Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Details: Rev. Wai Shing Kwok and the Jue Joe Ranch Chinese School

"Chinese-language schools have been an integral part of the Chinese immigrant community in the United States, and in the Chinese diaspora worldwide. In the United States, Chinese-language schools date back to the late 1880s, having survived legal exclusion and associated adversarial circumstances.
Just like other ethnic-language schools in German, Scandinavian, Jewish, Greek, and Japanese immigrant communities, Chinese-language schools in much of the pre-World War II era aimed to preserve language and cultural heritage in the second and succeeding generations."
After-School Institutions in Chinese and Korean Immigrant Communities: A Model for Others? By Min Zhou and Susan S. Kim,University of California, Los Angeles

My maternal grandfather Rev. Wai Shing Kwok immigrated from China along with my grandmother Kopo Yung Kwok and their young son ,Johnny in 1920 .My grandfather's family were farmers but he had become educated in Chinese and Christian schools in China as had my grandmother who came from the family of a high government official in Shanghai. Both my grandfather and my grandmother had converted to Christianity in China and actually met in church. My grandfather's immigration was with the aid of the Fat Ming Company,a well estabilshed book seller in San Francisco . The company helped to attest to my grandfather's status as a teacher and scholar. Teachers and scholars were one of the exempt classes allowed to immigrate under the Chinese Exclusion Act.

After arriving in the United States my grandfather accepted a position as head teacher in a budding Chinese language school being started in Sacramento , the Kwai Wah School . "Immigrants Fong Sik,Chan Tai Oy, and Fong Bun Wall started the school by renting an old house on P street between Fourth and Fifth in the Spring of 1924. Kwok Wai Shing from the Methodist Mission was enaged to be the teacher . The Kwai Wah School purchased and remodeled an old house for their use on 519 N Street on December 13, 1926 and named it the Chinese Christian Church with Kwok Wai Shing conducting religious services. Kwok Wai Shing was not actually a minister, so on August 16,1931 the Chinese Christian Union in San Francisco held a ceremony at the Chinese Presbyterian Church and officially ordained Kwok Wai Shing." Canton Footprints, Sacramento's Chinese Legacy by Philip P. Choy , 2007

Wai Shing and Kopo Yung Kwok had 5 children : Johnny who was born in Shanghai , Andrew , Sarah, my mother Alice, and Esther who were all born in the United States..

The school became a major Chinese language school for the Sacramento Chinese community and many prominent members of the community learned Chinese as young students under the tutelage of my grandfather . One student was William Fong who later became a well respected and well loved physician in Sacramento for many years. William Fong recently passed away. Norma On , one of my mother's friends , who also attended the school wrote this remembrance of William Fong's time at Kwai Wah School :
William’s intellect was well known not just in the public school system but
also at the Kwai Wah Chinese Language School. He was one of the four
outstanding students that was often called upon by Mr. Wai Shing Kwok to
stand up in front of class to translate our lessons written on a large
blackboard from English to Chinese. William and the others were always calm
and deliberate as they were aware of Mr. Kwok’s persona, a strict
disciplinarian who had a low tolerance for errors."

Here are some pictures of my grandfather and grandmother Kwok and the Kwai Wah School :

This first picture is of a graduating class in 1927

This picture is of the school in 1947 . My mother Alice is in the front row , 2nd girl from the left.

The Church that my Grandfather Kwok started later became the Chinese Community Church now located on Gilgunn way in Sacramento .

"Our forefathers began the ministry of the present-day church in 1924. They established the Kwai Wah Language School in a converted residence on 5th and P Streets in Sacramento to provide education for future generations of American-born Chinese. They also created the Kwai Wah Marching Band, the first of its kind in the Chinese community. In the late 1920s, the church moved to 519 N Street in the heart of the Chinese community.

In 1939, a severe storm damaged the church, and it had to be razed. With the help of the Reformed Church in America (RCA), a two-story building was put up. The church continued to thrive until the mid 1940’s. After the City lifted restrictions on where Asians could buy residential property, many Chinese moved to the suburbs. For several years, the church struggled to rebuild its congregational base. In 1951, again with the help of the RCA, the church located to its current site and built the sanctuary and education building."

_ About Us , Chinese Community Church, Sacramento

San Tong Jue , like many Chinese immigrant parents , felt that it was important for his children to learn the Chinese language . Being on a ranch in the San Fernando valley , however, meant that there were no easily accessible Chinese language schools for his children . The problem was solved when his eldest son Jack married Alice Kwok .San Tong learned that Rev. Kwok was planning to retire from his position as pastor of the Chinese Christian Church and head of the Kwai Wah Chinese language school in Sacramento and move to Los Angeles to be nearer his children and grandchildren.

San Tong proposed to Rev. Kwok that he teach San Tong's younger children ( Soo Jan , Guy , Pingeleen , and Soo-Yin ) Chinese language on the Jue Joe Ranch . Mr. Kwok agreed and San Tong converted Jue Joe's old cabin to a traditional one room school house complete with blackboard , desks , and warmed by a pot bellied stove. As a young child I remember seeing the schoolroom and thought it was pretty cool for my aunts and uncle to go to school right on the ranch. I didn't quite realize at the time that they had to go to school twice , first regular public school and then Chinese school !

Auntie Pingeleen and Auntie Soo Yin told me that Chinese school on the Jue Joe ranch was from 4 to 5 pm every day Monday through Friday and Mr . Kwok was a pretty strict teacher . Auntie Pingeleen said after several years of going to Mr. Kwok's Chinese school she was able to read a Chinese newspaper and had a pretty good command of the language.
I do not remember my grandfather Kwok as a strict guy at all , I think that is because he spoiled me rotten !
Here is my grandpa Kwok and I .

Later after we moved to our Lassen house , Grandfather Kwok and Grandmother Kwok lived within walking distance and tried to teach the new generation ( my brother and sisters and I ) Chinese at their house . I remember going to my grandparents house after school .. I think my grandfather had passed away and my grandmother was trying to teach us Chinese . All I remember is that I was not interested at all and was a very poor student and just wanted to go play or watch cartoons and felt sorry for myself . I think she gave up in short order ! I wished I had stayed with it as my Chinese language skills are essentially nonexistent except for ordering Chinese dishes in Cantonese at local restaurants !

Here is a picture of my Mom and Dad , Grandpa and Grandma Kwok , my brother and sisters and myself :


  1. While my sisters and brother advanced to higher grade levels in Chinese school, I flunked out of 1st Grade and had to repeat it. I remember having to recite the "Dragon Boat" rhyme in my primer to Mr. Kwok: "Pa loong shin, pa loong, shin..." And then he drew houses between my written characters and within each character because I could not get the spacing correct in my writing lessons. I sure wish I had been a more diligent student and had taken Chinese school more seriously. Auntie Soo-Yin.

  2. I remember our Chinese inkwells, you don't see them around anymore. Today, they are collector's items. San Tong had ordered them from Hong Kong. They were made of silver, and inside each well was a silk pad soaked in Chinese charcoal ink. If you dipped your brush into the wet silk you smelled the pad's rich velvet vapor. Our primers and Chinese/English dictionaries came from Hong Kong, too. We learned how to locate the root of a word, then find its numbered radical in the dictionary. From that radical were listed all other symbols that could be combined with the radical in order to form a particular meaning and sound. Years later my brother Guy told me that he had saved his dictionary. He showed it to me. It was still in excellent condition, and we thumbed through it, looking up words and having fun. Our school house in Jue Joe's converted cabin had old-fashioned desks like you see in Western movies. It was a colorful one-room schoolhouse. Auntie Soo-Yin.