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Chin Gee Hee (June 22, 1844 – 1929), courtesy nameChàngtíng (暢庭),Cheun Gee Yee, was a Chinese merchant, labor contractor, and railway entrepreneur, who made his fortune in Seattle, Washington before returning to his native village in Guangdong province, where he continued his successes.
Born the son of a maker of soy sauce crocks in a village in what is now the city of Taishan,[a] Chin came to the attention of an old man[b] because of his calm after some other boys smashed crocks that he was carrying to market. The man brought him along on his passage to America, where Chin worked in a placer mine before making his way to Port Gamble, Washington, where he worked in a lumber mill.
While still in North Kitsap, he learned a reasonable amount of English, and made friends with several Suquamish, including the family of Chief Seattle. He also met and befriended Henry Yesler, owner of a mill in the young city of Seattle, who convinced him to move there.
In 1873, he arrived in Seattle, a settlement that was about 20 years old at the time. After meeting Chin Chun Hock (Chinese: 陳程學; pinyin: Chén Chéngxué), who was from the same village in Taishan, he became a junior partner in the Wa Chong company (Chinese: 華昌; pinyin: Huá Chāng, "Chinese Prosperity"), the city's leading Chinese enterprise of the time. The Wa Chong company imported or manufactured goods including sugar, tea, rice, cigars, opium (legal at the time), and fireworks.
At the time, there were few Chinese women in America. While still in North Kitsap, Chin imported a wife from China. Their son Chin Lem (Chinese: 陳霖; pinyin: Chén Lín), later known as Tew Dong (Chinese: 秋宗; pinyin: Qiūzōng), born 1875 in Seattle, was the first known Chinese child born in Washington Territory (now Washington State).
At the Wa Chong company, he acquired labor contracts from coal mines, railroads, farming, and the Puget Soundmosquito fleet. As one of the major labor suppliers for Northern Pacific Railway in the Puget Sound district, Chin also helped with payroll and discipline of the Chinese labor. He also placed Chinese house-boys and cooks. His partnership with Chin Ching-hock was somewhat uneasy: Chin Ching-hock was more interested in imports and exports than in the labor contracting that became Chin Gee Hee's specialty.
Quong Tuck Company safe. The Chinese writing on the safe says "May national treasure fill the coffer" (Chinese: 國寶盈庫; pinyin: guó bǎo yíng kù) and "May numerous sources of wealth come in." (Chinese: 財源廣進; pinyin: cáiyuán guǎng jìn)
In 1888, he set up independently as a labor contractor, with his Quong Tuck Company (also known as Quong Tuck Lung Company) or Quon Tuck Company supplying construction workers to railways (the Great Northern Railway, the Seattle and Walla Walla Railroad and Transportation Company) and to Seattle's regrading projects. He provided work crews (and was involved entrepreneurially) in rail lines along what are now Alaskan Way (along the Seattle waterfront) and a cable car perpendicular to the waterfront along Yesler Way as far as 14th Avenue. He also provided Chinese masons to help build the Burke Building, a full city block at Second Avenue and Marion Street.[c] His own building at Second and Washington, the Canton Building (also known as the Chin Gee Hee Building, now the Kon Yick Building), 208-210 S. Washington Street, was among the first brick buildings raised after the Great Seattle Fire of June 6, 1889. It was shared with the Bow Tai Wo Company. (As of 2007, the building is still standing, though much altered; in particular, a 1928 re-routing of Second Avenue S. removed a corner of the building.)
He passed his Seattle business on to his son, Chin Lem, and son-in-law Woo Quon-bing (Chinese: 胡冠炳; pinyin: Hú Guānbǐng) and returned in 1904 or 1905 to China, where he was the entrepreneur behind South China's first railway and founded a seaport, while continuing also to have business associations with Seattle. He returned frequently to the U.S. and, in particular, to Seattle, where he retained close ties, and which he last visited in 1922.
While in China, Chin also served as a connection for the Seattle China Club. Members of the China Club, which advocated for increased trade between China and Seattle, were invited to attend the opening of Chin's port in Guangdong.
^Sources variously refer to the village as "Look Tun","Look Tun", "Langmei village, Doushan town", or "Long-mei" (Chinese: 朗美; pinyin: Lǎngměi) "of Luk-choon" (Chinese: 六村; pinyin: Liù Cūn; possibly meaning "Sixth Village")],. There is more information in post #59 at the blog page.
^Willard Jue gives the man's name as Hung-bok 宏伯 (pinyin: Hongbo)
^Some sources—Eric Scigliano, for example—say that further investment came from James J. Hill, but others say that he "vowed not to sell shares to foreigners, to borrow money from them, or to use their engineers." Jue (1983), p. 34, says that Chen "traveled all over the United States and Canada with the help of J. J. Hill, President of the Great Northern Railway Co.," but does not speak of Hill investing in his own right.
^ abChang, Kornel S. (2012). Pacific connections : the making of the U.S.-Canadian borderlands. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 183. ISBN 9780520271685.
Chin Gee Hee, "Letter Asking for Support to Build the Sunning Railroad" (1911), p. 125–128 in Judy Yung, Gordon H. Chang, and Him Mark Lai (compilers and editors), Chinese American Voices, University of California Press (2006). ISBN 0-520-24310-2.
Willard G. Jue, "Chin Gee-hee, Chinese Pioneer Entrepreneur in Seattle and Toishan", The Annals of the Chinese Historical Society of the Pacific Northwest, 1983, 31:38.
Douglas C. Sackman, "Pacific World Passages: The Traffic in Trees and the Transformation of Space in Puget Sound, 1850-1900", a paper presented at the American Society for Environmental History Annual Meeting, Victoria, BC, April 3, 2004, especially the section "III. Workers of the Pacific World: Logging and Labor in & around the Mills". Draft available online, accessed July 30, 2007; there is no formally published form as of that date.
Eric Scigliano, "Seattle's Chinese Founding Father", Seattle Metropolitan, May 2007, p. 48.
Chinese Emigration, the Sunning Railway and the Development of Toisan by Lucie Cheng and Liu Yuzun with Zheng Dehua, Amerasia 9(1): 59-74, 1982.
Kornel Chang, "American Crossroads: Pacific Connections: The Making of the U.S.-Canadian Borderlands" Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012. ISBN 978-0-520-27169-2.
David Takami, Chinese Americans HistoryLink.org Essay 2060, February 17, 1999, includes two photos of Chin.
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