Using sources in English, Spanish, and Chinese from across the Pacific Rim, this article uses a global scale to examine the Cantonese sworn brotherhood known as the Chee Kung Tong. Whereas in 1860 the organization was largely limited to the West Coast of North America, by the early twentieth century it spread to six continents and throughout the Pacific Rim. The article argues that the Chee Kung Tong, far from being simply a criminal organization or an apolitical mutual aid society, attracted members throughout the Cantonese diaspora, and that a focus on networks like the Chee Kung Tong allows us to examine diasporic history in new and revealing ways.

A January 1898 article in the San Francisco Call provided a brief and sensationalized glimpse into what it called a “Mongolian secret society” through the initiation of a new member (fig. 1). The article first described his approach into Chinatown, winding his way through narrow streets and alleyways before entering a designated building in the dead of night by using predetermined passwords. Inside, he found several members seated on mats in front of an altar. After demonstrating mastery of a secret dialogue in Cantonese, he drank a mixture of vinegar and the blood of his new brethren, shouting, “I am thy blood brother,” before walking under a canopy of swords. The master then admonished him that, wherever he might go, the society would follow him. “Wherever your steps may carry you,” he said, “there you will also find the true heart and the strong arm of the [Chee] Kung Tong. Bear also in mind that while the particular [Chee] Kung Tong protects, it also punishes, and should you prove traitorous to your cause, your blood shall pollute the soil of the land. Be you where you may, the [Chee] Kung Tong will find you out.” He then learned that the organization sought the destruction of the “rulers of China,” its principle cause being “the overthrow of the present Ching dynasty.”1

Figure 1.

This illustration shows R. Church Williams’s initiation into the Chee Kung Tong. Source: “Have Sworn to Destroy the Rulers of China,” San Francisco Call January 9, 1898, front page.

Figure 1.

This illustration shows R. Church Williams’s initiation into the Chee Kung Tong. Source: “Have Sworn to Destroy the Rulers of China,” San Francisco Call January 9, 1898, front page.

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Though it would be out of the ordinary for the newly sworn blood brother to feel comfortable exposing these secrets before such a wide outside audience, even more surprising is the identity of the initiate: a white man by the name of R. Church Williams. According to his account, it was surprisingly easy for him to become a blood brother of the Chee Kung Tong. “[I]n fact, I know now,” he noted, “that they are rather anxious to secure a few Faun Kwei—foreign devils—as it is considered by the more diplomatic members that these devils might become most valuable advisers in Western matters.”2

Williams’s account, just like other Western accounts of Chinese sworn brotherhoods, shows a preoccupation with the secretive nature and exotic rituals practiced by its members.3 Nevertheless, the passage contains a few important differences that highlight how the Chee Kung Tong developed quite differently from other Hongmen sworn brotherhoods in China and Southeast Asia, from where it took its rituals, mythology, and insignia.4 First, as noted in the initiation, the Chee Kung Tong would follow the author “wherever [his] steps may carry [him],” highlighting the considerable reach of the brotherhood. This spread allowed it to organize a transnational network for the circulation of its ritual, information, resources, and people, one that was not dependent upon China but instead centered in the diaspora, primarily the Chinese communities of San Francisco and New York. Second, its mission to overthrow “the rulers of China” shows that the Chee Kung Tong had an explicit long-distance nationalist focus, one that hoped to rival the Chinese Nationalist Party (國民黨, Kuomintang) both within China and abroad. The Chee Kung Tong was different in these respects because, unlike its counterparts in China and the Straits Settlements, it was a legal organization, which allowed it to spread across continents without fear of persecution and to accrue the financial resources which allowed them to organize transnationally. Finally, the initiation of Williams, a white man, suggests that by 1898 the Chee Kung Tong had begun to transition from a “Mongolian secret society” to an open and above-ground organization, a transition that would be complete by the early twentieth century.

This article examines the Chee Kung Tong in global perspective—to go where the Chee Kung Tong goes—by combining two primary types of sources. The first is local histories of the organization around the Pacific Rim. Although few articles focus specifically on the Chee Kung Tong, many books and articles on the Chinese in a particular area mention the society as being an important part of the local Chinese community.5 By aggregating these sources, we are able to discern the ways in which the society expanded and chapters changed in response to international forces. The second set is newspaper articles in English, Spanish, and Chinese, in particular the New York Chinese Republic News 民國公報 and Vancouver’s The Chinese Times 大漢公報, both published by the Chee Kung Tong itself. These newspapers reported on far-flung chapters around the world, providing crucial information on individual chapters as well as illustrating the attempt to form a transnational network.

In using these sources, this article attempts to correct two major misunderstandings about the Chee Kung Tong. First is the idea, typically held by outsiders across the Pacific Rim, that the Chee Kung Tong was exotic, sinister, secretive, or criminal.6 Indeed, the word “tong,” which comes from the last character in Chee Kung Tong (堂) and translates to “hall,” was often used as a slur against such brotherhoods. Far from being a nefarious underground organization, there is evidence of various Chee Kung Tong chapters outside of China consciously publicizing the organization and its activities through, for example, inviting nonmembers to lodge opening ceremonies or publishing membership lists in local newspapers.

The dramatic expansion of membership throughout the diaspora is also an indication that the Chee Kung Tong was neither secret nor sinister. While in the 1860s the organization existed mainly on the west coast of the United States and Canada, by the beginning of the twentieth century it had spread throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, at least as far south as Peru; across the Pacific Rim to Australia and New Zealand; across the Atlantic Ocean to England and Holland; and as far away as southern Africa. This expansion suggests that despite the observations of outside observers who labeled the brotherhood as sinister and criminal or downplayed its impact, Cantonese migrants themselves saw the organization as supportive and attractive.

The second misunderstanding of the Chee Kung Tong relates to the organization’s supposed lack of participation in mainstream politics. The Chee Kung Tong’s political activities have typically been dismissed as either minimal or temporary. In actuality, the organization actively followed and responded to political developments in China. For example, they backed Sun Yat-sen and the 1911 Xinhai Revolution which overthrew the Qing Dynasty, with Sun even joining the organization in Hawai‘i and touring various local chapters in the United States and Canada. The Chee Kung Tong remained politically active after 1911. After China transformed into a dictatorship under Yuan Shikai, for example, chapters of the Chee Kung Tong enthusiastically took part in the diasporic anti-Yuan movement and petitioned U.S. President Woodrow Wilson not to recognize his government. Thus, looking at the Chee Kung Tong’s participation in transnational politics adds much-needed depth to an organization that tends to be dismissed as a politically disorganized mafia, and follows historian Shelly Chan’s call to understand how Chinese migrants impacted China from afar.7

The Chee Kung Tong gives historians a new way to study Chinese diasporic networks, as the brotherhood organized a network outside of China and at times advanced a potent alternative nationalism to that of the Chinese Nationalist Party and the Chinese Communist Party. Networks, as the late historian Adam McKeown pointed out, are “transnational institutions, organizations, and personal connections that made migration into a viable economic strategy and stable system for the circulation of goods, people, information, and profit.”8 Other scholars have noted how Asian migrants in the Americas formed transnational networks which made the migratory experience possible, enabled them to weather tremendous hostility and instability, and allowed migrants to thrive under difficult conditions.9 As McKeown noted, sworn brotherhoods were one of the ways in which migrant networks could be institutionalized.10 By examining the Chee Kung Tong as a network of Cantonese migrants, this article aims to demystify the organization and argues that it has much in common with other kinds of migrant organizations and transnational political activities. Additionally, studying migrants from the perspective of networks allows us to transcend local and nation-based analyses of migrant groups, or the migration between one specific sending country and one specific receiving country (e.g. the Chinese in America).

Previous studies of the Chee Kung Tong have primarily emphasized their mutual aid activities in a domestic context without examining the transnational connections that brought different lodges together and have viewed sworn brotherhoods like the Chee Kung Tong as relics of a bygone era, to be eclipsed by more modern vestiges of the Chinese state like political parties and more respectable huiguan 會館 at the turn of the twentieth century. In contrast, this study examines the Chee Kung Tong from a global perspective, revealing an active diasporic network which organized for its own mutual aid and assistance, for greater rootedness in members’ own communities, and for a voice in local and transnational affairs.

