Thursday, October 7, 2010

Louise Leung Larson- "Sweet Bamboo"

In preparing our Jue Joe Clan History Blog , I have become interested in other family memoirs , One fascinating memoir was published in 1989 by Louise Leung Larson . It is of the Thomas Leung family in Los Angeles. Thomas Leung was a successful Chinese herbalist in Los Angeles who primarily had a Caucasian clientele .
He was a contemporary of Jue Joe and San Tong Jue. In fact in the book there is mention that Thomas enjoyed spending time at the ranch in the San Fernando Valley of one of his fellow herbalists. I think the reference is to the Asparagus ranch of Yitang Chang ( father of Sam Chang ) . That ranch was close by to the Jue Joe Asparagus ranch .
The memoir was written by Louise , one of Thomas Leung's daughters and is a wonderful first person account of her family's history.
The history of the Los Angeles Chinese herbalists is very fascinating to me ,especially the fact that they catered in the 1920's and 1930's to a large Caucasian clientele . Despite the racial prejudice of the Exclusion era , many Caucasians were willing to pay handsomely to see Chinese "doctors " who could treat their ailments with herbs.

They were so successful that the Chinese herbalists raised the ire of the medical establishment.

"Father did well as an herbalist, too well, in the opinion of the American Medical Association and the Board of Medical Examiners. He and the other Chinese herbalists in Los Angeles at that time were accused of practicing medicine without a license because they used the title "Doctor" and felt the pulse as one way of diagnosis. Papa was a special target and was arrested over 100 times on the misdemeanor charge . . . . The police, at times, used stool pigeons--people pretending to be patients--and would arrest Papa after the usual consultation. Sometimes [End Page 186] a whole squad of police would arrive in a patrol car and raid our home. I came to view the AMA and the Board, as well as the police, as our mortal enemies. Papa was unflappable, even the time when he was hauled off in the patrol wagon. He had set up a routine for these crises. As soon as the police came, the secretary phoned A. C. Way of the First National Bank to arrange for bail."

Haiming Liu has written an excellent paper in which he discusses the history of Chinese Herbalists in Calfornia .
"From the mid-nineteenth to the first half of the twentieth century, Chinese herbalists offered indispensable medical services to both Chinese and non-Chinese patrons in the American West, especially in California. Their thriving herbal business survived a racist, hostile society which treated the Chinese as an inferior race, Chinese civilization as an alien culture, and channeled many of the Chinese immigrants into racialized occupations in the laundry and restaurant sectors. The examination of the history of Chinese herbalists, therefore, offers new insights into racial discourse. The herbalist's career enriches our understanding of the American West as a culturally diverse region. For a long time, the American medical profession was a field in which many different ethnic healing systems co-existed and competed with each other for clientele. Chinese herbal medicine was one of the most successful practices in this field. Its success as an ethnic heritage in a racially stratified society also requires us to make further inquiry into the resilience of ethnic culture. The viability of a culture often depends on whether its agents can creatively practice it as both a form of accommodation and resistance. To document the activities of Chinese herbalists involves addressing the issue of dependence and autonomy between the minority and dominant societies and re-centering Asians in U.S. history.

Here is Thomas Leung , newly immigrated to the United States still dressed in traditional Chinese clothes and queue learning English from Paul Howard. Later Howard became his front office assistant in his herbal practice .

Tom Leung had a pamphlet in English which he distributed to prospective patients.
Notice the signage on his Herb business, no Chinese characters . The vast majority of his clients were caucasians.

Here was his waiting room where his patients waited to see him .

"Dr. " Tom Leung at his desk .

The herb pharmacy in the back of the office.

The practice was quite lucrative and allowed Tom Leung to buy a nice house for his growing family . Unfortunately , after his untimely death the family had a very hard time keeping the herbal business afloat and the family fell on hard times.

I highly recommend the book. Here is a link to google books where you can read some of the book

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting story. We had a family friend who was a successful herbalist doctor in L.A.'s Chinatown. His name was "T.B. Chew." His wife's name was Olivia ("Bo Fong," in Cantonese). They were well-known in L.A. and seemed to have had a large following. They used to come visit my parents on the Jue Joe Ranch. I remember that they once celebrated my parent's wedding anniversary with my parents at a fancy restaurant. Auntie Soo-Yin.