Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Mystery of Jue Shee

The more that we have learned about my great grand uncle Jue Shee, the more the mystery of his life has deepened. But understanding him is very important to understanding the story of our family. His actions and his choices changed forever the future of our clan. Our family has no pictures of him ( It turns out pictures we thought were him were not ). No one alive now ever met him. In fact we have only two tangible physical traces of his life.  There is this signature on a textbook, in Chinese with the letters J.S.

The other is his transcript from Pomona Prep School .

So what do you know for sure? We know that Jue Shee was born Sept 1867 in Sam Gong, Canton, China. He is 7 years younger then Jue Joe. Jue Joe in America sends money home while Jue Shee is growing up. Jue Joe brings Jue Shee over in the late 19th century. In 1902 Jue Joe leaves his business in the produce market and farm to his younger brother. The agreement is that the younger brother will manage and run the business and send some of the proceeds back to Jue Joe in China regularly. Jue Joe plans to marry and start a family and never return. Jue Shee enrolls in Pomona College Prep school in Sept 1904 taking classes in high school level chemistry and english literature but drops out after only three months in December of 1904. In 1905 Jue Shee leaves the United States for Paris, France and then turns up in Harbin Manchuria, working ultimately for the Ford Motor Company there. He sells the Jue Joe business and takes the proceeds of the sale without telling Jue Joe. Jue Joe no longer receives any money from Jue Shee and discovers that his farming operations and produce business have been sold to a Jewish man with a produce stall next to his in the market. He does not know the whereabouts of his brother and returns in 1906 to the United States leaving his young wife and two baby boys in China in order to rebuild his business in America. Meanwhile the wife and two sons hear nothing about their husband and father until 1915 when Jue Shee suddenly turns up in the village. He brings with him a 10 year old son and stories of having graduated from Pomona and then Berkeley with a PhD in mining engineering. He tells the family that Jue Joe is still alive and living in Los Angeles. He raises havoc for his sister- in -law, tearing up the yard looking for minerals and then building a large two story library. He seems unbalanced and strange to his sister- in- law, Leong Shee. Having reconnected with her husband, Jue Joe, Leong Shee begs him to send for her and the boys. She leaves China  in 1918 , her two boys in tow bound for San Francisco, their passage arranged by Jue Joe. During an interview with immigration authorities in 1918, Jue Joe says this of his brother: "The third son is Jew See, 53 ot 54 years old. He lives in the village with his wife. Can't remember her name or if they have children. He studied English in this country about 20 years in Los Angeles, Pasadena and Pomona. He went to China from Paris, France."

Despite extensive research there is no record of Jue Shee's name on immigration documents or ship passenger manifests consistent with his immigration and departure dates. This is quite odd because of the strict enforcement of the Chinese exclusion act and the extensive immigration documentation at the time. This leads us to assume that perhaps Jue Shee used a false name , like many Chinese immigrants did at the time.
Later, Jue Joe  brought over another  relative as a "paper son". Is it possible that he arranged for his brother's immigration in the same way, as a "paper son" of a merchant friend with a different surname?

There is no record of Jue Shee ever attending UC Berkeley. The only record at Pomona is the transcript attached above. On the transcript his religion is noted as Congregational. He takes courses in chemistry and english literature for 3 months and then is gone, dropping his classes. Auntie Soo-Yin remembers seeing some very esoteric and complex engineering textbooks in the Jue Joe ranch with dates in the late 1890's .  Auntie Soo Yin hears from her father stories of Jue Shee and a couple of college student friends of his  attending a movie premiere at the Orpheum theatre in Los Angeles and arranging for legal representation to allow them to break the "No Chinese Allowed "edict of the theatre. 

Researching Jue Shee's supposed educational credentials, I came across the compelling stories of  Fong Sec and Walter Fong, both Berkeley Alumni.The stories that Jue Shee tells later in life of his own academic career in America are remarkably similar to the real life academic careers of Fong Sec and Walter Fong. Fong Sec begins his education at Pomona Prep school in 1897 exactly as Jue Shee does 7 years later.  Fong Sec is about the same age as Jue Shee. Meanwhile,Walter Fong graduates from Stanford in 1896 and in 1898 enters the minining engineering program at Berkeley as a graduate student. He also is the same age as Fong Sec and Jue Shee. Walter Fong graduates from Berkeley in 1903 with an M.A. in Oriental Language. Fong Sec begins his Berkeley education as a sophmore in in the 1902-1903 academic year, so Fong Sec's Berkeley time and Walter Fong's time at Berkeley overlap. In 1903 Walter Fong is vice president of the Orientals club, a club at Berkeley for students of Asian descent. The story that Jue Shee tells in China of his own academic career, graduating from Pomona College and then going on to UC Berkeley to get his degree in mining engineering is sort of an amalgm of the academic careers of  Fong Sec and Walter Fong. The number of Chinese students in Berkeley and Pomona at this time was extermely small. In fact Walter Fong and Fong Sec may have been the only Chinese students in their colleges. It was indeed a very small world and it stands to reason that these students would know of each other.

