Of the Post-Dispatch
We'll begin this with these words: "Shengluyi
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
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
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