China Camp comes first to mind when we think of the Chinese in Marin County’s past.
Yet Chinese workers also built the county's infrastructure and tended to its wealthy inhabitants. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Chinese could be found throughout the county as farm workers, railroad laborers, and gardeners, cooks and other domestic servants on the area’s lavish estates. Robert Trumbull, Jr. notes in his oral history that his Novato ranch employed seven or eight Chinese cooks for the ranch hands.
Many Chinese worked for the area’s wealthy estate owners. One of these immigrants was Jung Gang, head gardener for 18 years at Fairhills, the 180-acre estate of railroad and banking tycoon Arthur William Foster.
Jung Gang was also a silent partner in the Fat Chong Company, a business that made and sold ladies and children’s clothing. This partnership enabled him to travel back and forth to China, as merchants, along with teachers, missionaries and students, were exempt from the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.
Rampant discrimination against Chinese in the late 1800s led to this strict immigration policy aimed on keeping Chinese out of the country. San Rafael was not immune from anti-Chinese sentiment. According to The Marin Journal, in 1878 Denis Kearney, a politician known for his racism, spoke in San Rafael and an “anti-Coolie Club of San Rafael” was organized with 140 members, which advocated a boycott against patronizing Chinese or anyone employing them.
The Exclusion Act and the Anti-Chinese Leagues did not stop Arthur William Foster, President of the San Francisco and North Pacific Coast Railroad Company. In 1903 he brought to America his cook Jung Gang’s son, 17-year-old Soo Chong, ostensibly as a student at the Mt. Tamalpais Military Academy. Young Soo Chong didn’t actually become a student, but he did help out the Academy’s chef, Fon Ton Jue, in the kitchen and dining room.
Fon Ton Jue
Fon Ton Jue immigrated from China in 1881. His first job required him to stay in a cabin at West Point and “supervise the deer herds” for Mr. William Kent. He also worked for the Gerstle family before he became chef and head of the commissary for the Mt. Tamalpais Military Academy.