Tung Pok Chin and Wing Fong Chin Papers
Language of Materials
Mak Ting Fong (married name, Wing Fong Chin, b. 1928) first arrived in the United States in 1950 with her husband, Tung Pok Chin. In 1955, she began working in Chinatown as a seamstress and, beginning in 1957, became involved with the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union (ILGWU) efforts to organize garment workers. She was for many years an officer of ILGWU Local 23-25. She remained active with the union until her retirement in 1997. The collection includes a selection of her correspondence and speeches, a typescript memoir by her daughter and clippings relating to her union work. Tung Pok Chin (1916-1988) came to the United States in 1934 as a "paper son," that is, he purchased papers designating him the son of an American native in order to evade the immigration restrictions of the time. In the U.S. he worked in and later owned laundry businesses in Boston, Rhode Island and New York City. In his spare time, he studied English, read Chinese literature, and wrote prose and poetry. In 2000 his memoir, Paper Son: One Man's Story, which he co-wrote with his daughter, Winifred C. Chin, was published by Temple University Press. The collection includes a selection of his poetry, military papers, correspondence, material relating to his memoirs, and three books with his annotations.
Tung Pok Chin (1915-1988) was born in Tai-shan County in Guangdong, China and immigrated to the U.S. in 1934 as a "paper son" to circumvent the Chinese Exclusion Acts. He worked in laundries during brief periods of residence in Boston and Rhode Island, and later established his own laundry business in Brooklyn, New York, with the assistance of the Chinese Hand Laundry Alliance (CHLA). In his spare time, he studied English, read Chinese literature, and wrote prose and poetry. In 1937, he contacted Dr. Ralph E. Pickett, then Associate Dean of New York University's School of Education, about admission to NYU. Although he was not eligible for admission, Dr. Pickett strongly supported his efforts at self-education, and, over the years, sent him many books and references to further his literary and other interests. As their correspondence attests, the two men shared a friendship and correspondence that would last a lifetime.
On the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Tung Pok Chin enlisted in the U. S. Navy. He was the first Chinese person in New York City to enlist, and photos of his swearing-in ceremony were published in major newspapers in the northeast U.S. to encourage minority enlistment. After his honorable discharge from the Navy, he began to write columns and poems for the China Daily News under the pen name Lai Bing Chan. The paper was sympathetic to the Chinese revolution, and its then editor, T'ang Ming Chao, was an avowed Communist who returned to the mainland soon after the Communist victory. In the 1950s, amidst FBI accusations that he was writing for and subscribing to a pro-Communist newspaper, and fearing that his irregular immigration status might render him vulnerable, Tung Pok Chin burned more than 200 of his own poems and may have destroyed some of his other papers as well.
In 1949, he had returned briefly to China where he met and married Mak Ting Fong; in 1950 he re-entered the United States with his new bride. At first she assisted her husband at his laundry in Brooklyn. The Chins soon became active in the True Light Lutheran Church in Chinatown, and eventually moved to Manhattan. The couple had two children, Wilson and Winifred.
Upon retirement in 1978, Tung Pok Chin began work on his memoir, eventually completed with assistance from his daughter, Winifred C. Chin. The result was Paper Son, One Man's Story, published by Temple University Press in 2000. After retirement he volunteered to teach English at a senior center in Chinatown, continued his association with the Chinese Hand Laundry Alliance, studied to perfect his English, and enjoyed the literary reputation his published poetry brought him. He died of cardiac arrest in New York City in 1988.