The Chee Kung Tong formed a part of a vast fraternal organization known as Hongmen, which has its roots in Zhangzhou in the province of Fujian, China, likely in the eighteenth century. It spread to the surrounding provinces, largely along the routes followed by internal migrants.11 Given the marginality and vulnerability of internal migrants, Hongmen societies like the Tiandihui (Heaven and Earth Society) spread quite rapidly and organically throughout China as a mutual aid society, as initiates could move on to other towns, quickly induct new members without requiring further approval or supervision, and teach them the symbols, legends, and rituals common to all adherents. Once initiated, new members became part of “pseudo-familial networks” which “offer[ed] unacquainted people the kind of protection and mutual aid normally afforded by family members.”12

When Chinese from Guangdong and Fujian provinces migrated abroad—to European colonial possessions in Southeast Asia, or by the mid-nineteenth century further afield to the Americas, Australasia, or beyond—they carried Hongmen symbols, legends, rituals and materials with them. For example, Hongmen ritual books have been recovered in Cuba, Australia, and California.13 Membership certificates, also known as bagua, contain similar verses written in code and have been found far apart in Hong Kong, Vancouver, and Sydney.14 The pennants that lodges hung, such as two found in Wellington, New Zealand, and Tucson, Arizona, carried similar slogans and characters despite the considerable distance which could separate them.15 However, the exact practices and names of each group often varied depending on dialect, native place, and other factors.

As migrants ventured out to establish new lives outside of China, several isolated Cantonese Hongmen chapters emerged around the Pacific Rim and eventually formed the transnational network known as the Chee Kung Tong.16 Chinese emigrated to the gold fields and the railroad construction sites of the U.S. West, Australia, and Canada, where they found themselves as isolated and marginalized as their counterparts in southern China. Because other kinds of associations like surname associations and huiguan did not make it into these rural areas, Chinese in these areas organized into Hongmen brotherhoods instead, which were purely voluntary.17 Thus, there are reports of Yixinghui (義興會 or 義興公司) or Hongshuntang (洪順堂) chapters in the gold mining areas outside of San Francisco by the early 1850s, in Australia at the same time, and in British Columbia by 1864.18 After a chapter of the Chee Kung Tong emerged in San Francisco in the early 1860s, some of the chapters in the U.S. West and Canada changed their name to this new society, which roughly translates to “devote oneself to the public good” (致力為公).19

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, then, the spread of the Chee Kung Tong was largely a story of the spread of the Cantonese diaspora. Chapters were founded in Hawai‘i by 1871, in Cuba by 1887, and in the Philippines by 1899.20 In the important English maritime port of Liverpool, a Chee Kung Tong chapter existed by the 1880s, which historians of England suggest was Europe’s first Chinese organization.21 In 1907 the society existed in New Zealand, by which time there were also chapters in Tahiti.22 In Latin America, locations such as Mexico, Cuba, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Panama, Peru, Jamaica, and Trinidad all had chapters.23 The expansion appears to have been driven by the diaspora itself, not from any entity within China. Local researchers suggest that San Francisco Chinese, not Hongmen members from mainland China, were instrumental in the foundation of chapters in Cuba, the Philippines, northwest Mexico, Jamaica, South Africa, New Zealand, and probably British Columbia.24 At the same time, some of the other Hongmen chapters that had been founded in Canada, Australia, and the U.S. West changed their name to Chee Kung Tong or adopted the name Chinese Masonic Society.25

By the end of the nineteenth century, these isolated chapters began to form regional networks that developed not only outside of the purview of China, but also even of San Francisco. One example is British Columbia. The chapter in Barkerville, British Columbia, led to chapters in New Westminster, Victoria, and eventually Vancouver. By the end of the nineteenth century, these disparate Canadian chapters would unite into one network, with twenty lodges and as many as two hundred thousand members, oriented toward its regional headquarters in Victoria.26 Southern Africa provides another example. When a new lodge building was inaugurated in Johannesburg in 1919 with a lavish opening ceremony, it was attended by Chee Kung Tong members coming from Lourenço Marques, Mozambique (present-day Maputo).27 Similar networks were built in northern Mexico, Australia, Hawai‘i, and Oceania.28

Globally, the name of these Cantonese branches was unified under “Chee Kung Tong,” or Chinese Freemasons, by 1918. Chapters around the world adopted the Masonic square and compass in the logo of the organization (figs. 2 and 3). The term Chinese Freemasons dates from the mid-nineteenth century European examinations of the Hongmen organizations in Southeast Asia, and the belief that they had a lot in common with the Masons or could even belong to the same mystical order. It is doubtful that the Chee Kung Tong believed that their rituals were the same as their Western counterparts or that they were derived from a similar mysticism, but they appear to have nevertheless leapt at the chance to legitimize their organization in Western eyes, opting to call themselves Chinese Freemasons in English in 1918 and forming ties with European Masonic organizations around the Pacific.29 Two representatives of the San Francisco headquarters explained the Freemasons name when visiting the Victoria chapter, noting that the Chee Kung Tong since its inception followed the model of what it called the “Western [version of the Hongmen] Yixinghui” (西人義興會) as “its aims were just and honorable.”30 Sun Johnson, a member of the Chee Kung Tong across the Pacific Ocean in Sydney, expressed the same view.31

Figure 2.

Chee Kung Tong at 36 Spofford Alley, San Francisco. Until 1930, this building was the global headquarters of the organization. Note the term “Chinese Freemasons” on the second floor and the use of the compass and ruler above the door and atop the flagpole. Source: “Chinese Freemasons Hall with horse and carriage, San Francisco,” Oliver Family Photograph Collections, Bancroft Library.

Figure 2.

Chee Kung Tong at 36 Spofford Alley, San Francisco. Until 1930, this building was the global headquarters of the organization. Note the term “Chinese Freemasons” on the second floor and the use of the compass and ruler above the door and atop the flagpole. Source: “Chinese Freemasons Hall with horse and carriage, San Francisco,” Oliver Family Photograph Collections, Bancroft Library.

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Figure 3.

Wellington, New Zealand Chinese Masonic Society (Chee Kung Tong), 23 Frederick Street. The top of the building displays faint traces of the Masonic ruler and compass and the words “The Wellington Chinese Masonic Society Incorporated.” Source: Photo by author.

Figure 3.

Wellington, New Zealand Chinese Masonic Society (Chee Kung Tong), 23 Frederick Street. The top of the building displays faint traces of the Masonic ruler and compass and the words “The Wellington Chinese Masonic Society Incorporated.” Source: Photo by author.

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Although it seems strange at first glance, the use of the word “Masonic” points to the ways in which the Chee Kung Tong innovated from the Hongmen traditions it inherited from southern China and made itself translatable in particular ways to the white settler and mestizo societies outside of China. John Fitzgerald notes that, like its counterparts in New Zealand and California, through the adoption of the name Masonic “it sought recognition of the rightful place of a Chinese community organization in a European settler country and it sought acknowledgement that the working men of the Hung League were no less decent than the Chinese Australians who looked down on them.”32 In this sense, the adoption of the term “Chinese Freemasons” fits in with the story of other racial and religious minorities in, for example, the United States, where members “employed elements of Freemasonry to navigate their way through a largely European American society” and “adapted its resources to their particular needs and desires.”33

Not all Cantonese Hongmen lodges adopted the name Chee Kung Tong or joined its network. Some split off but were either closely allied or overlapped membership lists with the Chee Kung Tong.34 One is the On Leong Tang (安良堂), founded in 1894. The On Leong Tang was composed of former and current members of the Chee Kung Tong and largely organized Chinese in the eastern half of the United States, including chapters in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Detroit, and Pittsburgh.35 In Canada, the Dart Coon Club (達權社) was similarly close to the Chee Kung Tong and members sometimes overlapped between the two organizations.36 Other organizations split from the Chee Kung Tong either because they did not share its political mission or because they wished to engage more in gambling and racketeering. This included the Bing Kung Tong (秉公堂), established in 1874, as well as other Hongmen organizations.37 However, in most countries where the Chee Kung Tong had a presence, it was the only sworn brotherhood among the Cantonese diaspora.

It was not just that lodges were founded across the globe, but that in each location Chinese signed up enthusiastically to be members. Liang Qichao, who toured the United States during the first decade of the twentieth century, estimated that 70 to 90 percent of the Chinese in North America and Hawai‘i were members.38 What explains such a rapid growth? Some common factors emerge from the far-flung lodges.