Jue Shee begins his own aborted college prep classes at Pomona Prep in 1904, having originally immigrated in the late 19th century when Walter Fong and Fong Sec were attending college. All three men were of Cantonese descent from Southern China. If Jue Shee was interested in ultimately attending Pomona College and talked to Pomona College representatives, he must have been introduced to Fong Sec. Fong Sec was the first Chinese student to attend Pomona. I believe that Fong Sec must have been acquainted with William Fong. They both immigrate at around the same time. Their early life stories were remarkably similar,receiving initial education by Christian missionary schools in the United States. They have the same surname. Both initially came from Northern California and both attended Berkeley and both attended the University at the same time in 1903. Did they know each other ? I think most certainly they did. If Jue Shee had made contact with Fong Sec, he could have been  introduced to William Fong through Fong Sec.

Both Fong Sec and Walter Fong received education in Christian mission schools in the United States before attending college prep schools and ultimately receiving a University education. For Jue Shee to enroll in Pomona College Prep in 1904 he would have had to have had some evidence of previous education and recommendations. Why did he use his real name at Pomona?  I think the answer lies in the fact that  he received his English language education in Christian mission schools in Los Angeles and Pasadena where it was safe to use his real name without fear of his status being revealed to authorities.
Why did  Jue Shee delay his college education until 1904 when we know he immigrated in the late 19th century? My theory is that Jue Joe was eager to train his brother in running the farming and produce market operations so he could leave and return to China. I think it is probable that Jue Joe and Jue Shee decided that Jue Shee would work in the family business until Jue Joe left for China and then begin his college education with funds from the business, as well as sending money back home to Jue Joe. Meanwhile, Jue Shee would continue his education in the evenings and on weekends at the Christian missionary schools in Los Angeles and Pasadena. The business which was quite successful at the time would have  provided ample funds for both men to realize their dreams, Jue Shee of pursuing a college education in America and Jue Joe of marrying, starting a family and living comfortably in his home village back in China.

We know that Jue Shee did start his education at Pomona in September of 1904 but dropped out in December of 1904. He sold the family business immediately thereafter in 1905 and left for Paris, France and then ended up in  Harbin, Manchuria in that year. He did not tell his brother of this and stopped sending money to his brother and kept all the money from the sale for himself. Why the abrupt sale of the business and betrayal of his brother?

Auntie Soo-Yin and myself have discussed a number of  theories to explain the facts and the result of our research. I think we will never know for sure the "real" story.

What follows is a historically based fiction about Jue Shee's life that fits the known facts. I have decided to include Fong Foo Sec and Walter Fong in this historical fiction because their stories are compelling and in many ways their stories match the fictional story Jue Shee weaved about himself for all to hear. Did Jue Shee really know Fong Sec and Walter Fong ? We will never really know. But he could have and that is enough for me for this diversion into fiction.

Jue Shee  was the  younger brother of Jue Joe . Jue Joe who was working in America. Jue Joe arranged for his brother to immigrate to the United States in the late 19th century.  Because of the Chinese exclusion act, Jue Shee could not immigrate under his real name and immigrated as a "paper son" using a false name. Jue Joe arranges for this with one of his friends in the Chinese community who is a merchant ( one of the classes allowed to immigrate). Arriving in  America , Jue Shee is trained in the family farming and produce operations. Jue Shee is  eager to learn English and enrolls in classes at Christian missionary schools in Los Angeles and Pasadena. His real ambition is to attend an American university. He has heard about Pomona University from his missionary teachers in China and goes to Pomona and meets the only Chinese student there, Fong Foo Sec. Fong Sec is about the same age as Jue Shee and tells him his life story and how he is studying in the Pomona college prep school with hopes to enroll in Pomona university and then to go to the University of California, Berkeley.  Through Fong Sec, Jue Shee meets Walter Ngon Fong , the first Chinese student to graduate from Stanford and now a graduate student in mining at UC Berkeley. All three men are about the same age and all born in China and Cantonese and English speaking. Mining engineering is the career that Jue Shee wants for himself and he is eager to hear from Walter Fong all about mining. Walter Fong is quite a fellow, married to a white woman, president of the Chinese Revolutionary Party in America and a lawyer as well as a mining engineering student! In 1898 Jue Shee arranges for the three of them to go to the Orpheum Theatre for a movie premiere. He knows that Chinese are not allowed but has arranged in advance for legal representation to force the owners to desegregate the the theatre. Walter Fong ultimately decides to change from mining to the Department of Oriental languages and gives Jue Shee some of his mining engineering texts. Much later Auntie Soo Yin sees some of these books in the library at the Jue Joe ranch.

