Moon Chin immigrates — and goes to jail

Moon Chin and his father lugged a single suitcase out of Wing-Wa village one humid morning in the summer of 1924. Sweat trickled from their short black hair and soaked their shirts. Dust trailed from their feet in the two-rut path that led to the riverbank, where father and son balanced aboard a junk bound for Macau, from whence they took a small coastal steamer 30 miles across the mouth of the Pearl River to the sleepy, harbor-side colony of Hong Kong. A Dollar Line steamer took them across the Pacific via Shanghai, Kobe, and Yokohama. Moon and his father slept on bunks jammed into a barracks-like hold they shared with dozens, if not hundreds, of other Chinese in “Asian Steerage,” the Dollar Line’s lowest class of travel. The steamer reached Seattle nearly a month after leaving Hong Kong.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service welcomed Moon Chin to American soil by separating the ten-year old boy from his father and locking him in the Seattle Immigration Detention Facility, a brick-built gulag that loomed over the Seattle waterfront whose main purpose was to allow I.N.S. officials to interrogate – and reject – Chinese immigrants.

Next: Ten-year old Moon Chin in the gulag



  1. Greg,

    The “papers” are just on a few scraps of paper, as it was important that they be concealed. I think they show “family” relations and village layout as that’s what interrogation focused on. I haven’t had them translated. Send me your email address and I’ll forward you scans.

    I don’t play online games so I don’t know what’s out there for Mah Jong. Most ones I see on the computer are the “solitaire” version which isn’t “Mah Jong” at all. Even the official American version is very different. I only know of one popular Mah Jong software game out there by a company called Nine Dragons Software.

  2. Don! That’s incredible! How large is the “Paper Sons” coaching thing? Is it scannable? (Because it’d make a fabulous addition to this blog — or any other.) It’d also be pretty darn neat to scan and post those transpacific tickets, too. I’ll have to ask Moon Chin if he remembers which Dollar liner he came across on. Good rescue effort on those docs, too…. I hate to think how much fabulous stuff goes in the trash every day. Do you have a favorite on-line Mah Jong game?

  3. Greg, do you know which steamer he came across on?
    Very interesting he arrived in Seattle and not SF.

    I very fortuitously saved many of my grandfather’s documents from being thrown in the trash, some of which were his ship tickets from and to China. Amazingly also now in my possession are the “paper son” coaching papers which any immigrant did not want to be caught with and were supposed to be disposed of immediately. I was able too to find out what he did and where he lived here through tax returns. Even though I lived with him, I did not know much of his life as he was a man of very few words. I did pick up my love of Mah Jong from him though! He spent much time at our clan association playing.

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