A Culturally Appropriate Chinese Funeral in 1904 in Washington, D. C.

     A Chinese laundryman, Moy Sue Wing, died suddenly of heart failure in 1904 in Washington, D. C.  Six fellow Chinese, described as "almond-eyed Chinamen" arranged for his funeral, which was fully described in the Washington Times of April 19, 1904, featuring a photograph of his friend, Moy Jim, kneeling at the open grave to deposit chickens, fake paper money, bowls of rice, a jug of wine, chopsticks, and tea cups, and a pot of tea.   The article noted that in addition to his six countrymen, the procession to the cemetery included about 600 curious white women and children onlookers.

No mention, however, was made as to whether the undertaker was Chinese, but judging from the situation in New York City noted in the previous post on this blog that there was no Chinese licensed undertaker until 1930, it is most likely than a caucasian undertaker was employed here, as throughout the country. Fortunately, for Moy Sue Wing, his friends were there to ensure that his funeral service followed Chinese customs and beliefs, one that thousands of other Chinese who died in places where they were the only Chinese would not have received.


  1. Hi, John!

    According to Moy’s obituary in the Washington Evening Star, the undertaker was a J. William Lee of 332 Pennsylvania Avenue. And although this address was either in or adjacent to what was then the District of Columbia’s Chinese quarter, Lee does not appear to have been Chinese, his surname notwithstanding. The 1900 census lists him as born in DC in 1849 to a Virginia-born father and a DC-born mother.

    The Washington Times obituary is very interesting. Thanks for sharing it! Glad to send the Times obit along if you want it, but it's too long for a blog posting.

    My best,

    Scott Seligman

  2. Many thanks, Scott, for digging up (pun intended) these details about the undertaker, especially with a name like Lee and living near Chinese section of town, one could easily jump to the wrong conclusion.

    P. S. I am dying (pun again, sorry) to read your new book which sounds awesome.

  3. Scott: Here's another surprise discovery related to the Moys, Macon, and me. The Moy from Chicago who was murdered in Macon in 1895, apparently by highbinders, was killed in the Sam Lee laundry at 519 Mulberry Street, the very building that was our laundry and home. My father acquired it in 1928 and we were there until the early 1950s. Good thing I never knew about this event until now, and hopefully my parents did not know it either. And, at their satellite location a block or 2 away, another laundryman committed suicide before they came to Macon!


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