ying’s story. When shown photographs of Jew Gwai Ha, and Yee Mar, Wong So identified them as “gwai po,” owners of prostitutes.
Wong So stated that the slave owners socialized with one another and identified them in a group photo taken from Jew Gwai Ha’s apartment by INS officials.
Wong So also told INS officials that she had visited the Suey Sing Tong headquarters in San Francisco with Wong See Duck. There, she met Tom Gom Soon, a gambler and Suey Sing Tong member. He offered to buy Wong So’s freedom and paid Wong See Duck $5,200. Their son, Albert Tom, was born on January 1, 1935 in Salinas, California and lived with his grandmother in Oakland.
Armed with Wong So’s testimony, U.S. prosecutors scheduled a new trial before Judge Walter C. Lindley on April 31, 1935.
The Second Broken Blossoms Trial
Assistant U.S. Attorneys A.J. Zirpoli and Arthur Phelan lay the foundation for the second trial of Wong See Duck, Kung Shee, Jew Gwai Ha, and Yee Mar with a press conference on April 18, 1935. Their accusation that more than 50 slave girls had been smuggled into the U.S. each year by a criminal ring was splashed on the front page of the San Francisco Examiner with a banner headline “S.F. Slave Girl Names Higher Ups - $5,000 Paid for Victims of Vice Syndicate.” The federal prosecutors told of a new key witness, Wong So who would testify that she was sold for $5,000. Gwai Ying, who had testified at the first trial, would also take the stand.
On May 2, 1935, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on Wong So’s testimony that she had been bought in Hong Kong for about $200 American and resold in the U.S. for $5,000. Mildred Crowl Martin described Wong So as confident and determined as she spoke from the witness stand.
Wong So took her chair, brushing her short hair behind one ear. She made her statements with vigor, and she stood up under fire. Moreover, she bore herself with a dignity that was unshakeable.
On May 3, 1935, the jury considered the evidence and after meeting for one hour voted unanimously to convict Wong See Duck, Kung Shee, Jew Gwai Ha, and Yee Mar.
The three women were sent to the Federal Industrial Institution for Women in Alderson, West Virginia for one year. Wong See Duck was sentenced to prison for two years at McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary in Washington, but he would only be in jail for one year.
The Return of Leung Louie Gin, the Eldest Sister
After the slave owners were sent to prison, New York City police found Leung Louie Gin aka Lee Gim Gook, the “sister” of Gwai Ying and Wong So. On June 13, 1935, she was arrested because she had given false testimony at the immigration hearings of Gwai Ying and Wong So. Brought to the Presbyterian Mission Home, Louie Gin recounted her imprisonment by Wong See Duck.
Louie Gin worked in Hong Kong at a shoe factory gluing soles, and Wong See Duck’s promise of marrying her to a Chinese merchant in America was an attractive offer. She lived at Wong See Duck’s home for several months. Then one day everything changed.
“Up to the time I had gone to Haw Sheuk’s house (note: Haw Sheuk is the same person as Ho Sek Mo, the woman who owned Wong So), nothing had been said to me about becoming a prostitute,” Louie Gin said to immigration officials. “Haw Sheuk said for me to be seated and asked me if Wong See Duck hadn’t brought me to the United States to become a prostitute and I immediately became frightened and told her “No,” and that ended the interview… I was told that I was to be sold as a prostitute and I protested… I just cried and said I didn’t want to be sold.”
She described being moved to an apartment that she shared briefly with Wong So.
Q: For how long a time did you continue to receive men?
A: It was only a few weeks.
Q: Who arranged the rates with them?
A: He (Wong See Duck) did.
Q: Did he bring them up personally?
A: Wong See Duck would be in the apartment personally with me…The money was always paid to him; I don’t know what amounts.
After Gwai Ying’s escape to the Mission Home, Louie Gin was sent to New York to work as a prostitute.
During her stay in New York, she met Wong Hong Duck, a truck driver, in a grocery store in Chinatown. They fell in love and moved in together. He gave Wong See Duck a down payment to buy Leung Gin’s freedom. At the time she was arrested, she was pregnant. She gave birth to a girl on September 21, 1935 at the Mission Home and named her Alice Mae Lum Wong. All charges were dropped against her on May 28, 1936, and she was deported to China with baby Alice on June 12, 1936. Her husband Wong Hong Duck had left previously for China in spring 1936.
No End to Lies at the Deportation Hearings for Wong See Duck et al
On May 3, 1936, Wong See Duck was released from prison on bond but was held at the Angel Island Immigration Station prior to his deportation. Kung Shee had been released earlier that year and returned to live with her children in San Francisco Chinatown.
