KONG CHOW BENEVOLENT ASSOCIATION OF LOS ANGELES, A NON-PROFIT CHARITABLE CORPORATION
A Glimpse of the Pass of
Kong Chow Benevolent Association
and the Old Temple
By Ronald Wong, late Advisor and member of Board of Directors
It is interesting to trace the historical facts of "Kong Chow". The character "Chow" signifies itself as an official name of a large county first given a title a little over 13 centuries ago (around about 600 A.D.). It was situated in the south-western part of the Kwongtung Province, which was conquered by an army of 50,000 under the order of the Emperor Chin who built the Great Wall. He divided it into three counties; one of these was Nam Hoi from which San Wui County was ceded. During the Chui Dynasty, the name was abolished. A new title "Kong Chow" was given to it by the first ruler of the dynasty. The new name was used for nearly three hundred years until it was subdivided into four districts which we call "Yups" nowadays.
Since the system of classifying the imperial kingdom varied from reign to reign; that vast extent of fertile land undoubtedly had undergone many title changes. Consequently, the name Kong Chow was never in use again. From 1709-1722 A.D., revolts began to take place. This was on account of poor communication in those days and the fact that the imperial soldiers could not garrison in every district that one of the four "Yups" or Districts, San Wui (formerly the general name like Kong Chow, of the whole county now turned out to be one of the four Yups) was divided into two districts. This made a total of five Yups. Each Yup consists of many villages, that carry different family names.
It has been a thousand years ever since the name Kong Chow was abolished, yet the people originated within the range of Kong Chow are
just like members of a big family, keeping the same traditions and customs, although the dialects of the 5 districts vary a little from one another. Indeed, they are brothers, and brothers within the Four Seas.
Our benevolent association bears the name Kong Chow is in memory of this old place. The association was first founded in 1849 in San Francisco as Four Yups Association, and was later changed to Kong Chow Benevolent Association in 1851. All people originated from Kong Chow were entitled to be members. In 1854, the population of the Four Yups increased so fast that they claimed to be independent and soon formed their own organizations. Some members were influenced by the separation and soon followed their footsteps, and thus put an end to the main association under which all the other "Yups" were primarily organized. However, San Wui and Hork San still band together. They reinstituted Kong Chow Benevolent Association as a mutual body using the same site of the main association. This went on smoothly under the supervision and guidance of a few philanthropists and prosperous merchants for many years.
Unfortunately in 1906, a big earthquake caused the Great Fire in San Francisco, the building of the association was entirely burned down. Two years later (1908), a new, beautiful building of three stories was once again erected. At its main entrance, there was a big rectangular wooden token hung against the wall. Four Chinese characters meaning "The Forerunners of Chinese Americans" were carved on it. These characters were written by the first Chinese student who studied in the States. The third floor of the building was used as the Kong Chow Temple, honoring the Red Faced Warrior who lived during the Three Kingdoms period. Forty five years ago, the building of the association was completely renovated, and still functions as the grand lodge of all the Kong Chow sub-associations in the States.
Kong Chow Benevolent Association is a benevolent organization. One of its many functions is to help the aged, desolate and sick members besides evoking other social welfare bodies. It used to be the responsibility of the association to have the remains of its members shipped back to China for interment. As a fraternity and sorority, it is a place for social gathering. The purpose is to develop better understanding, mutual interests and esteem among the Chinese community. Nevertheless, the virtue of arbitration still plays an important part in its routine.
Faith and philosophy, which are rather conspicuous among our Chinese public; as a matter of fact, are the two striking factors, together with our deep-rooted culture that enable us to attain a renown of high morality, which is simply the practice of the duties of life. Although a great many of us have been influenced by the western culture, some still prefer our own perpetual belief.