One common factor was mutual aid and assistance, particularly in the often-hostile environments for Chinese migrants abroad. In doing so, they emulated an important function of Chinese associations throughout the diaspora. Rule books, whether they were printed in an English-language newspaper in Queensland, Australia in 1907, or the constitution of the Chee Kung Tong in the Americas in 1923, mandated mutual aid. Article five of the latter, for example, asked that members “guard rights, make travel convenient, suggest jobs, give aid to the sick, provide for the aged, prepare for burial, care for the young, entrust wives and children to one another, mediate disputes, and rectify education.”39 With the unstable labor environment for Chinese migrants in the late nineteenth century, jobs were also of course a pressing need. The ability of Chee Kung Tong members to facilitate labor for each other, as well as the existence of pooled resources to provide credit for startup capital, certainly made membership in the group desirable.40 Sometimes mutual aid was interpreted rather broadly and was used to sponsor festivals, including Chinese New Year, Qingmingjie (Tomb Sweeping Festival), and an annual festival for its founder, Chen Jinnan. Mutual aid funds also sponsored basketball teams, soccer teams, beauty pageants, lion dancing troupes, English courses for the migrants and Chinese classes for their children, and bands, and all of which helped create a sense of community among members.41

This sense of mutual aid started with the provision of a space for migrants to take refuge. In Barkerville, British Columbia, new arrivals could stay in the lodge house until they found a place to stay, as long as they did their part in the chores, like chopping wood, while older Chinese could find in the Barkerville lodge a place to spend the winter.42 If a member moved long distances, say to return to China from his place of residence, or because he may have been displaced by racist violence, an introductory letter would allow him to take up residence and obtain employment in a new location. Itinerant Chinese laborers such as loggers, miners, and railroad workers would have been very mobile, leading to the importance of these kinds of houses.43 Additionally, lodges provided alternatives for travelers who could not stay in white hotels. When Chinese entered into advanced age, they could become caretakers of lodge houses or stay in them, as they did in the Hawai‘i chapter.44

Lodge houses also provided for nonmembers. One outside observer noted that in Australia the Chee Kung Tong “do[es] a very good work in helping the Chinese poor whether they belong to the order or not, any of whom can go to the hall, obtain a shakedown [a makeshift bed] at the adjacent offices, a place where they can cook their meals, and if they are very hard up food is supplied. No Chinaman need starve therefore where a Masonic Hall exists, a fact from which Europeans might take a hint.”45 In San Francisco an annual feast fed both members and nonmembers, including “penniless” Chinese displaced by anti-Chinese agitation.46

It is important to note here the significant effect that such a safety net might have during the anti-Chinese campaigns. As Beth Lew-Williams notes, massacres like the one that took place in Rock Springs, Wyoming, in 1885 and expulsions, like the one that took place in Tacoma, Washington in the same year, could threaten Chinese residents, even longtime ones, with the sudden loss of livelihood or even with death. These campaigns were pervasive—Lew-Williams counted over 160 attempted expulsions in the U.S. West over a two-year period. Lodge houses might have the effect of softening the blow of expulsions and allowing migrants to be able to start new lives by relying on brethren in new locations.47 It also meant that the organization’s campaigns against “bullying and humiliation by hooligans, policemen, and immigration officers,” spoke directly to issues that Cantonese migrants cared about.48

In addition to the threat of anti-Chinese violence, funerals were also a pressing need, as migrants tended to be disconnected from family members while abroad. If at all possible, migrants preferred to die in China, or failing that to have their bones shipped back.49 Not all migrants had the resources to return their bones to their ancestral home, however, or potentially even the resources to be buried in the first place. As a result, Chee Kung Tong funerals could provide the dead with a family to mourn them and a final resting place in their land of settlement. A crypt like the one which still exists in Chinese cemetery in Havana, held the bones of generations of brothers and ensured that the dead continued to be cared for well after their funerals, particularly during festivals like Qingmingjie.50 Masonic funerals, which were often reported on in English-language newspapers, were occasionally lavish. Particularly lavish was the funeral of John Moy Sing (梅東星), the district grand master of the Australian Chee Kung Tong for over six decades and the member largely responsible the organization’s expansion in that country.51 A procession estimated to be “a quarter of a mile long” left the lodge into central Sydney. Mourners wearing black and red arm bands, some marching in groups of three, and two brass bands, one at the front and one at the back, both playing Dead March in Saul by Handel, flanked the hearse which was pulled by six horses. They marched to Sydney’s Central Railway Station before taking a train to Rookwood Cemetery, where the body was buried with Masonic honors. As if that was not enough, funerals for Moy Sing were also staged across Australia as a sign of respect. In Brisbane, for example, two hundred mourners gathered at their lodge to honor Moy Sing, forming a procession to walk to the local cemetery, including a European brass band along the route. The mourners had no body. Instead members carried a large, framed photograph of Moy Sing along with flowers. These ceremonies, like other funerals, had European spectators both along the route of the procession as well as at the cemeteries, and were translated into English so that curious onlookers would understand what was happening.52 Although Chinese funerals could feature Chinese instruments like gongs, drums, and cymbals, they could also incorporate European bands as in Moy Sing’s funeral.

Mutual aid and creating community could also slip into more nefarious activities. One of course was opium, which detractors of the organization never failed to mention. One oral history suggests that members of the Chee Kung Tong in England participated in both the practice and trade of opium.53 Among the items excavated in the former Chee Kung Tong lodges in both Barkerville, British Columbia, and Tucson, Arizona, appears to be several opium pipes and other paraphernalia: for Barkerville this included “400 opium related artifacts including pipe bowls, smoking lamps, pipe fittings, opium needles and opium cans.”54 As Elizabeth Sinn points out, “opium smoking was pervasive among Chinese emigrants to California,” and it fulfilled several functions: as both a medicine to alleviate pain and cure diseases and “as a form of social lubricant, a source of deep comfort” utilized in many social clubs and associations beyond the Chee Kung Tong.55 Excavation of the Barkerville and Tucson lodges also found evidence of gambling, including the rules for “fan-tan, dominos, and playing cards.”56 To raise money, the brotherhood may have also relied on immigrant smuggling. The Chee Kung Tong helped smuggle migrants into the United States in defiance of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which prohibited the immigration of non-exempt Chinese migrants until 1943; those who entered the United States without proper authorization were as a result more likely to join the Chee Kung Tong.57 Finally, there are scattered references to the Chee Kung Tong having tong “soldiers” or “warriors” to fight their battles for them, and activities like extortion and blackmail.58 These activities all deserve further study, and sources are understandably difficult to come by. Nevertheless, most Chee Kung Tong activities were above ground and public. Overall, as concluded by Manying Ip, “All evidences point to the fact that they were paternalistic, protective, and conciliatory rather than bullying and extortionate.”59

Throughout the early twentieth century, the Chee Kung Tong formed a network linking chapters scattered throughout the Cantonese diaspora. This pattern was a marked difference from similar Hongmen societies in mainland China and Southeast Asia. In these latter regions, the association spread organically. Members saw each other as part of the same fictive family through acceptance of the same ritual and knew how to recognize each other through commonly accepted symbols. However, they did not experience the sustained contact with other chapters that happened in the Americas, for example the constitutions chapters promulgated, the newspapers they published, and the conventions they celebrated. These innovations came about for two reasons. First, the Chee Kung Tong was marked by its time in the United States, able to operate freely without fear of persecution, and able to see several examples of social organizations, such as white Masonic organizations, that were similarly organized vertically. Second, the Chee Kung Tong was influenced by Chinese statesman Sun Yat-sen, who saw in the Chee Kung Tong network a vehicle to carry out his revolutionary goals of overthrowing the Qing dynasty. The 1904 constitution of the Chee Kung Tong, which Sun helped write, was a major step in this direction, promising the democratic election of Chee Kung Tong lodge leaders and organizing branches into regional and national branches, with a global headquarters in San Francisco. After 1904, new initiates paid dues to their local chapters, the regional headquarters, and to San Francisco.60 Taking a page from Sun, the San Francisco chapter financed trips for some members, such as Wong Sam Ark and Chiu Yuk, to far-flung locations in the diaspora to establish new chapters or maintain contact with fellow brothers. The result was a large organization spread across a considerable geographic space with considerable financial resources. This ordered hierarchy was not seen among sworn brotherhoods elsewhere in the Chinese diaspora.61

Newspapers were very important in sustaining the Chee Kung Tong’s global network. The Chee Kung Tong saw newspapers as providing an avenue for the circulation of ideas among chapters and for the education and politicization of its members. By 1918, there were four Chee Kung Tong newspapers in circulation: the Vancouver Chinese Times/Tai Hon Yat Bo (大同日報), the San Francisco Chinese Republic Journal 中華民國公報 (later 公論晨報), the Honolulu Hon Mun Bo (漢民報), and the New York Chinese Republic News (民國公報) (fig. 4). A Havana newspaper, Hoy Men Kong Po (開明公報) was established in 1922. In Toronto, Hung Chung Po (洪鐘報) began publication in 1926. In Peru, La Voz de la Colonia China (公言報) circulated information among its members, as did the Mexico City Kong Po (墨國公報) and the Tampico Qiming Bao (啟明報). Thus, during the World War II, there were ten daily or monthly newspapers either put out or sympathetic to the Chee Kung Tong in the Americas, in addition to one in Hong Kong (the Xianggang Gongbao, 香港公報) and a brief run of the Shanghai Hongsheng (洪聲).62 Far-flung chapters published their news, membership lists, celebrations, contribution drives, and opinions in these newspapers, and at times engaged in heated debates with one another and with rivals like the Chinese Nationalist Party.63

Figure 4.