Despite the fact that a jury did not believe them in 1935, Kung Shee aka Kung Kwei Ngoot and Wong See Duck clung to their lies and sought to overturn the deportation process. He used his wealth and political connections in a last-ditch effort. Wong See Duck obtained the legal services of Colonel William H. Neblett, a law partner of U.S. Senator William Gibbs McAdoo, a former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury under President Wilson. Neblett and attorney George E. Acret appealed to Judge Walter C. Lindley to stay the deportation order on the grounds that Wong See Duck had six children and spent most of his life in the U.S. Judge Lindley refused the appeal on the grounds that “the offense is of a heinous character.. (and) is destructive of all the decent traditions of this Government.”
On October 15, 1936 Wong See Duck and Kung Shee, accompanied by their American-born children, William, 12 years old, Diana, 11 years old, and Simon, 8 years old, boarded the President Lincoln and were deported to China. Kung Shee was given $12 to help cover the cost of transporting the family to Wing Ow Village, Sun Ning District after their arrival in Hong Kong.
After being released from prison in February 1936, Yee Mar returned to San Francisco and appealed her deportation. Her appeal was denied and she was deported to China on September 16, 1936 on the S.S. President Coolidge.
Jew Gwai Ha was released from prison on February 20, 1936 after posting a $3,000 bond and returned to San Francisco to appeal her deportation order.
Her attorney appealed for a delay so that her American-born daughter, Ruby Tom, age 9, could finish out her school term. During the time Jew Gwai Ha was in prison, her daughter Ruby had been living with her uncle Fong Ah Noun at 1050 Grant Ave. It is not clear whether Ruby accompanied her mother on April 13, 1938 when Jew Gwai Ha was deported to China on the S.S. President Coolidge.
Facing Deportation: Wong So, Quan Gow Sheung and Jeung Gwai Ying
Wong So, Quan Gow Sheung and Jeung Gwai Ying continued to live at the Presbyterian Mission Home after the trial and deportation hearings concluded against the slave owners. All three were subject to deportation as they had entered the U.S. illegally, but only Wong So was forced to leave on September 26, 1936 on the President Coolidge. INS officials authorized the payment of the special fee to get Wong So housed with Mission Home staff on the Dollar Line Steamship because “the alien is a young female and if unaccompanied would undoubtedly be in physical danger because of testimony she gave as a Government witness against Wong See Duck and other slave dealers.”
Ms. Cameron made arrangements for Wong So to enter a Mission School in Shanghai, China. Albert Tom, her son, remained in Oakland, CA with his grandmother.
Quan Gow Sheung converted to Christianity while living at the Mission Home. Consistent with the practice of the Mission Home, the staff found her a suitable Christian mate for her. In 1937, she married Stephen Yee.
Gwai Ying’s story was more complicated. During the deportation hearing for Yee Mar on November 29, 1935, INS Inspector Patrick J. Farrelly questioned Gwai Ying about the birth of her boy, David, who was born May 18, 1934. She refused to name the father, although it was widely speculated that Wong Gwong Hing, the man who accompanied her to the U.S. and who stayed with her in an apartment in San Francisco was the father.
The Return of Wong Quong Hing and his reunion with Jeung Gwai Ying
According to Wong Quong Hing, Gwai Ying stopped first at the Jung Hing Hotel on December 14, 1933 to tell him that she planned to escape to the Mission Home that night. A few days later news articles appeared in the Chinese press about Gwai Ying’s escape. Wong Quong Hing knew that he would be arrested for his role in the false immigration of Lee Wing’s three alleged daughters. He boarded a ship in Seattle bound for China on December 23, 1933. The U.S. Federal Court indicted him on February 2, 1935 but officials could not locate him.
On January 11, 1941, Wong Quong Hing returned to the U.S. on the Princess Margaret, which docked in Seattle. He contacted Gwai Ying at the Mission Home. Shortly after his return to the U.S., his first wife died in China in February 1941. Ms. Cameron arranged for Wong Quong Hing and Jeung Gwai Ying to be married in Santa Cruz on May 22, 1941.
He turned himself into the INS and was questioned in October 1941 to determine his right to stay in the U.S. Wong Quong Hing said that he did not know that Wong See Duck intended to bring women into the U.S. for prostitution. Wong See Duck had paid for the hospitalization and care of Wong Quong Hing’s father, who was a business partner of Wong See Duck., Thus, Wong Quong Hing felt indebted to Wong See Duck and heeded his instructions.
Wong Quong Hing pled guilty to the charges of fraudulent immigration for the purpose of prostitution and was placed on five years probation on November 22, 1941. Working in his favor was the fact that he derived no financial gain for any of his activities on behalf of Wong See Duck.
Gwai Ying adopted the name of Lois Qui Wong. She and her husband, now known as Henry Quong Wong, lived in San Francisco with their son David. On February 7, 1942, Lois gave birth to Donna Li Wong. Another son, Franklin You Wong, followed on January 15, 1944. Lois spent the rest of her life as a homemaker.
After battling liver cancer, Lois Qui Wong passed away on May 14, 1999 at her son’s apartment in San Francisco. Henry Q. Wong passed away in San Francisco on May 6, 2008.