Mak Ting Fong (married name, Wing Fong Chin, b. 1928) first arrived in the United States in 1950 with her husband, Tung Pok Chin. In 1955, when their first child, Wilson, was old enough to attend school, Mrs. Chin started working as a seamstress in Chinatown. Her connection with the International Ladies' Garment Worker' Union (ILGWU) began when she interpreted messages for union organizers from English to Chinese at the shops where she worked. Wing Fong Chin understood English, since her father had been an English teacher in Hong Kong, and she used her language ability to aid the effort to organize Chinatown garment workers. She joined Local 23-25 of the ILGWU in 1957 and became increasingly active in the Local's affairs, serving as vice-president and, from 1983, Executive Board chairperson. She was influential in the 1982 Chinatown garment workers' strike, involving some 20,000 workers, and testified in September 1985 before the Congressional Textile Caucus and the Senate Subcommittee on International Trade on the catastrophic impact of foreign imports on U.S. jobs. She concluded, "[I]f you ignore us, the message you will send is that there is no room in the United States for people like myself." Wing Fong Chin became well known in the Chinese-American community as an advocate for Asian American women and for workers' rights.
Folders are arranged alphabetically
Organized into three series:
Series I. Subject Files, 1934-2002
Series II. Oversize Posters, Books and Ephemera, 1875-1988
Series III. Photographs, 1936-2002
Scope and Contents
Tung Pok Chin and Wing Fong Chin Papers and Photographs include correspondence, official documents, manuscripts, books, ephemera, and photographs relating to Tung Pok Chin's writing and life as an immigrant and Wing Fong Chin's union activism in 20th century New York City. The collection includes a selection of Tung Pok Chin's poetry, military papers, correspondence, material relating to his memior Paper Son: One Man's Story, three books with his annotations, and photographs of himself and friends. There is also a selection of Wing Fong Chin's correspondence and speeches, a typescript memoir by her daughter and clippings and photographs relating to her union work. Also included in the collection is Winifred C. Chin's correspondence and writings which relate to her parents.
Conditions Governing Access
Materials are open without restrictions.
Conditions Governing Use
Any rights (including copyright and related rights to publicity and privacy) held by the Tung Pok and Wing Fong Chin were transferred to New York University in 2003 by Winefred C. Chin. Permission to publish or reproduce materials in this collection must be secured from the Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive. Please contact email@example.com.
Identification of item, date; Tung Pok Chin and Wing Fong Chin Papers; TAM 235; box number; folder number or item identifier; Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Materials donated by Winifred C. Chin in 2003 and 2008; additional materials were found in the repository in 2014. The accession numbers associated with these gifts are 2003.003, 2003.006, NPA.2008.033, and 2014.061. Chin donated an accretion of materials in November 2019; the accession number associated with this gift is 2021.022.
With the assistance of the Asian/Pacific/American Institute of New York University, Winifred C. Chin, daughter of Tung Pok Chin and Wing Fong Chin, donated the collection to the Tamiment Library in January 2003 and in September 2008. Materials found in the repository were added to the collection in 2014.
Born-Digital Access Policies and Procedures
An access terminal for born-digital materials in the collection is available by appointment for reading room viewing and listening only. Researchers may view an item's original container and/or carrier, but the physical carriers themselves are not available for use because of preservation concerns.
A loose envelope separated from its correspondence has been retained in the collection as it demonstrates Tung Pok Chin's relationship to NYU's School of Education and the school's Dean, Ralph E. Pickett.
Existence and Location of Copies
Digital reproductions of some photographs in the collection can be found in The Sweatshops in the Twenty-first Century on the Labor Arts website.
About this Guide
Photographs were separated from this collection during initial processing and were established as a separate collection, the Tung Pok Chin and Wing Fong Chin Photographs (PHOTOS 257). In 2013, the photograph collection was reincorporated into the Tung Pok Chin and Wing Fong Chin Papers and Photographs (TAM 235). In April 2014, correspondence to Winifred Chin regarding Tung Pok Chin was found in the repository and added to the collection. In March 2021, an accretion of photographs, objects, and documents was integrated into the collection's existing series structure in Series I. and III. In June 2021, the collection's subject headings were edited to replace harmful topical access points about immigration status. New York University Libraries follow professional standards and best practices when imaging, ingesting, and processing born-digital material in order to maintain the integrity and authenticity of the content.