The Red Faced Warrior in the Kong Chow Temple is regarded and honored as a god* whose titanic spirits of righteousness, fraternity and honesty which we believe still exist in this supreme cosmos. He was a real historical personage, whose actual name was Kwan Wun-Cheong (Kwan was his surname). He was a valiant warrior during the chaotic period of the Three Kingdoms, well known for his virtues mentioned above. He was once shot with a poisonous arrow in the arm, and was attended by the best known herbalist in Chinese herbal doctor called Wah-Tor, who is also honored as God of Medicine in the Temple. In those days, there was no such invention as anesthetic, and surprisingly that the Red Faced Warrior did not show any sign of pain when his upper arm was cut open in order to have the poison scraped off his humerus. In the meantime, he was enjoying himself in reading the Spring and Autumn Annals. This anecdote became so well known to the people at the time that it has been told over and over ever since.
The Los Angeles Kong Chow Benevolent Association was first established at Ferguson Alley in 1891, i.e. twenty years before the Ching Dynasty was overthrown in 1911. It was a small two-story building, the ground floor was used as the reception hall while the second floor was furnished and decorated as a temple. It had a small membership, and on the whole, it was poorly maintained, though the association was directly under the sponsorship of the grand lodge in San Francisco. In 1947, the building was demolished under the order of the Los Angeles city government, all relics originally installed in the temple had to be moved out and were stored in a warehouse for nearly eleven years. During this period of time, some of the more dedicated members had been planning to put up a new building on North Broadway; but owing to financial difficulties, the plan was postponed several times. Meanwhile, the number of members had increased and Cathay Florist at 817 No. Broadway was used as a place for meeting for many years. Later, a small house was rented next to the flower shop as a temporary meeting place until the construction of the new building was completed in June, 1960. Immediately after the building was dedicated, a whole summer was spent in reassembling the temple. The new Kong Chow Temple occupies half of the second floor with an area of 76 ft by 74 ft. Most of the exquisite gold leaf covered altars and wooden tokens in the Temple were original relics from the old temple at Ferguson Alley. They were made about two decades prior to the Chinese Revolution in 1911, i.e., the second last reign of the Ching Dynasty.
There are five Gods* being worshiped in the Kong Chow Temple, namely, the Red Faced Warrior, representing righteousness, fraternity and honesty; the God of Medicine; the God of Navigation for protecting the sailors; the God of Wealth and last of all, the God of Driving Away Evils. There are some minor ones like the Marshalling God and the Itinerant God, who are the personified ones of the Red Faced Warrior.
The Red Faced Warrior is the most important God in our Temple, and is placed in the middle of the altar. In some Chinese temples, only the Buddha is worshiped, for Buddhism is a different religion. There are two goddesses in the Temple. One is called Gum-Fa, meaning Golden Flower, and is the Goddess of Love; the other one is the Goddess of Mercy, and is famous for her extreme beauty. The God of Longevity is rather peculiar, as he possesses the face of a monkey. He is often seen with a club in his right hand and a peach in the left. According to the legend, the peach, which was stolen from the heavens, contains the mysterious power of long life, whereas the club is just like the wand of Prospero in Shakespeare's Tempest, with which miracles can be performed.
The resettlement ceremony of these Gods took place on the 25th of September, 1960, and the formal opening-ceremony was celebrated on the 16th of October, 1960.
On behalf of the association, I would like to dedicate our warmest tribute to the New Building Committee, which was headed by five courageous and dedicated members: Mr. Y.C. Lin, the president; Mr. Dan Louie, Sr., Chairman of the Board of Directors and the New Building Fund Committee; Mr. S.M. Lew; Mr. Clarence Yip Yeu, General Secretary, and our Architect, Mr. Gilbert Leong who have helped in the endeavor of making the new building a success. (Of these five gentlemen, only Mr. Clarence Yip Yeu and Mr. Gilbert Leong are still among us, and they are the living proofs of those turbulent but rewarding good old moments.)
Last, but not least, I would like to thank all those who had dedicated their valuable time and money in making our new building possible.
*God - supernatural being who could help human.