Their son David Y. Wong lived in San Francisco all his life working as a U.S. Postal Service Clerk. He never married. His sister Donna informed authorities that David had a heart attack and passed away on December 31, 2012.
Lois Wong, Henry Wong,Franklin Wong and David Wong are buried at Hoy Sun Memorial Park in Colma, CA.
Wong See Duck: The Final INS Report
New entries about convicted slave owner Wong See Duck appear in his INS files beginning in the early 1950s. An anonymous tipster claimed that Wong See Duck and his brother Wong Fung Yook, who was arrested in New York for narcotics smuggling on August 19, 1940, had been smuggled back into San Francisco Chinatown to resume their criminal activities. Police staked out a hotel rumored to be their hiding place, but both men were in China permanently barred from entering the U.S.
On August 18, 1954, Wong See Duck appeared before officials at the American Consulate in Hong Kong to clarify questions raised when his son, Simon Leong, a Private First Class in the U.S. Army, petitioned to bring his wife to the U.S. Simon Leong, who was born in the U.S., was unaware that his father was actually a Wong.
At this hearing, Wong See Duck made one final admission; his true name was Wong Hee. It is not known when and where he passed away. His last known address was in Kowloon, Hong Kong.
The convictions of slave owners in the Broken Blossoms trial were hailed as a victory in the fight against powerful criminals in San Francisco Chinatown.
Chinatown was also changing in the late 1930s. The Depression had slowed immigration from China. After the Sino-Japanese war broke out in 1937, travel from China to the U.S. slowed considerably.
The Broken Blossoms trials revealed the persistent exploitation of Chinese women that runs through Chinese American history. Criminal syndicates were quick to exploit the situation. The market that was set up to provide sexual services for Chinese men, both laborers and merchants, was founded on coercion. This ugly side of Chinese American history is not often acknowledged.
Today, human trafficking continues from Asia. Similar to the women in the Broken Blossoms case, 100 Korean women were lured to the United States with false promises in 2003. Upon their arrival in the U.S., their slave masters took their immigration papers away and they were dispatched to massage parlors/brothels in northern and southern California. Two women escaped from their captivity and approached authorities in August 2004. A massive raid called Operation Gilded Cage led by 400 law enforcement officers on June 30, 2005 in the San Francisco Bay Area led to the arrest of 27 people on charges on trafficking, pimping, pandering, and money laundering. Over 100 women were taken into custody. Over $1,000,000 was forfeited by the accused.
Despite arrests and convictions in high-profile cases such as the 2005 Operation Gilded Cage, sophisticated criminal gangs continue to import women from Asia to work as prostitutes in the U.S. In October 2014, a San Francisco federal grand jury indicted 10 defendants for recruiting women from Singapore, China, Hong Kong, Thailand, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines to work in 40 brothels in the SF Bay Area. Wire transfer records revealed that $288,518 was sent to recruiters in Asia to entice women to come to the U.S. where they were kept in apartments that served as brothels. The cases are currently going to trial.
In 2014, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center received reports of 5,042 cases of human trafficking (70% of them involved sex trafficking). California led the way with 18% of all human trafficking cases.
Although the Broken Blossoms case is largely unknown to the public, Jeung Gwai Ying, Quan Gow Sheung, Wong So, and Leung Louie Gin should be remembered and hailed for their courage and tenacity. They survived daunting circumstances with great determination and dignity. Equally important in the successful prosecution of the Broken Blossoms case was advocacy by the Presbyterian Mission Home, now known as Cameron House. For decades, the staff led by Donaldina Cameron had protected women who had been prostituted and exploited children from the criminal gangs. They not only provided a safe haven, but they also persuaded police, the courts and immigration officials to pursue the gangsters who ran the prostitution rackets. To the fullest extent possible, the Mission Home staff counseled the women to seek justice in the courts. The Broken Blossoms case was a significant victory, but the war against exploitation of women continues today.
I wish to thank Charles L. Miller and Bill Greene at NARA San Francisco and Brita Merkel at NARA Seattle or their help in locating the immigration records of all parties in the Broken Blossoms case. The majority of the information can be found in U.S. District Court, Northern District of California Criminal cases files: #25293, 25294, 25295 US v Wong See Duck Loc B/12/2/5/5.
Doreen Der-Mcleod, former Executive Director of Cameron House, provided invaluable assistance in locating files and photographs of Wong So, Quan Sheung Gow and Leong Lin Gin.
Tami Suzuki at the San Francisco History Center at the San Francisco Public Library guided me through their historical photographic collection. Tim Wilson at the San Francisco Public Library also helped me find several of the locations mentioned in the article.
Leah Chen Price at Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach provided insight on contemporary human trafficking and its impact in the Asian Pacific communities.
I am deeply grateful to Judy Yung, whose editorial advice was invaluable.