Sarah Lim: Chinese did duty in World War II

Even as they contributed to the war effort, some locals faced cruelty

August 8, 2013 

World War II in many ways was considered a turning point for the Chinese in the United States and China.

With the common bond of nationalism and patriotism, many Chinese immigrants and Chinese-born Americans felt the need to form a united front against fascism. Such feelings were further reinforced when the United States declared war on Japan after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941 and became an ally of China.

Merced's Chinese settlement in the 1940s was a shrinking community with dilapidated buildings, empty storefronts and a population of less than 100. Most Chinese, whose attachment to their homeland was sharpened by the war, championed the China cause and promoted Sino-American unity in the form of speeches, war-bond drives and military service.

Monroe Jang was one of them. Jang was a native Californian. At the age of 16 in 1934, he won a $2,000 scholarship sponsored by Bank of America for his essay on "Economic and Social Advancements."

Jang attended five universities in America and two in China before he began operating the Capital Dollar Store in Merced in the early 1940s. He was deeply concerned with the future of China and saw the need for Americans to understand Chinese social and political history, giving several lectures in Merced and Los Banos from 1944 to 1945.

In addressing the members of the Merced Chamber of Commerce in October 1944, Jang stated that the postwar cooperation of East and West based on science, morality and truth was inevitable. He believed that the West could contribute science while the East could contribute tolerance and philosophy.

Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism are three philosophical pillars of Chinese thought and the foundations of its moral structure.

When Jang spoke to the Los Banos Parent Teacher Association in February 1945, he discussed the political problems of China and Japan.

Two months later, he gave a lecture to the Merced Women's Club about China as a transitional nation and to the Methodist Men's Club about China's place in the world.

Jang was not only a spokesman for the Chinese in Merced, but also a well- respected businessman in the community. As the Trade Promotion Committee chairman of the Merced Chamber of Commerce, Jang launched the Mother of the Year contest in 1948 to celebrate Mother's Day.

After Capital Dollar Store, Jang opened Monroe's House of Fashion on 18th and Canal Streets, which remained in business into the late 1960s.

While Jang passionately pleaded for support for China's fight against foreign aggression and for independence, his fellow Chinese organized the Merced Chinese Solicitation Committee to sell war bonds.

In November 1944, the Committee Chairman Chong Chan reported that it had sold $4,650 worth of war bonds in the first two days of the campaign.

As the war developed, many Chinese-Americans joined the military to prove their patriotism.

The Gong brothers, Bill and Walter, voluntarily enlisted when the war broke out. Bill Gong served in the U.S. Marines for a year. When he first joined the military, he was sent to Camp Roberts to teach radio communication because of his knowledge of electronics. He was honorably discharged with the rank of master sergeant.

Walter Gong joined the Navy and ended up teaching electronics as well. While the Gong brothers survived the war, their friend Lee Gong was killed on the beaches of Normandy during the allied invasion of Europe.

Troubled times for some

The Chinese contribution to the American war effort did not ease their treatment as second-class citizens.

The Japanese- Americans living on the West Coast were placed in internment camps because their loyalty to the United States was in question. As a result, anybody who looked Japanese faced harassment.

Bill and Walter Gong's father, Hong Chee, was a victim of such harassment.

One day, Hong Chee was taking a bus to Fresno for groceries. He was asked to leave the bus at Chowchilla because he was thought to be Japanese. No matter how much Hong Chee protested and told them that he was Chinese and not Japanese, he was refused service.

He was a productive resident who owned and operated a laundry and meat market in Merced. Although he paid taxes and his children fought to protect the country, he still faced intolerance — a sad chapter of our history.

To learn more about the history of the Chinese in Merced County, please visit the Courthouse Museum. While you are at the museum, please check out our newest exhibit, "On the Banks of the Old Merced: A Music History."

The Japanese- Americans living on the West Coast were placed in internment camps because their loyalty to the United States was in question. As a result, anybody who looked Japanese faced harassment.

Sarah Lim is museum director for the Merced County Courthouse Museum. She can be reached at info@mercedmuseum.org.

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