Notice on Chee Kung Tong newspapers in San Francisco, Vancouver, Honolulu, and New York. Source: “Hongmen Zhigongzongtang daibiaotuan qishi,” Dahan Gongbao April 24, 1918, page 3.

Figure 4.

Notice on Chee Kung Tong newspapers in San Francisco, Vancouver, Honolulu, and New York. Source: “Hongmen Zhigongzongtang daibiaotuan qishi,” Dahan Gongbao April 24, 1918, page 3.

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In addition to helping to document the existence of individual chapters these newspapers also demonstrate how local chapters made sense of local and regional tong affairs, how they concerned themselves with brethren in other countries, how they received visitors from far away and took care of their own, and how they interpreted multiple facets of their ideology in light of pressing issues of the twentieth century. Beginning with the Mexican Revolution, for example, the condition of brethren in Mexico appears to have been a constant concern for Chee Kung Tong members across the diaspora. Evidence suggests that the Chee Kung Tong was concerned as early as 1913 about the situation of Chinese migrants in Mexico. That year, Tong King-chong (唐瓊昌) of the San Francisco branch and publisher of the Chinese Free Press (大同日報), expressed concern about “the crisis in Mexico” and encouraged the government to take a more proactive role to protect Chinese lives and properties.64 During Mexico’s so-called Tong Wars of the 1920s, when three hundred Chinese in Sonora and Sinaloa were detained and marked for deportation, the Chee Kung Tong appealed directly to Sun Yat-sen to intercede, but the latter apparently refused. The Chee Kung Tong later cited that refusal as one of the reasons for expelling him in 1923.65

While information circulated via the publication of newspapers, members also met one another and exchanged ideas, particularly during conventions which brought representatives of local chapters together. These conventions could either be national, regional, or essentially global, and provided opportunities for members to discuss their organization and views on transnational politics.66 The first major convention took place in 1918 in San Francisco, with approximately thirty representatives from chapters around the Americas who revised the Chee Kung Tong constitution and planned for the establishment of a temple to the Five Ancestors in Guangzhou.67 Within the United States, many chapters sent delegates to the convention. In rural Canada and much of Latin America, chapters responded with enthusiasm, but noted that the long distance and difficulties of travel made it difficult to send a delegate. Border controls also posed difficulties as the Monterrey, Mexico, delegate was turned away at the U.S.-Mexico border.68 These initial difficulties point to the “power asymmetry” of status and influence that is a feature of transnational migrant networks.69 Perhaps because of this problem, conventions were not necessarily based in the United States. The convention in the Americas rotated by country every two or three years, and future conventions appear to have been better attended.70 Once they finished, Chee Kung Tong newspapers published detailed reports on the speeches and resolutions presented there, so that members who could not attend could learn of what was happening. Conventions were not secret, and they were reported in English- and Spanish-language newspapers, although these papers did not know a lot about the conventions’ agendas. For example, a journalist from Hermosillo, Sonora’s El Pueblo reported on a convention taking place in Hermosillo but confessed not knowing what the delegates would discuss there.71 Similarly, Brisbane’s The Week reported on a 1922 convention in Melbourne featuring fireworks and a banquet; the convention organizers invited several white guests, some of whom were Masons. The reporter, either because he did not understand the speeches or did not find them interesting, focused on the exotic dishes served during the banquet.72

Individuals also circulated among various chapters, meeting other members as part of various fundraising campaigns. Major leaders like Wong Sam Duck (also written Wong Sam Ark) and Situ Meitang crisscrossed the Americas moving from chapter to chapter, seeking to unite the Chee Kung Tong behind larger, primarily political, causes—and less wealthy and prominent members also sometimes traveled for these campaigns.73

One fundraising effort that was truly a global one was the construction of the Five Ancestor Temple (五祖祠), a building that allowed the organization to have a foothold in China and provided housing for members returning to China from abroad (fig. 5). The Five Ancestors refer to the organization’s founding myth in which the Shaolin temple was destroyed and five survivors resolved to overthrow the Qing and restore the Ming. Initially conceived during the first convention in 1918, the fundraising effort began in earnest in 1920 and sought donations from around the diaspora. The campaign began in 1920, when the leader of the Chee Kung Tong in San Francisco, Wong Sam Duck, penned several fundraising letters to brethren in Canada.74 In August of the same year, the San Francisco headquarters dispatched two men named Wong (Huang Shigong; 黄石公) and Ng (Wu Zinan; 伍梓南), to help with fundraising. Over the next five months, in each lodge Wong and Ng visited—beginning in Victoria, winding through British Columbia, and ultimately going as far as Toronto and Montreal—the men were warmly welcomed and donations were collected.75 Other members were dispatched to travel through the United States, Australasia, Hawai‘i, Jamaica, Cuba, and other regions, collecting at least 200,000 pounds for the project.

Figure 5.

Initial plans for the Five-Ancestor Temple in Guangzhou, 1918. “Jianli Guangzhou Zhigongtang Wuzu xianlieci quanjuan lüqi,” Dahan Gongbao.

Figure 5.

Initial plans for the Five-Ancestor Temple in Guangzhou, 1918. “Jianli Guangzhou Zhigongtang Wuzu xianlieci quanjuan lüqi,” Dahan Gongbao.

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Initially, Chee Kung Tong planned to build the temple in Guangzhou, close to the sending communities of Cantonese migrants.76 But because the organization ran into political problems in Guangzhou, the temple was ultimately built in Shanghai, in 1925. Each region sent delegates to help oversee the construction.77 Once the temple was completed, congratulations poured in from far-flung locations—Havana, Cuba; Yeoville, South Africa; Liverpool and Cardiff, United Kingdom; Kingston, Jamaica; and Lourenço Marques, Mozambique—and members celebrated around the world. Thus, the effort to build the Five Ancestor Temple shows how members separated by long distances could nevertheless collaborate on important transnational causes, and how sustained contact with one another helped create a transnational sense of community between lodges.

Looking at the Chee Kung Tong from a global perspective allows us to identify instances of cooperation among international chapters, which demonstrates that some of the common assumptions about sworn brotherhoods like the Chee Kung Tong are inaccurate. One is the tendency among scholars to refer to these organizations as secret societies. Indeed, the activities mentioned thus far—the opening ceremonies for lodges, the large public buildings, the open funeral ceremonies—seem far from secret. Being a secret society would have made sense in China, since Chee Kung Tung was fundamentally against the Qing monarchy, or in the Straits Settlements of Southeast Asia, where the organization was banned by 1890, but not in the settler societies of the Americas or the Pacific, where they were just another Chinese association and viewed no more or less suspiciously than any of the others.78

In actuality, the Chee Kung Tong appears to have taken great pains to show itself as an open organization. For example, the Chee Kung Tong often notified the government of the list of its executive officers, as the Tampico lodge did, or published them in local or national newspapers.79 Individual members themselves could carry around identification cards documenting their status as members of the organization. Sometimes membership lists were even published in the local newspaper.80 These documents demonstrate that the Chee Kung Tong, in the words of Cai Shaoqing, “had by now completely escaped from its clandestine past, and its history as a secret society had come to an end.”81

Nor was the Chee Kung Tong kept at a distance from white society, a part of the common trope heard around the world that the Chinese refuse to integrate into local communities. Mutual aid activities and donations were not limited to members or to Chinese. In Wellington, New Zealand, the local Chee Kung Tong branch donated money to the local hospital in gratitude for treating its members. They also participated in larger civic functions. In Tuscarora, Nevada, the Chee Kung Tong band “always greeted the local sports team whenever they returned from a winning game and also played during American celebrations such as the Fourth of July.”82 Lavish events like initiations or new lodge openings tended to invite prominent nonmember Chinese and even white or mestizo guests. The 1919 all-Canada convention invited ten white guests, including the judge and the chief of the post office.83 English newspapers reported frequently on the public portions of initiations, during which lodge houses could be open to outsiders and even included reports of lectures in English on the history of the organization. Even the private rituals like the initiations of the sort that began the article occasionally had law enforcement “present to preserve order,” as observed by the city editor of the Santa Cruz Daily Sentinel, Zacha Barnet, in 1884.84

