CHIN Wing Quong 陳榮光 (1900 – 1918) by Kevin Lee, guest blogger
[Thank you Kevin Lee for summarizing this massive amount of information on your family and explaining many of the complicated nuances of the Chinese Exclusion Act file.]
CHIN Wing Quong 陳榮光, the minor son of a merchant (5 September 1900 – late 1918)
His Chinese Exclusion Act (CEA) case file RS 28104, National Archives-Seattle, was marked on the front “M/S/Mcht”: Minor Son of a Merchant.
His life – and death in Seattle – were a complete mystery. The existence of Wing Quong 榮光 was unknown to the descendants of the Chin or Chan family until I read a duplicate copy of a Boxing Day 1925 affidavit in 2009, which had been kept amongst personal papers by my 2nd cousin Julie of Covington, Washington (WA). The original copy of the 26 December 1925 affidavit, with United States seal, was found at the National Archives-Seattle facility in November 2019.
The CEA case file was difficult to locate until I, as a grand nephew, pointed out to National Archives-Seattle staff, from an earlier file I obtained of another great uncle, CHIN Wing Ung 陳榮棟 AKA Donald Ung CHIN (# 7031/325) that quoted an older brother’s immigration file number.
Discovery of an Immigration & Naturalization Service file #28104 belonging to CHIN Wing Quong 陳榮光, during an interview with his father (CHIN Cheo 陳超) on 17 April 1926, held inside the National Archives-Seattle file of his brother (Donald CHIN Wing Ung 陳榮棟), #7031/325
CHIN Wing Quong 陳榮光 was the first-born child of my great grandfather, CHIN Cheo 陳超 AKA CHIN Gon Foon (# 39184/2-12, previously 682, 15844 and 30206), who was the sales manager / partner of the Wing Sang Company, which was a partnership equally divided amongst 12 owners. The Wing Sang Company sold Chinese and Japanese merchandise, rice, tea and herbal medicines. It was located firstly at 655 Weller Street, Seattle, King County, Washington State, then at 412, 415 and 420 7th Avenue South.
With multiple CEA bills being passed, it became increasingly difficult, for any Chinese person to migrate to the United States. The law, at the time, allowed an unmarried son under 18 years of age to live in the USA if it could be proven that the father ran an active business, was not engaged in labouring work, and had 2 white witnesses to vouch for his business and identity. As part of investigating whether to allow 11-year-old Wing Quong 榮光 to be released into the Seattle community from immigration detention and quarantine, an inspector and an interpreter visited the Wing Sang Company. They found the Wing Sang Company to be a bona fide mercantile establishment, and recommended favourable endorsement of the application of Wing Quong 榮光, as the minor son of CHIN Cheo 陳超
His short life of just 18 years was pieced together from three CEA files (his own one #28104, his father CHIN Cheo’s 陳超, his brother Donald Ung CHIN’s) and from family folklore (his sister CHIN Hai Soon / CHAN Mei Chen 陳美珍, who featured in the 17 May 2021 page of this website).
Names known by (either because of the spoken dialect or a misunderstanding): – CHIN Wing Quong 陳榮光 (in the Toisan dialect), CHAN Wing Kwong (in the Cantonese dialect), Wing Gwong (in Cantonese), Wing Quong <Gong> (poorly handwritten by an Immigration inspector in his CEA file to become mis-transcribed onto an affidavit as: Wing Bong), Quang Wing (Ancestry.com ship passenger manifest).
Date of Birth: Year KS 26, 10th month, 5th day. The Chinese Emperor (Kwang-Su) began his reign from 12th January 1875, therefore in Wing Quong’s 榮光 CEA file, it stated his Gregorian Date of Birth as being 5th September 1900. His father – knowing that his mother Love SEETO 司徒愛 / SEE TOW shee/shi 司徒氏 was carrying him in her womb – had already left China to head back to his workplace in Seattle before he was born.
Place of Birth: Mi Kong village, in the town of Hong Gong Lee, Hoi Ping district (part of the Sze Yup – the 4 Districts), Kwangtung Province, Imperial China.
1st time meeting father: From mid-1903 – mid-1904, CHIN Cheo 陳超 left Seattle for no more than 365 days, and was in China for the first time in 3 years, where he was able to see his boy Wing Quong 榮光. In addition, CHIN Cheo 陳超 spent some time with his wife to conceive another baby, who would become my future grandmother, CHIN Hai Soon / CHAN Mei Chen 陳美珍. He would again, as he did in 1900, leave China before the baby was born. This would become the 2nd out of a total 3 occasions, where due to time pressures (the 365-day limit of leave of absence from the USA to maintain residency under the CEA law) meant CHIN Cheo 陳超 would not witness the birth of a child (which was normal practice for a man, at that time). The connection between a parent and child has always been important in society, yet Wing Quong 榮光 – whilst living in China – never really felt that he knew his US-based father. His younger brother, Donald Ung CHIN, also did the same thing – fast forward 3 decades to 1932 – by getting his young wife pregnant in China, and departing for the USA before his only child, Kent Ying Keung CHAN, was born.
Education: From mid-1910 – mid-1911, Wing Quong 榮光 was a 10, almost 11-year-old student in the British Colony (BRC) of Hong Kong (HKG), learning Chinese and English, in readiness to migrate to the USA. CHIN Cheo 陳超, as a Seattle merchant, earned the average 1911 annual income in the United States of $500, was committed to educating his first-born son in the English language by sending US$200-$300 p.a. to him in HKG. He consulted with an immigration lawyer and had mapped out a plan to sponsor him to the United States.
