In 2021, dates and ages were revised to reflect new information--in particular, ship passenger lists, census data, and naturalization records found on Ancestry.com. But even these documents have required skepticism and triangulation to assemble a coherent chronology.
Gung Gung (Albert) was vague about his age when he came to the US. In 1998, he mentioned both 11 and 13, and other accounts suggest as late as age 15. What is now known for sure is that he and his father sailed into San Francisco on July 2, 1910, on the SS Manchuria from Hong Kong. His birth date was recorded as May 8, 1900, and his age was given as 10, though later records say May 24, 1901, making him only 9. Either of those ages tallies well enough with the main photo, which most likely was taken soon after his arrival, and definitely before his father re-departed for China in 1913.
(Please also note that by traditional reckoning birthdays were not that important, and a child was considered a year old at birth, and age 2 by the following lunar new year. So if truly born around May 1900, regardless whether that "month" truly refers to the Gregorian calendar or lunar 5th month, in 1910 he could well have considered himself 11 years old by the system he had grown up with.)
He attended high school and community college in San Diego, went on to University of Southern California, returned to China upon his graduation in 1928, married our grandmother, Lily Ho, that year or the next year, and returned to the U.S. He worked to restore his uncle's business for six and a half years, finally moving to Los Angeles to really set up on his own in 1937.
Gung Gung came from Hoiping County (開平 Kaiping), part of the Sei Yup (四邑 Siyi) sub-dialectical area of Guangdong Province (more village information here). The area was agricultural. His grandfather was a peasant. The area was good for farming, but pressed to the limit by a growing population that strained its resources. His grandfather diversified from farming into selling farm equipment to peasants, who as a rule did not own their own equipment, and finally set up a business near Guangzhou that painted porcelain from Changsha, Hunan Province and Jiangxi Province for China's export market. The pieces were sold to Portugal and other places. This grandfather had five sons––Gung Gung’s father was the youngest of the five––some of whom as a result of the family's business dealings with foreigners had learned a smattering of English.
Information about the family trade is really not clear. Was it farming equipment or ceramics or both? Or was it only Brother No. 2 who was in the ceramics business, as mentioned in the story about Quon Mane's wife?
Gung Gung’s #4 Uncle, Quon Mane, was hired by a German agent for an American railway company to serve as interpreter for the other coolies, and so arrived in the States. The German's name was John Spreckels (Gung Gung gave his first name as "Walter"). Spreckels eventually ended up in San Diego, where he opened the Hotel del Coronado.
The above appears to be a polishing of the truth. By Quon Mane's own account, he arrived in the US at the age of 15 or 16, at which age he would have been a bit young to take on any foreman responsibilities, and he only learned his English thanks to the multi-year efforts of a Mrs. Marston. Quon Mane worked clearing land for the future Hotel del Coronado, an enterprise then led by E.S. Babcock. John Spreckels only got involved later as an investor (around the time Quon Mane was opening his store in 1888) and only moved to San Diego much later (after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake).
Anticipating the tourist trade that would grow up along with the Hotel del Coronado, Uncle Quon Mane settled in San Diego too, setting up a shop "merchandising Chinese gift wares" (in close connection with the family business in Guangzhou?). The company was called Quon Mane.
Gung Gung's father, Quon Leon, also came to the States (presumably to work on the railways like his brother Quon Mane) and eventually went to San Diego to help with his brother's store, bringing with him the older of his two sons, Frank, and Gung Gung.
According to cousin Ben's narrative, his father Quon Mane was looking for railroad work, but was too late. If Quon Mane did not work on the railroad, presumably neither did his younger brother.
Also, immigration records tell us that Frank and Albert arrived separately: Frank in 1907, traveling with Uncle Quon Mane and a cousin, James, who was presented as Frank's older brother; and Albert in 1910, traveling with their father.
Gung Gung noted that his mother came from a better family than his father and that his maternal grandfather, remarking on Gung Gung’s promise, questioned the decision to take him to the US, where in his opinion the boy could become rich but would always be a “foreign coolie” rather than leave him in China to try his hand at the examinations.
Gung Gung's use of the word "coolie", here and above, is interesting. Today, scholars are at pains to stress that the vast majority of Chinese came to the US, as free agents, even in the 19th century. The use of the word "coolie" to describe Chinese labor in the US was all part of the inflammatory rhetoric that led to the Chinese Exclusion Act, by insinuating that Chinese were somehow inherently servile and incapable of being Americans. Yet clearly for Albert, this was no academic nicety, needing some minor correction, but a slur he tried to free himself from every day.
Gung Gung's father fell ill in the States and returned to China. Gung Gung never saw him again. The standard explanation for his death was that after years of working on the railroads, riding with one's head stuck out the window to catch the breeze, it was inevitable that a piece of flying debris would one day do some damage. In Gung Gung's father's case, it's thought that a piece of coal that had blown into his ear eventually worked its way into his brain.
With hindsight, Gung Gung has surmised that his father in fact succumbed to lead poisoning. Gung Gung says this is a theory that only came to him late in life after reading an article about lead poisoning. Gung Gung remembered that back in China his father loved to eat game birds, which were brought around for sale by a hunter's daughter. She would bring around braces of pheasant, doves, stork, shot with an old-fashioned rifle which fired a mixture of gunpowder and lead bits that were tamped into the barrel. Gung Gung remembers the birds were always filled with lead shot, which he, as a boy, would spit out -- but which his father would insist were fine to just chew up and swallow.
2009 addition: Lil says that Gung Gung thought his father may have died of a thyroid problem as he remembers him having a goiter.
2021 note: Without a father, Frank and Albert's younger brother Nathan must have come to the US in the guise of someone else's son (still TBD).
When Gung Gung's brother, Frank, was about eighteen or nineteen, he was betrothed to marry a baker's daughter back home. It was hoped the wedding might cheer up their father whose health was declining rapidly. But nothing could save him and he died soon after the marriage. (Frank eventually took a second wife after his first wife bore him six children, all girls.)
2021 note: In the main photo, note the ring on Frank's finger (as well as his father's). Since Frank's oldest child, Jennie, is believed to have been born in 1915, we guess he was married no later than then, and that their father died around that time. 2022 note: In an immigration record, Albert says their father died in 1914.