Additionally, though I cannot verify the accuracy of R. Church Williams’s article in the San Francisco Call, whites do appear to have joined the organization in small numbers in the Americas, Southeast Asia, and Oceania during the first few decades. The obituary of T.N. Baker, for example, a retired dentist in Wellington, New Zealand, described him as having been a secretary for the Chinese Masonic Society, fluent in Chinese despite having never been to China.85 In Hawai‘i at the turn of the century, a “part-Hawaiian” sugar boiler was inducted into the organization and then served as an intermediary with white authorities, personally leading the governor on a tour of five Chee Kung Tong chapters in Kauai—at Hanalei, Kapaia, Kapa‘a, Lawai, and Hanapepe. As a result, the governor dropped his hostile actions against the five lodges. The boiler had a similar argument as R. Church Williams who began this article: “in cases where the Chinese are in trouble with other races, they need someone who knows English.”86 This reasoning suggests that the organizations, far from secret, may have been seen as rather a public face of the Chinese community, as a vehicle of legitimation or at least of pride. To that end, community outsiders could serve as useful bridges between the membership and local authorities.

Finally, a transnational examination of the Chee Kung Tong’s activities challenges a literature which has seen its political activities as either marginal or temporary. The strength of the network gave the organization and its leaders considerable political power, and its political activities strengthened the network and gave it purpose. For this reason, the Chee Kung Tong is best known as the supporters of Sun Yat-sen and the 1911 Xinhai Revolution. Seeing the existence of the Chee Kung Tong network and the potential for contributions, Sun joined the organization in Hawai‘i and then traveled along Chee Kung Tong chapters in the United States and Canada in 1904 and 1911, one of the kinds of circulations along the Hongmen network.87 Sun appealed to the Chee Kung Tong’s mythology calling for the overthrow of the Qing dynasty (1644–1912) and the restoration of the Ming dynasty (反清復明), and thus found a good reception. The Chee Kung Tong supported the Tongmenghui, the underground resistance movement established by Sun Yat-sen, enthusiastically. For example, the Victoria branch put a mortgage on its lodge house for $15,000 to support Sun.88 But after 1911, the scholarship argues, organizations like the Chee Kung Tong were seen as not compatible with a modernizing, republican China—it was too backward, too feudal, and lacked a political ideology. Some made the argument that after 1911 the Chee Kung Tong’s mandate was finished—it had been successful and overthrown the Qing—and that this inherently weakened the organization, leading to their ultimate decline.89

Explaining the participation of Chee Kung Tong chapters in terms of its anti-Qing ideology masks a political vision which by 1911 had abandoned Ming restorationism and embraced republicanism. Tong King Chong, reflecting on the cruel tyranny of the Qing dynasty, argued, “There is only one solution to the problem. China must be a republic. Whenever a great people has become tired of tyranny and oppression the only cure for their trouble has been a republic. It was so with France, it was so with the United States, it was so with China.”90 Australian James A. Chuey in this decade also praised the “democratic spirit” of China’s new constitution.91 Accounts of the celebrations of the success of the Xinhai Revolution in San Francisco and elsewhere noted that those gathered, including the Chee Kung Tong, wore western dress and played western songs, including “My Country Tis of Thee,” “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and even “Dixie.”92 Just a few weeks later, the president of the Chee Kung Tong, Wong Sam Duck, toured the state of California polling Chinese as to their preference for president of China, including a mock election and the equivalent of political campaigns, all held within the diaspora. As the Sacramento Union noted, with a bit of exaggeration, “It is determined that the Chinese Masons are playing a big role in paving the way for a greater China and have practically taken upon themselves the task of naming the first president-to-be.”93 These activities had power and influence precisely because of the network that the Chee Kung Tong had built over the course of the nineteenth century, and political activities had the effect of sustaining and strengthening the ties between lodge houses. These political activities were public and noted among English- and Spanish-speaking local residents, explaining explicitly the relationship between the Chee Kung Tong and transnational politics.94 For example, the Havana, Cuba, El Mundo explained, in an article on the inauguration of a new Chee Kung Tong lodge, that Masons like the Chee Kung Tong were responsible, “in large part, [for] the progress obtained by the Celestial Empire.” The lodge flew the “Chinese rebel flag,” presumably the five-colored flag of the Republic of China, and it only admitted members who cut off their queues—a hairstyle change meant to signify a break with the Qing dynasty.95

Furthermore, this narrative of decline and irrelevance masks the ways in which the Chee Kung Tong remained “permanently politicized” after 1911.96 Political engagement continued even as the Chee Kung Tong’s relationship with Sun soured. When Chinese politics devolved into dictatorship under Yuan Shikai, the Chee Kung Tong took the lead in the anti-Yuan movement, and this allowed the organization to come out even more into the open. Leaders like Wong Sam Duck toured Central and South America hoping to organize Chinese, and they lobbied U.S. President Woodrow Wilson to withhold recognition of the Yuan Shikai government.97 Chee Kung Tong members also returned to China hoping to influence that country’s politics. Tong King Chong returned to serve as a senator in 1913, ultimately leaving the country due to his opposition to the Yuan monarchy. Once he returned to California, he reported on the anti-Yuan movement for California newspapers.98 After Yuan was defeated, the Chee Kung Tong turned its attention to what it called the party-dictatorship of the Chinese Nationalist Party.99 For much of the twentieth century, it sought to register as a political party within China, which would serve as a political connection between mainland China and the diaspora. Indeed, the Chee Kung Tong is a precursor of the current China Zhigong Party (中國致公黨), one of the minor parties in the People’s Republic of China.

The fact that the Chee Kung Tong was a network and not a series of isolated chapters meant that political questions reverberated throughout the global membership. For example, the mid-1920s witnessed increased rivalry and competition between the Chee Kung Tong and the Chinese Nationalist Party, which grew to contest its supremacy in Chinatowns across the world. While only really exploding into open violence in Mexico, the evidence suggests episodes of conflict in Cuba, Australia, and Canada as well.100 As late as 1929 the Chee Kung Tong in Cuba, Canada, Mexico, and the United States refused to recognize the flag of the Republic of China, preferring instead to fly the Five Color Flag; a 1930 convention established the Five Color Flag as the flag for the Chee Kung Tong in North and South America.101 The emergence of the Second-Sino Japanese War would once again lead to a sustained contribution drive among Chee Kung Tong members, which was not only a reflexive response to China’s call for aid, but rather a way to make a claim to the postwar Chinese state.102 Initially, during the Cold War, chapters around the Americas changed their name to Minzhidang (民治黨), a name that many still retain, indicating their wish to navigate between the Chinese Communist and Nationalist camps.

In conclusion, looking at the Chee Kung Tong from a global and diasporic perspective reveals a vibrant political and social organization which organized for its own mutual aid and assistance, for greater rootedness in their own communities, and for a voice in local and transnational affairs. Though it shares functions with other mutual aid organizations like the Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) and huiguan which have received greater study, the circulations of people and ideas between lodges sustained links between distant members as well as between the Cantonese diaspora and China. Using newspaper sources written by Chee Kung Tong members themselves reveals a dramatically different perspective of the sworn brotherhood and challenges stereotypes of the Chinese throughout the world as criminal, pernicious, and unassimilable.


R. Church Williams, “Have Sworn to Destroy the Rulers of China” San Francisco Call, January 9, 1898.




See W.P. Morgan, Triad Societies in Hong Kong (Hong Kong: Government Press, 1960); Mervyn Llewelyn Wynne, Triad and Tabut: A Survey of the Origin and Diffusion of Chinese and Mohammedan Secret Societies in the Malay Peninsula, A.D. 18001935 (First published 1941, reprinted by Routledge in 2000); J.S.M. Ward and W.G. Stirling, The Hung-Society or The Society of Heaven and Earth (First published 1925–26, reprinted by Routledge in 2000).


The Hongmen Society (also known as the Hung League) developed in southern China and spread from there among overseas Chinese communities in Southeast Asia, the Americas, and further afield. It includes the Three Dots and Three Harmonies Societies (三點會 and 三合會), the Heaven and Earth Society (天地會), and the Gee Hing Company (義興公司). For more on the origins of these societies, see Dian Murray, The Origins of the Tiandihui: The Chinese Triads in Legend and History (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994).


