FBI raid in SF may have damaged office once used by founding father of modern China 

A portrait of Sun Yat-sen, the first president of China, hangs in a small office on the third floor of the Ghee Kung Tong headquarters in Chinatown. Below the portrait is the mess of an office raided by law enforcement last week.

FBI raids connected to the arrests of state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, and the tong’s leader, Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, also tore apart what was purportedly once Sun’s office in The City.

The raid, which also resulted in the destruction of a safe used by Sun, could be compared to rampaging through a preserved office of Thomas Jefferson.

In essence, these are meaningful artifacts.

“The safe is over 100 years old; Dr. Sun Yat-sen used it when he was here,” said Katy Shu, one of the tong’s leaders. “That safe has a lot of history.”

Sun, who died in 1925, is a highly regarded figure in Modern Chinese history, said Sue Lee, executive director of the Chinese Historical Society of America, who pointed out that the man has a museum on Stockton Street. There’s also a statue of him in St. Mary’s Square near Chinatown.

In mainland China he is seen as a “pioneer of the revolution,” according to Marie-Claire Bergere in her biography of the man, and in Taiwan he is the “object of a veritable cult.”

The more than 150-year-old Ghee Kung Tong once comprised members who fought to overthrow the Manchu empire in China more than 100 years ago. Now, it’s simply a fraternal club that was trying to get the contents of its office put in a museum.

A plaque outside the Ghee Kung Tong office says that in 1904 it was his revolutionary fundraising headquarters, and more recently the Pius Lee Foundation gave $5,000 for the office’s renovation.

Sun visited San Francisco several times and had close relationships with local secret societies, or triads, according to Bergere’s book.

Sun, who was from Guangdong, made alliances and eventually joined secret societies to help in his fight to create a republic, notes Bergere. But by the turn of the century, he “tried to get these organizations to serve his own political ends.”

In 1899, according to Bergere, Sun met with a group of secret societies who recognized his authority in an alliance that was baptized as the “‘Association for the Rebirth of the Han’ and sealed with libations of wine and pigeon blood.”

In 1904, he sailed to San Francisco with introductions from Chinese to “triads in San Francisco.”

Once here, he took over the Great Harmony Daily, a newspaper run by the San Francisco triads, and set up shop at local lodges using them as “a front organization through which he could collect funds and increase influence.” He even drew up a new triad charter which redefined their objectives, describe by this secret oath as, “The overthrow of the dynasty, the restoration of China, the establishment of a republic.”

Today, the Ghee Kung Tong still displays on its walls images of revolutionary members from Sun’s era and pays tribute at an altar to their place in history.

A San Francisco Call article about Ghee Kung Tong from 1898 by San Francisco Examiner

About The Author

Jonah Owen Lamb

Jonah Owen Lamb

Born and raised on a houseboat in Sausalito, Lamb has written for newspapers in New York City, Utah and the San Joaquin Valley. He was most recently an editor at the San Luis Obispo Tribune for nearly three years. He has written for The S.F. Examiner since 2013 and covers criminal justice and planning.
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