Cleveland’s Chinese from the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

Cleveland’s Chinese from the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

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CHINESE. Cleveland’s Chinese population began to grow only after the 1860s. However, their numbers were small; in 1880 they were counted in the census with the Japanese, totaling 23. The 1890 census showed 38 Chinese, and by 1900 their number exceeded 100. The settlers were all Cantonese–from China’s southern province of Guangdong (Kwangtung), of which Canton, now Guangzhou, is the capital. The southerners among the Chinese were more ready to venture out of the country, and had migrated to all the countries in Southeast Asia and to Australia and New Zealand. The Chinese who settled in Cleveland did not come directly from China but moved here eastward from the West Coast. Their first settlement was on the street west of Ontario St., now W. 3rd St.; then they occupied a row of brick buildings on Ontario St. between PUBLIC SQUARE and St. Clair Ave. Wong Kee, who moved here from Chicago, opened the first Chinese restaurant at 1253 Ontario St., and later a second restaurant, the Golden Dragon, on the west side of Public Square. Most of the Chinese were proprietors of restaurants, waiters and cooks, or operators of laundries. Chinatown was a society of single men, as the 1882 Chinese Act barred them from bringing wives and children from China.

Even though they were a small colony, the Chinese established 2 merchant associations, the ON LEONG TONG and the Hip Sing Assn. Affiliates of national associations, these were societies of merchants engaged in mutual aid, self-discipline, matching funds and investment opportunities, and dispute reconciliation. The two associations were competitive, and at times their rivalry took violent forms. The associations were called tongs in Chinese, so their fights and killings were referred to as “TONG WARS.” In the late 1920s, as merchants needed the central sites around Public Square for major buildings, some of the Chinese moved east around E. 55th St. at Cedar Ave. and Euclid Ave. Eventually, in the early 1930s, the Chinese colony settled around Rockwell Ave. and E. 21st St. By then the Chinese population had grown to 800. In 1930 the On Leong Tong, the larger of the 2 associations, moved into new headquarters at 2150 Rockwell Ave. Since 1930, the block on the south side of Rockwell Ave. between E. 21st St. and E. 24th St. has been Cleveland’s Chinatown. Among Chinatowns of American cities, Cleveland’s is very small. By 1980 2,000-2,500 Chinese were living there. In the 1980s there were 3 Chinese restaurants and 2 Chinese grocery stores on this block. Next to one of the restaurants, the Shanghai, stands the On Leong Assn. Bldg. On the 3rd floor is the On Leong Temple, which is used for (Buddhist) worship a few hours a week, but more often serves as a meeting hall. The Sam Wah Yick Kee Co., the larger of the grocery stores, in its heyday delivered merchandise to 50 Chinese restaurants in Greater Cleveland and about 30 more downstate and around Pittsburgh.

From its beginning, the Chinese community maintained many Chinese values and traditions. They celebrated festivals on the Chinese calendar, most prominently the Chinese New Year in February. The Chinese were attached to their country of origin. Early in 1911 Dr. Sun Yat-sen stopped at Cleveland on one of his worldwide tours and spoke at Old Stone Church. Meetings were held at the Golden Dragon Restaurant on Public Square to rally support and to raise funds for his revolutionary movement to overthrow the rulers of the Qing (Ching) Dynasty. On 11 Feb. 1912, 4 months after the founding of the Republic of China, a celebration was held at Old Stone Church and a telegram of congratulations was sent in the name of the Chinese residents of Ohio to Dr. Sun, president of the Chinese Republic. Twenty-six years later, the Chinese were again active in fundraising to support the war effort and civilian relief in the Sino-Japanese War. They rallied behind the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Assn., the Cleveland Chinese Student Club, and later the Chinese Relief Assn. About 500 Chinese residents pledged $3,000 a month. From 1937-43 $180,000 was donated for food, clothing, and medicine. In July 1938 the Cleveland Chinese Student Club published a quarterly, the Voice of China. Its editorials and articles strongly criticized the U.S. policy of selling scrap iron and oil to Japan; pointed out the weakness of the Neutrality Act; and urged the public to boycott Japanese silk. Three Caucasian Clevelanders served along with 4 Chinese on the editorial board. Sentiments toward the Chinese among segments of Americans had been changing, and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was repealed in 1943.