These include Floyd Cheung, “Performing Exclusion and Resistance: Anti-Chinese League and Chee Kung Tong Parades in Territorial Arizona,” TDR: The Drama Review 46, no. 1 (2002), 39–59; Sue Fawn Chung, “The Zhigongtang in the United States, 1860–1949” in Empire, Nation, and Beyond: Chinese History in Late Imperial and Modern Times—A Festschrift in Honor of Frederic Wakeman, eds. Joseph W. Esherick, Wen-hsin Yeh and Madeline Zelin (Berkeley: Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, 2006); Chuimei Ho and Bennet Bronson, “The Chee Kung Tong: A Chinese Secret Society in Tucson, 1880–1940” Journal of Arizona History 59, no. 1 (2018): 1–29.


Manying Ip, “The New Zealand Chee Kung Tong (1907–1975)—Sworn Brotherhood or Political Society?” (Unpublished Paper, NZASIA Conference, August 1991), 1; Chia-ling Kuo, “Voluntary Associations and Social Change in New York Chinatown” (Ph.D., New York University, 1975), accessed December 28, 2017,, 56.


Shelly Chan, Diaspora’s Homeland: Modern China in the Age of Global Migration (Durham: Duke University Press, 2018).


Adam McKeown, “Conceptualizing Chinese Diasporas, 1842 to 1949,” The Journal of Asian Studies 58, no. 2 (1999): 317.


See Stacy D. Fahrenthold, Between the Ottomans and the Entente: The First World War in the Syrian and Lebanese Diaspora, 1908–1925 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2021); Elliott Young, Alien Nation: Chinese Migration in the Americas from the Coolie Era through World War II (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014); Robert Chao Romero, The Chinese in Mexico, 1882–1940 (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2011); Lily Pearl Balloffet, Argentina in the Global Middle East (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2020).


McKeown, “Conceptualizing Chinese Diasporas,” 320.


Murray, The Origins of the Tiandihui, 177; Dian Murray, “Migration, Protection, and Racketeering: The Spread of the Tiandihui within China” in “Secret Societies” Reconsidered: Perspectives on the Social History of Modern South China and Southeast Asia, David Ownby and Mary Somers Heidhues eds. (London: Routledge 2016).


Murray, The Origins of the Tiandihui, 178. On Hongmen mythology, see B.J. ter Haar, Ritual and Mythology of the Chinese Triads: Creating an Identity (Leiden: Brill, 2000).


For an example from California, see “Hong Shun Tong Manuscript, 1886,”


For Sydney and Wellington, see Doris Chung Collection, Material Relating to the Chee Kung Tong (Chinese Masonic Society), 90-246-2, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. For Victoria, British Columbia, see Chan Quan, Membership Card of Gee Kung Tong, Victoria, Box 10, Chinese Canadian Research Collection, University of British Columbia Archives.


Flag of Wellington Branch, Hung Shun Tong 2nd Lodge of the Hung League. [ca 1925–1946], Alexander Turnbull Library,; Florence C. Lister and Robert H. Lister, The Chinese of Early Tucson: Historic Archaeology from the Tucson Urban Renewal Project. Anthropological Papers of the University of Arizona Number 52 (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1989), 94.


Henry Yu, “Mountains of Gold: Canada, North America, and the Cantonese Pacific” in Routledge Handbook of the Chinese Diaspora ed. Chee-Beng Tan (Routledge, 2018).


Sue Fawn Chung, “A Preliminary Study of the Zhigongtang in Nevada and Arizona,” (Draft, Him Mark Lai Research Files, UC Berkeley Asian American Studies Library, AAS ARC 2000–80, Carton 94, Folder 29), 3. In Hongmen mythology, five monks survived a massacre of the Shaolin temple (the Five Ancestors) and then fanned out across China to spread the organization. One monk set up the Hong Shun Tang in Guangdong province, which is why the name Hong Shun Tang is sometimes used by Hongmen brotherhoods in the Cantonese diaspora.


On California, see Li Quanen (David Chuenyan Lai), Hongmen ji Jianada hongmen shilun (Hong Kong: Shangwu yinshu guan, 2015), 82. On British Columbia, see Li, Hongmen ji Jianada hongmen shilun, 78–85; and Liu Kai, “Minguo shiqi Jianada Hongmen yanjiu” (1912–1946) (M.A. thesis, Jinan University, 2013), 9–11. On Australia, see John Fitzgerald, “Revolution and Respectability: Chinese Masons in Australian History,” in Connected Worlds: History in Transnational Perspective, ed. Ann Curthoys and Marilyn Lake (ANU Press, 2005), 95–96.


Chung, “A Preliminary Study of the Zhigongtang in Nevada and Arizona,” 3; Li, Hongmen ji Jianada Hongmen shilun, 86–87.


Kathleen López, Chinese Cubans: A Transnational History (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013), 179; No author, “Fraternal Societies: Chinese Free Masons in Existence 90 Years” in The Chinese in Hawaii: A Historical Sketch, ed. Robert M. Lee (Honolulu: Advertiser Publishing Company, 1961), 83. The Chee Kung Tong was organized formally there in 1892, although it claims to have a history in Hawai‘i as early as 1871. Also see Clarence Glick, Sojourners and Settlers: Chinese Migrants in Hawaii (Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii, 1980).


Gregor Benton and Edmund Terence Gomez, The Chinese in Britain, 1800–Present: Economy, Transnationalism, Identity (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 156. In the twentieth century, it appears that Chinese sailors brought the organization to Rotterdam. “Helan Lüdadan zhigongfentang tonggao” Minguo Gongbao (New York) February 14, 1925.


Ip, “The New Zealand Chee Kung Tong”; Anne-Christine Trémon, Chinois en Polynésie Française: Migration, Métissage, Diaspora (Nanterre: Publications de la Société d’ethnologie, 2011).


On Costa Rica, see Moises Guillermo Leon Azofeifa, “Chinese Immigrants on the Atlantic Coast of Costa Rica: The Economic Adaptation of an Asian Minority in a Pluralistic Society” (Ph.D. diss., Tulane University, 1987), 194–96. Some chapters are documented only by notices placed in Chee Kung Tong newspapers in Vancouver and New York. See “Qianlida zhigongtang bugao” Minguo Gongbao, April 2, 1921 (Trinidad); “Jianmeijiabu zhigongtang gongzhu jiqing” Minguo Gongbao, October 14, 1922 (Jamaica); “Zhigongtang xiaoxi: Meizhou Guajing Wadimala fang han yun” Dahan Gongbao March 27, 1918, 2 (Guatemala). A list of delegates to the 1918 convention mentions delegates representing Panama and Peru. “Zhigongtang xiaoxi: gebu zhigongtang paifu Hongmen kenqinhui daibiao yi lanbiao” Dahan Gongbao April 4, 1918, 2–3.


For the role of San Francisco Hongmen members in northern Mexico, see José Luis Chong, “‘Chinos masones.’ La logia Chee Kung Tong 致公堂 en México,” REHMLAC+ 7, no. 1 (2015), 145. On British Columbia, see Ying-ying Chen, “In the Colonies of the Tang: Historical Archaeology of Chinese Communities in the North Cariboo District, British Columbia (1860s–1940s)” (PhD diss., Simon Fraser University, 2001), accessed September 2, 2018, page 17. Chinben See noted that Cantonese Americans helped bring Hongmen to the Philippines. Chinben See, “Chinese Organizations and Ethnic Identity in the Philippines” in Changing Identities of the Southeast Asian Chinese Since World War II, ed. Jennifer Cushman and Wang Gungwu (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1988), page 320. On Cuba, see“Hong Men Min Chih Tang de Cuba, historia y presente de una sociedad centenaria,” in Huellas de China en este lado del Atlántico, ed. Mitzi Espinoza Luis, (Havana: Editorial José Martí, 2016), 33.


John Fitzgerald notes that “[d]espite these changes to its formal Chinese designation, the organization retained its informal titles of Hung Men and Yee Hing in colloquial Chinese parlance and retained its formal English title of Chinese Masonic Society without interruption.” Fitzgerald, “Revolution and Respectability,” 95–96.


Qin Baoqi, Hongmen zhen shi (Fuzhou: Fujian renmin chubanshe, 2000), 336. For a table of foundation dates of Canadian Chee Kung Tong (and Dart Coon Club) chapters, see Li, Hongmen ji Jianada Hongmen shilun, 160–63.