Jue Joe and Jue Shee discuss his plans to become an educated man like Fong Sec and Walter Fong.  Jue Shee has been an eager student taking English classes at the mission schools in Los Angeles and Pasadena. Jue Joe however, is eager to train his brother in farming and produce market operations as soon as possible and prepare his brother to take over the business. The two agree that Jue Shee will delay his college education until after Jue Joe leaves for China. Jue Shee works with Jue Joe in the farming and produce operations but remains friends with Fong Sec and Walter Fong and follows their careers and academic adventures. His dream is to ultimately follow in their footsteps.

In 1902 Jue Joe leaves for China, leaving his business with his brother. Jue Shee is ready to realize his real dream of following in the footsteps of Fong Sec and Walter Fong and getting an American University education.Finally in 1904 he enrolls at Pomona Prep School and has subordinates running the farming and produce market operations for him. Unfortunately, the reality of  taking high school level classes at age 37 along side young kids over 20 years his junior must have been humilating to him. Being probably the only Chinese in the classroom and an ancient guy at that, he must have been the butt of jokes. Jue Shee realizes that there is at least 8 to 10 years more of this  before he can get a degree, a very long road indeed for a 37 year old man.  The alternative of spending the rest of his life as a farmer and produce merchant sending money back to his brother is also a bit too much to bear.  But there is another choice. His neighbor in the produce market, a Jewish merchant has offered many times to buy him out. Jue Shee sees his way out. He will sell everything and  leave the US for  China and make his fortune there. He will not tell his brother. Does he feel guilty for selling out his brother's business? Probably not. He feels his brother has enough already. He has gone home, and married and should be able to fend for himself without the extra money. Now it is time for Jue Shee to get on with his own life!  American dollars will be worth a lot in China. The question is where to go?

Harbin, Manchuria !  It is  1905 just after the Russo-Japanese war and Harbin is bustling and full of foreign companies. This is far enough away from Jue Joe that Jue Shee will feel safe from having to deal with his brother finding out where he is . His bilingual English and Chinese skills and his ability to read and write will stand him in good stead. So Jue Shee abruptly drops his Pomona classes in December of 1904. He sells the business and in early 1905 leaves first for Paris, France . It has been a big dream of his to visit Europe and Paris.  After visiting Paris he will go to Harbin where he ultimately lands a job with the Ford Motor company.

 Like all returning Gold Mountain men he wants to be a " big man" in China ,so like other returning Chinese before him, he will weave a story about his life in America, a story based on the lives of Fong Sec and Walter Fong. Yes he did attend Pomona college , he graduated there and then went to Berkeley and got a  PHD in mining engineering but because of discrimination he was unable to find work in the United States and ended going back to China. That is what he told family and friends and they believed him. Maybe he ultimately starts even believing a little bit of the fiction himself. He has read enough about mining to know how to dig and find precious metals. Ultimately in Harbin he gets married and has a boy, but his dream is still to return to the village and  become rich. He has heard from friends in America that lo and behold his brother has returned to the United States without his family to try to rebuild his fortune. So it is safe for Jue Shee to return to the village, which he does in 1915  and turns his sister- in -law, Leong Shee's life upside down digging up the yard looking for minerals and building a two story library and acting unbalanced !
 THE END   ( or perhaps the beginning ?)

In many ways the choices that Jue Shee made are pivotal to the story of our family in America. Without Jue Shee selling out his brother's business and stealing the money , the Jue Joe clan would have remained in China. Jue Joe , Leong Shee , and San Tong would have stayed in China and we would not all be here in America !!!  So while  Jue Shee may have been a scoundrel, we can thank this scoundrel for putting into action the events that caused Jue Joe to return to America and ultimately to bring his wife and sons back here.

Auntie Soo Yin :
I believe that you are on point!  It all fits together, now...
Ah Gung did mention that the Jewish wholesaler had always admired and had envied Jue Joe's produce.  And the way Jue Shee thought and behaved, in your scenario, conforms with how oral history portrayed him in stories handed down from Jue Joe to San Tong, and to my siblings and I.  This is why Jue Joe could never forgive his brother...he felt his brother had betrayed him.  According to Ah Gung, Jue Joe seemed sore about this to the end of his life, but only as if his "little brother was very very naughty."  To Jue Joe, and to San Tong, blood was thicker than water.  Meaning that no matter how "naughty" one had was still an integral part of the family.

Yet, it is this very betrayal that we have Jue Shee to thank for, as you've said...because BUT FOR Jue Shee's mischievious actions we would not have been born in America!  You are sooooo right to point this out, LOL, LOL!  I had a huge chuckle reading all your emails on the matter!       

ps. edited 6/7/2012    new research suggests that  Jue Shee was educated in Chinese Mission Schools  run by the Congregational and Methodist Churches in Los Angeles and Pasadena and that he first went to Paris France before Harbin.  See this post.  I have edited my comments above to reflect this new information.

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