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The only newspaper dedicated to the St. Louis Chinese community.
Issue: 756   Date: 02/17/2005
New book details St. Louis' Chinese heritage
- Chinese St. Louis

Of the Post-Dispatch

We'll begin this with these words: "Shengluyi de Huaren."

It may appear to be a strange way to introduce a story in an English newspaper. But in this case, it seems appropriate.

"Shengluyi de Huaren," (pronounced Shung-louie Hwa ren) is the Mandarin translation of Huping Ling's new book entitled "Chinese St. Louis: From Enclave to Cultural Community."

Huping Ling is a history professor at Truman State University in Kirksville, Mo., and a native of Taiyuan, the capital city of China's Shanxi province. She came to this country in 1985, doing graduate work at Georgetown University, the University of Oregon and Miami of Ohio. In 1998-99, she became a visiting professor at Washington University and lived in Chesterfield with her husband, Mohammad Samiullah, a professor of physics at Truman State. The couple have two sons.

Her book focuses on those who came to the St. Louis area from China during the 19th and 20th centuries. From the 1860s until a century later, many of these immigrants settled in what was then Chinatown here, known as Hop Alley.

The area was razed to make way for Busch Stadium, home of the Shengluyi Cardinals, in 1966. That same part of downtown is being chewed up again for a new ballpark.

Ling's book features the writings of literary figures such as Theodore Dreiser, author of "Sister Carrie" fame, reporting about the Hop Alley neighborhood for the old St. Louis Republic. That newspaper was once owned by David R. Francis, who pulled off the 1904 World's Fair here.

Dreiser's coverage was the first to describe the Chinese hand laundries in St. Louis, with six in 1873 and 48 in 1944. Back in 1940, the Chinatowns in America were in 28 cities, the largest in San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles.

The book's cover photograph recalls the 1978 Sam Wah laundry case and how an organization of local St. Louisans, non-Chinese lawyers and newspaper reporters kept the city and Washington University's medical school from demolishing the laundry building and forcing out the elderly laundrymen, Gee Kee One, also known as Gee Sam Wah, and Gee Hong. They were brought to this country from Canton in 1922 by their aging uncle in St. Louis, Sam Wah. They eventually took over his hand laundry at 4381 Laclede Avenue, living in the back of the building.

The "Save Sam Wah" group saved the old rundown laundry building until 1986. By then, both Gee Hong and Gee Sam Wah had died.

Ling also writes that the first two male Chinese immigrants to arrive in St. Louis married Irish-Catholic immigrant women. These early Chinese immigrants also played a significant role in providing loans to African-Americans at time when segregation in St. Louis made their lives difficult.

"The police searches (of opium dens) also resulted in interracial business collaborations between Chinese and African-Americans," she wrote, adding that some Chinese began operating out of "Chestnut Valley," an African-American neighborhood just north of Hop Alley.

"It is estimated that in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, half the African-American businesses in Chestnut Valley were being bankrolled by Chinese moneylenders," she wrote.

The book is a literary chop-suey of local Asian and American stories and the people who made them fascinating.

"Chinese St. Louis"
A nonfiction book by Huping Ling
286 pages, Temple University Press, $22.95

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