Melanie Yap and Dianne Leong Man, Colour, Confusion and Concessions: The History of the Chinese in South Africa (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1997), 237.


There were twenty-three lodges in Hawai‘i, for example. Clarence Glick, “Transition from Familism to Nationalism Among Chinese in Hawaii,” American Journal of Sociology 43, no. 5 (1938): 738. For a list of over one hundred Mexican chapters in twenty Mexican states in 1923, see Fredy Enrique Cauich Carrillo, “La asociación masónica Chee Kung Tong y la comunidad china en la Ciudad de México (1890–1943) (M.A. thesis, UAM Iztapalapa, 2002), 153–55. On French Polynesia, see Anne-Christine Trémon, “From ‘Voluntary’ to ‘Truly Voluntary’ Associations: The Structure of the Chinese Community in French Polynesia, 1865–2005” Journal of Chinese Overseas 3, no. 1 (2007): 14. On the integration of the Australian branches, see Mei-Fen Kuo, Making Chinese Australia: Urban Elites, Newspapers and the Formation of Chinese-Australian Identity, 1892–1912 (Clayton: Monash University Publishing, 2018), 250.


For nineteenth-century discussions on the similarity between the two traditions, see Gustaaf Schlegel, Thian Ti Hui: The Hung-League or Heaven-Earth-League. A Secret Society with the Chinese in China and India (Batavia: Lange & Co. 1866). Both outside observers and Chee Kung Tong chapters in the Americas and Australia referred to them as Freemasons (or Free Masons) well before 1918, and the organization had ties to other Masonic organizations. See for example Stewart Culin, “Chinese Secret Societies in the United States,” The Journal of American Folklore 3, no. 8 (1890): 42–43; Cai Shaoqing, “On the Overseas Chinese Secret Societies of Australia,” New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies 4, no. 1 (June 2002): 43; C.F. Yong, The New Gold Mountain: The Chinese in Australia 1901–1921 (Richmond, Australia: Raphael Arts, 1977), 160; Cauich Carrillo, “La asociación masónica Chee Kung Tong y la comunidad china en la Ciudad de México,” 135–36; Fitzgerald, “Revolution and Respectability,” 90; David G. Hackett, That Religion in Which All Men Agree: Freemasonry in American Culture (Oakland: University of California Press, 2014), 3, 6.


“Zhigongzongtang kai huanyinghui zhi qingzhu” Dahan Gongbao, August 16, 1920, 3.


Kuo, Making Chinese Australia, 184.


Fitzgerald, “Revolution and Respectability,” 90.


Hackett, That Religion in Which All Men Agree, 3, 6.


The Chee Kung Tong in San Francisco argued that it still had “brotherly ties” with the On Leong Tang. “Meizhou jinshan zhigongzongtang lai han” Dongfang zazhi 20, no. 24 (1923): 86, Quanguo baokan suoyin database.


Hebei wenshi ziliao bianjibu, Jindai Zhongguo banghui neimu (Beijing: Qunzhong chubanshe, 1992), 153–54. According to Huping Ling, this split took place in 1894. Huping Ling, Chinese St. Louis: From Enclave to Cultural Community (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2004), 87.


On the formation of the Dart Coon Club, see Li, Hongmen ji Jianada Hongmen shilun, 132–39.


Chung, “A Preliminary Study of the Zhigongtang in Nevada and Arizona,” 3. The Bing Kung Tong also referred to itself as the Chinese Freemasons, although it was a separate organization.


L. Eve Armentrout Ma, Revolutionaries. Monarchists, and Chinatowns: Chinese Politics in the Americas and the 1911 Revolution (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2019), 24.


“Constitution of the Cheekungtong”, October 10, 1923, Simon Fraser University, Similar rules were published in “Chinese Secret Societies. The Melbourne Branches. The Ways of the Gee Hings.” Western Star and Roma Advertiser (Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia), 9 March 1907; Stanford M. Lyman, W.E. Willmott and Berching Ho, “Rules of a Chinese Secret Society in British Columbia,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 27, no. 3 (October 1964): 530–39.


Chung, “A Preliminary Study of the Zhigongtang in Nevada and Arizona,” 8.


Cauich Carrillo, “La Asociación Masónica Chee Kung Tong”; “Hardie Shaw Studios: Wellington Chee Kung Tong orchestra”; Aaron Chang Bohr, “Identity in Translation: Chinese Community Associations in Jamaica,” Caribbean Quarterly 50, no. 2 (June 2004): 65.


Norman Shields, “Report: Chee Kung Tong Building, Barkerville, British Columbia,” Journal of the Society for the Study of Architecture in Canada 33, no. 2 (2008): 62.


Chung, “A Preliminary Study of the Zhigongtang in Nevada and Arizona,” 3.


“Fraternal Societies: Chinese Free Masons in Existence 90 Years,” in Lee, The Chinese in Hawaii: A Historical Sketch, 83.


“Chinese Masonic Hall,” Moree Gwydir Examiner and General Advertiser (Moree, New South Wales, Australia), August 30, 1910, 3.


“Annual Feast of the Chee Kung Tongs,” The Morning Call (San Francisco), October 12, 1893, 8.


Beth Lew-Williams, The Chinese Must Go: Violence, Exclusion, and the Making of the Alien in America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2021), 114–25, 247–51.


Gregor Benton, “Chinese Transnationalism in Britain: A Longer History” Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power 10:3 (2003), 356.


David Chuenyan Lai, “The Chinese Cemetery in Victoria” BC Studies no. 75 (Autumn 1987): 27, 32. For more on the return shipment of bones, see Elizabeth Sinn, Pacific Crossing: California Gold, Chinese Migration, and the Making of Hong Kong (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2012), 265–70.


Lai, “The Chinese Cemetery in Victoria,” 28. See also Kok Hu Jin, Rookwood Cemetery, Sydney: Chinese Section 1: 1868–1920 (Bendigo, Victoria, Australia: Chinese Dragon Museum, 2004).


Before John Moy Sing’s death, he was reported to have spent two months a year visiting lodges in other parts of the country. “Chinese Masonic Society. Grand Master’s 81st Birthday.,” The Sun (Sydney, New South Wales), November 23, 1912, 1.


“Chinese Masonic Ceremony,” The Brisbane Courier, June 21, 1919, 4; “Chinese Masonic Funeral,” The Telegraph, June 21, 1919, 2; “Chinese Masons. Late Grandmaster’s Funeral,” Mudgee Guardian and North-Western Representative, July 3, 1919, 3. For scholarship on Chinese immigrant funerary rituals, see Sue Fawn Chung, “Between Two Worlds: The Zhigongtang and Chinese American Funerary Rituals” in The Chinese in America: A History from Gold Mountain to the New Millennium, ed. Susie Lan Cassel (Walnut Creek, Cal.: AltaMira Press, 2002).


Annie Lai, Bob Little, and Pippa Little, “Chinatown Annie: The East End Opium Trade 1920–35: The Story of a Woman Opium Dealer,” Oral History 14, no. 1 (1986): 18–30.


Shields, “Report: Chee Kung Tong Building, Barkerville, British Columbia,” 64; Lister and Lister, The Chinese of Early Tucson, 81–98.


Sinn, Pacific Crossing, 196.


Shields, “Report: Chee Kung Tong Building,” 64; Lister and Lister, The Chinese of Early Tucson, 74.


L. Eve Armentrout-Ma, “Urban Chinese at the Sinitic Frontier: Social Organizations in United States’ Chinatowns, 1849–1898” Modern Asian Studies 17, no. 1 (February 1983), 122.


See, for example, “Alleged Chinese Secret Society. Yee Hing Koong See. A Menace to the Community.” The Bendigo Independent (Bendigo, Victoria, Australia), 10 July 1899, 1; “The Proposed Chinese Club. Alleged Cloak for a Secret Society. A Possible Menace to the Community.” The West Australian (Perth, Western Australia, Australia), March 9, 1898, 6.


Ip, “The New Zealand Chee Kung Tong,” 27.


Ma, Revolutionaries, Monarchists, and Chinatowns, 95–99, 104–07; Shih-Shan Henry Tsai, “The Emergence of Early Chinese Nationalist Organizations in America,” Amerasia 8, no. 2 (1981): 136–40; “Minguo shiqi Jianada Hongmen yanjiu,” 21–22. The 1904 constitution and a statement explaining it can be found as “Zhigongtang chongding xinzhang yaoyi” Minbao no. 1–3 (1905–1906): 130–31 (Chinese numbering).