Long journey: On 22 July 1911, the Irish-built steamship the S.S. Bellerophon sailed out of Liverpool, England, and arrived in HKG on 10 September 1911 to pick-up many Chinese passengers, including Wing Quong 榮光 and his fellow villager / companion, 24-year-old CHIN Foo. Wing Quong 榮光 was passenger # 24A and by far-and-away the youngest person on board – all males – as he was the only one with the column “Less than 14 years old” ticked by the purser on the shipping manifest. In cramp conditions and suffering seasickness, the passengers arrived in Tacoma, WA, USA on 29 September 1911.
Mood: After enduring a gruelling 3-week voyage across the North Pacific Ocean, Wing Quong 榮光 would have been quite scared and nervous as a 11-year-old boy coming into a strange land, where the landscape appeared different (such as the snow-capped mountains and luscious green trees), where people looked and dressed differently, and who spoke in a different language. He underwent quarantine for any possible diseases and was subjected to an interview / interrogation by U.S. Immigration officers before being released – after a marathon 1 week on U.S. soil – into the arms of a relieved father on 6 October 1911. Both father and son underwent similar interview questions regarding family members, the layout of Mi Kong village, letters that were written, and photographic likeness , to ascertain whether this was a genuine application of a minor son of a merchant. Wing Quong’s 榮光 clear recollection of people’s names, dates and places, and his sentence structure in answering U.S. Immigration questions was remarkable. The interview he underwent indicated a highly intelligent, articulate young boy with great potential.
Physique: Wing Quong 榮光 was “4 foot 10 inches” (147 cm) tall with a “small mole left side of ear” – a very intrusive physical inspection. His facial features were inherited from his mother.
Love SEETO 司徒愛 , also known as SEE TOW shee 司徒氏 – the mother of CHIN Wing Quong 陳榮光 – in Hoi Ping city [photo courtesy of Kevin Lee]
Occupation: After a period of adjustment in a new country, Wing Quong 榮光 began learning on-the-job to be a salesman or storekeeper at the Wing Sang Company. He would have finished his full-time education in the summer of 1911 in HKG, which during that era, was limited to primary school, meaning age 12. He continued night-time English studies in Seattle.
Sudden death: Aged only 18 years old, CHIN Wing Quong 陳榮光 passed away in late 1918 in Seattle. No WA Death Certificate could be found to ascertain the exact causes, and where he was buried.
Wing Quong 榮光, according to Kent Ying Keung CHAN, had died at the Wing Sang Company, after attempting to self-medicate for some type of ailment. This was at the time of the Spanish flu, also known as the 1918 influenza pandemic, which killed millions around the globe. He had swallowed some herbs from the drugs section of the store, suffered a negative reaction, and most likely went into cardiac arrest. He was taken immediately to the nearby Nippon Hospital – originally named as the Reliance Hospital – on the corner of 12th Avenue and South Jackson Street, where chest compression was performed to resuscitate him, however, sadly he was pronounced dead.
With a heavy heart, total shock and self-blame at the death of his first-born son, CHIN Cheo 陳超 urgently rang from Seattle to Hoi Ping city to leave a message for someone to quickly retrieve his wife from Mi Kong village, and they finally spoke a short time later. CHIN Cheo 陳超 broke the news to Love SEETO 司徒愛 / SEE TOW shee 司徒氏, which broke her heart, and she never fully recovered. It was as if a second death occurred in the CHIN family.
My grandmother – CHIN Hai Soon / CHAN Mei Chen 陳美珍– then 14-years-old spoke to her future children and grandchildren (when they were old enough) about the grief, waling and anger that great grandmother went through.
CHIN Cheo 陳超 organised a small funeral for Wing Quong 榮光 in Seattle, which was most likely a cremation by a crematorium, with his ashes returned in an urn. A few months later, in April 1919, CHIN Cheo 陳超 departed Seattle via a steamship to HKG, and arrived in Mi Kong village to personally explain what occurred, and presumably to bring back his ashes for a proper, final burial in the Too Ngui (in the Toisan dialect) or Foo Ngo (in the Cantonese dialect) foot hills, about 4 – 5 blocks behind Mi Kong village.
Consequences of his short life:
- It damaged the mental and physical health of his mother, Love SEETO 司徒愛 / SEE TOW shee 司徒氏, which contributed to her death;
- It meant no direct descendants of Wing Quong 榮光 – particularly for his father’s intention to leave a legacy in the US. Had he lived a long life like his siblings, he would have most likely – being the No. 1 son – left behind children, grandchildren and great grandchildren;
- He could have made a fortune, as he appeared to be a highly intelligent, young man with enormous potential;
- CHIN Cheo 陳超 might never have brought out his No. 2 son, Donald Ung CHIN to the United States, but left him in China to inherit the village house.
- CHIN Cheo 陳超 would almost certainly never have adopted a No. 3 son in 1919/1920 from the markets – similarly naming him as Wing Gong – with the intention to become a U.S. paper son to replace Wing Quong 榮光.
CHIN Cheo 陳超 spent so much time, money and effort to plan a future for his first-born, to create a dynasty, to leave a legacy, but it was all wasted in a moment of madness. The hopes, dreams and aspirations of a Chinese man who came to America in 1880 had all but vanished…
First photo of CHIN Wing Quong 陳榮光, taken in Hong Kong, aged 10 years old in 1911, attached to a 26 May 1911 affidavit by his father (CHIN Cheo 陳超), held in the National Archives-Seattle file of CHIN Wing Quong #28104.
U.S. Certificate of Identity (C.I.) #4573 of CHIN Wing Quong 陳榮光, dated 19 October 1911, held in the National Archives-Seattle file of CHIN Wing Quong 陳榮光, #28104