The Chinese population increased by about 100 between 1930-60. The 1960 census reported 905. After 1960 there was an influx of Chinese from Taiwan and Hong Kong. Some of the young Chinese who came to the U.S. in the late 1940s and early 1950s for university studies chose to stay permanently and were now establishing families in all parts of Cleveland and the suburbs. Beginning in the late 1970s, a small number of engineers and scientists from the People’s Republic of China came to Cleveland for graduate study, and these increased to over 100 at CASE WESTERN RESERVE UNIVERSITY after 1980. In 1990 the census estimated that 985 Chinese, Taiwanese, and Hong Kong immigrants resided in Cleveland proper. The new residents came from central and northern China and diluted the Cantonese concentration of the earlier settlers. Together with the offspring of the Chinatown residents, mostly college-educated, they advanced into the professions of engineering, medicine, and the sciences. The faculties of BALDWIN-WALLACE COLLEGE, Western Reserve Univ., Case Institute of Technology, and other colleges in Cleveland had increasing numbers of Chinese in their ranks. In the 1950s the active mainstream of the Chinese population in Cleveland was the membership of the Chinese Students’ Assn. of Cleveland. As the students completed their studies and advanced in their professions, they changed their organization in the 1960s to the Chinese Student & Professional Assn. of Cleveland, and in 1977 adopted the name Chinese Assn. of Greater Cleveland.

One institution in Cleveland that worked with the Chinese from the time of their early settlement was the Christian church, specifically Old Stone Church. For 50 years, starting from 1892, the church conducted a Sunday school for the Chinese, teaching them English and the Gospel. The church viewed its work as a mission comparable to that carried out by the missionaries it sent to China. Instrumental in this work were 2 members of the church, Marian M. and Mary F. Trapp, sisters and public-school teachers who worked for 30 years among the Chinese residents living near the church. The sisters obtained a working knowledge of Chinese (Cantonese) and assisted the Chinese in business problems and other matters. In Dec. 1941, with the support of the Cleveland Church Fed., Old Stone Church, and First Methodist Church, a Chinese Christian Ctr. was established in EUCLID AVE. BAPTIST CHURCH. Language classes, worship services, and youth activities were transferred from Old Stone Church to the center. Dr. Wm. Fung came to Cleveland to serve as director, and his wife, Shao-ying Fung, assisted in teaching classes. In 1948 Dr. Fung was succeeded by Rev. In Pan Wan, a Baptist minister. The center’s activities were continued until 1953, when Rev. Wan left. Language classes were conducted periodically at Euclid Ave. Baptist Church in the late 1950s, and Bible studies were held in homes.

In the early 1960s the Protestants among the Chinese were meeting in homes for prayers and Bible study. In 1965 their representatives appealed to Rev. Lewis Raymond, pastor of Old Stone Church, and obtained the free use of the church’s facilities. Sunday worship services in Chinese and Bible classes began at Old Stone on 12 June 1966 and the Cleveland Chinese Christian Fellowship was born. The Fellowship became the Cleveland Chinese Christian Church in 1975, having called Rev. Peter Wong to be its pastor. The average number of worshippers on Sundays rose to 110 by the end of the decade. In 1983 the church moved to its own sanctuary building at 474 Trebisky Rd. in RICHMOND HEIGHTS With membership grown to 200, the church added an annex housing classrooms and a gym in 1994. Outside of the Chinese Christian Church, Chinese Protestants worshipped at various denominational churches in Greater Cleveland. The number of Roman Catholics among the Chinese is estimated to be about 20-25% of that of Protestants.

With the growth of the Chinese community in the 1960s, the movement to preserve Chinese cultural values became strong. In 1966 the Chinese Academy was formed on the east side to give Chinese children instructions in the Chinese language and history on Saturday mornings. After using the facilities of two churches in CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, the academy settled at Noble Rd. Presbyterian Church in 1973. In 1980 Chinese residents in the west and south sides started the Academy of Chinese Culture, and since 1981 it had made use of rooms in schools and churches in STRONGSVILLE during weekends to conduct classes for children. Peter C. Wang, founder of the Chinese-American Cultural Assn. in 1961, offered tuition-free classes in Chinese in public libraries to those interested throughout the 1960s. In 1975 Laurence Chang wrote and produced 2 1-hour TV programs on “Values and Institutions of Chinese Culture,” which were broadcast over WVIZ (Channel 25). Through these activities Clevelanders gained broader views of China and Chinese culture. A symbol of the Chinese presence in Cleveland is the marble garden with a bronze statue of Confucius in the center, a gift to Cleveland from the City of Taipei, Taiwan, which was dedicated as part of the CULTURAL GARDENS in Wade Park on 21 Sept. 1985. The China Music Project, started in 1980, continued to bring to Cleveland musicians from Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong and present them in concerts of traditional Chinese music.

K. Laurence Chang

Case Western Reserve Univ.

Fugita, Stephen, et al. Asian Americans and Their Communities of Cleveland (1977).

Last Modified: 11 Jul 1997 01:30:56 PM


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