Jean Chesneaux notes that secret societies in nineteenth-century China, including the White Lotus in the north and the Hong Bang and Qing Bang in the south, were “very different from each other and only loosely related in any formal way, [but] these various groups shared a common set of traditions and a common ideological predisposition.” In Southeast Asia, sworn brotherhoods are often divided by dialect groups. Their variegated nature inhibited organization on any more than a local or regional level, let alone on a transnational level. Jean Chesneaux ed., Popular Movements and Secret Societies in China, 1840–1950 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1972), 5.


The Vancouver Chinese Times and parts of the Hung Chung Po have been digitized by Simon Fraser University, while some of the New York Chinese Republic News/Weekly is held by the Center for Research Libraries. The National Library of China and the Biblioteca José Martí in Havana have issues of the Hoy Men Kong Po. One issue of Hongsheng is on the online Quanguo baokan suoyin database. Isolated issues and partial runs of some of the others are held in research libraries in China and Taiwan and in university libraries across the United States.


Fredy González, Paisanos Chinos: Transpacific Politics among Chinese Immigrants in Mexico (Oakland: University of California Press, 2017), 23; Li, Hongmen ji Jianada Hongmen shilun, 140–47.


Tong King-Chong, “A Letter from Senator Tong King-Chong” The Republican Advocate Volume 2, Part 4, September 27, 1913, 1082–84. Newspapers continued to report on the status of Chinese Mexicans well before the anti-Chinese campaigns of the 1930s. In 1919, for example, the Chee Kung Tong newspaper in Vancouver reported on the harassment of Chinese in Sonora, Mexico. “Moguo Zhigongtang baogao paihua fengchao” Dahan Gongbao May 21, 1919, 2.


“Zhigongtang gechu Sun Wen dangji,” Tung Wah, January 13, 1923, 2,


A helpful list of Canadian, North and South American (Meizhou 美洲) and Global(Wuzhou 五洲) Chee Kung Tong conventions can be found in “Minguo shiqi Jiadada Hongmen yanjiu,” 15–16.


“Dabu Zhigongzongtang zhi Yunbu gongtang shu qi,” Dahan Gongbao, March 8, 1918, 2–3. On the Five Ancestors, see note 18.


“Zhigongtang xiaoxi” Dahan Gongbao, March 23, 1918, 2–3; Ibid, March 25, 1918, 2; Ibid, March 26, 1918, 3; Ibid, March 27, 1918, 2; Ibid, March 28, 1918, 2–3; “Gebu zhigongtang paifu Hongmen kenqinhui daibiao yi lanbiao,” Dahan Gongbao April 4, 1918 2–3.


Lok Siu, “Queen of the Chinese Colony: Gender, Nation, and Belonging in Diaspora,” Anthropological Quarterly 78, no. 3 (Summer 2005): 516.


“Duiyu nanbei meizhou chouban kenqinhui yijian shu,” Dahan Gongbao, May 8, 1930, front page; “Quanmei hongmen kenqin xuanqi wenti,” Dahan Gongbao, June 2, 1930.


“Habrá una convención china en Sonora. La están preparando en esta capital, miembros de la Chee Kung Tong,” El Tucsonense (Tucson, Arizona), January 3, 1925, front page.


“Chinese Feast. Masonic Society Function.,” The Week (Brisbane, Australia), May 12, 1922, 14,


Wong traveled with Sun raising funds in 1904. See Ma, Revolutionaries, Monarchists, and Chinatowns, 95–99, 137–39. For Wong’s memoirs on his travels with Sun, see Huang Sande, Hongmen geming shi (No place/publisher, 1936). On some of Situ Meitang’s travels, see Huiyi Situ Meitang laoren (Beijing: Zhongguo wenshi chubanshe, 1988), 66–67.


“Huang Sande zhi zhigongtang han,” Dahan Gongbao, March 25, 1920, 3; “Huang Sande shang zongtang shu,” Dahan Gongbao, June 18, 1920, 9.


“Huang Shigong zhi lüli ji qi renwu,” Dahan Gongbao, September 21, 1920, 2.


“Jianli Guangzhou zhigongtang wuzu xianlie ci quanjuan lüqi,” Dahan Gongbao, January 22, 1918, 10.


“Chinese Freemasonry. New Shanghai Temple.,” The Argus (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, September 14, 1925), 15; Chen Kwong Min, Meizhou Huaqiao tongjian (New York: Meizhou Huaqiao wenhuashe, 1950), 64; Espinoza Luis and Quintana, “Hong Men Min Chih Tang de Cuba,” 42–43.


Though banned in the Straits Settlements, these societies continued to be legal in Burma and Siam. Thanks to one of the anonymous referees for pointing this out.


Mexican Archivo General de la Nación (AGN) DGG 2.360 (24) 8083; “Chinese Masonic Officers and Building,” Argus, January 11, 1923, 7.


Cai, “On the overseas Chinese secret societies of Australia,” 39–40.


Ibid, 40.


Chung, “A Preliminary Study of the Zhigongtang in Nevada and Arizona,” 22.


“Hongmen kenqin dahui zhi shengkuang,” Dahan Gongbao, December 16, 1919, 3.


“Sentinel Jottings,” Santa Cruz Daily Sentinel, September 2, 1884; “Chinese Masonic Hall,” Moree Gwydir Examiner and General Advertiser, August 30, 1910, 3; “Chinese Highbinders,” Leader (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia), May 15, 1886, 39.


“Mr. T. N. Baker” Evening Post (Wellington, New Zealand), Issue 12, July 14, 1936.


Glick, Sojourners and Settlers, 180.


Chuen-Yan David Lai, “Contribution of the Zhigongtang in Canada to the Huanghuagang Uprising in Canton, 1911,” Canadian Ethnic Studies = Etudes Ethniques au Canada; Calgary 14, no. 3 (January 1, 1982): 95–104.


“Yubu Zhigongzongtang yi taohui diqi,” Dahan Gongbao, December 11, 1915 3; Guomindang Archives (Taipei, Taiwan)般 714/10.


Li, Hongmen ji Jianada Hongmen shilun, 140–41. See Tsai, “The Emergence of Early Chinese Nationalist Organizations in America,” 140.


“Pigtails Used as Aid to Kill: Revolutionist Tells Press Club members of Atrocities Leading to Rebellion,” The Call (San Francisco), November 16, 1911.


Kuo, Making Chinese Australia, 249.


“Chinese Welcome Independence Era: Riot of Noise and Big Parade Celebrates Birth of the New Year,” The Call (San Francisco), January 8, 1912, 2.


“Chinese of State Will Vote for New President of China,” Sacramento Union, December 18, 1911.


“Por haber subido a la Presidencia Sun-Yat-Sen, se inauguró la logia Chee Kung Fong [sic]” El Imparcial (Mexico City), January 3, 1912, front page.


“Los Franc-Masones Chinos,” El Mundo (Havana, Cuba), November 27, 1911, front page; “Organized as Masons,” The Lucha (Havana, Cuba), November 27, 1911, front page.


Ma, Revolutionaries, Monarchists, and Chinatowns, 5.


“Yuan Shi Kai’s Troubles Are Just Begun,” The Morning Press (Santa Barbara), December 12, 1915, 3; “Chinese Change Prompts Big Protest,” The Morning Press (Santa Barbara), 2. Among other things, the letter suggested that the government which withheld recognition from Victoriano Huerta could not in good conscience recognize the Yuan Shikai regime.


“Chinese Editor Is Dead at Bay,” The Sacramento Union, March 9, 1916, 3.


Guomindang Archives (Taipei, Taiwan), 會 3.1/10.14; Ibid, 會 3.1/10.15.7.


In Australia, for example, the Chinese Nationalist Party prohibited its members from joining the Chee Kung Tong, and newspapers began to antagonize each other. Mei-Fen Kuo and Judith Brett, Unlocking the History of the Australasian Kuo Min Tang, 1911–2013 (Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2013), 41; Kwok B. Chan, Smoke and Fire: the Chinese in Montreal (Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 1991), 116.


“Jianada Huaqiao shang xuan wuseqi,” Donghuabao (Tung Wah Times), March 23, 1929, 3; “Hongmen kenqinhui gaoxuan wuseqi,” Dahan Gongbao, June 9, 1930, 3.


Rose Hum Lee suggested that people were “surprise[d]” by the reappearance of the Chee Kung Tong during the Second World War. Rose Hum Lee, The Chinese in the United States of America (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1960), 169.