The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana
by Jess Nevins
The Quong Lung Adventures (1897-1900)
copyright © Jess Nevins 2022
The Quong Lung Adventures were written by C.W. Doyle and began with “The Illumination of Lee Moy” (Examiner [San Francisco], 1897). Doyle (1852-1903) was an author and medical doctor who was born and raised in India before studying in England and practicing medicine there. He moved to San Francisco in 1888 and lived there until he died.
Quong Lung is the informal ruler of San Francisco's Chinatown. He is the lord and master over the Chinese tongs and triads and is responsible for most of the crime in the city. He is the commander of the dreaded See Yups tong and rules the city from a fortified, barricaded headquarters, "for the wars of the tongs never cease, and there had been a standing reward for his life for many days. But the contending hatchetmen and high binders agreed that Quong Lung had a charmed life, and that his enemies were short lived."1 Quong's headquarters are also booby-trapped: the entrance to his office is rigged so that if a thread across on the floor is broken, say by someone rushing into Quong's office to kill him, "a hundred-weight of iron" will land on the intruder. Quong's office has a trap door in the middle of the room, and the only seat in Quong's office is wired to a battery, so that those who sit in the chair, which includes visitors and his own employees, can be electrocuted if they displease Quong.
Quong Lung is a capable and careful man. He is also cruel, stern, ruthless and without mercy. He trucks in flesh, carries out revenge without hesitation, has men killed so he can take their women, and orders small children to be kidnapped or killed as revenge for insults or betrayal. To punish one man Quong Lung has the man's wife brought to San Francisco from China, kidnapped off the docks, and installed in a “house of ill-fame.” To punish another man Quong Lung takes the man's pregnant wife as his mistress, first inducing an abortion in her. And Quong Lung’s punishment for a third man, a traitor to the See Yups, is that the man is to be shunned as The Corpse That Walks: everyone in Chinatown shuns the man, ignores him or treats him like the walking undead.
Quong Lung is also a graduate of Yale and a “barrister of London's Inner Temple.” He is not merely evil; he is intelligent, educated, and efficient as a crime lord. Whenever he leaves his headquarters he is surrounded by “a body guard of desperate hatchetmen sworn to his service.” Quong Lung is “stout, arrogant, bespectacled” and speaks with a “refined English accent.” He is also short-tempered. In “The Illumination of Lee Moy,” a man who owes Quong Lung money sells him Suey Yep, a young, attractive woman. A white woman who is looking for Suey Yep questions Quong about her. Quong’s angry response is:
Suey Yep is one of my chattels; never forget that fact! Any interference with my property by you, or by anyone else, would result in the sudden and irreparable depreciation in value of that property. Whatever my shadow falls on withers and besides being a Master of Arts, I am a Master of Accidents!2
The “shadow withers” line is Quong's trademark; whenever he orders a death he says, “My shadow hath fallen on it. See to it that it withers.” Quong indulges in whiskey and opium, but his primary vice is women, usually other men's women, and it is in pursuit of them that he carries out his greatest cruelties. He meets his end when he electrocutes a traitorous tong brother on an electric chair. As the police rush in, Quong accidentally falls on the still-electrified chair and is killed.
Quong Lung is significant in the development of the Yellow Peril stereotype for two reasons. Quong was the first Yellow Peril crime lord. Previous Yellow Peril characters had been military or political leaders, but Quong extended the stereotype into domestic crime. Quong Lung was also the first to be associated with a specific geographical location, rather than working globally or in a large area. In Quong Lung Doyle created a villain who was not active in some foreign country, but in the city in which Doyle’s stories appeared.
Doyle was no great stylist, but while he was not capable of pith he could at least tell an entertaining story. But he was also a racist and hostile to Chinatown. In the introduction to The Shadow of Quong Lung he says that “the best thing to do with Chinatown would be to burn it down; but the scheme is too Utopian to be discussed in a mere preface.”3 Doyle's Chinese characters, and his Chinatown, are stereotyped, in personality, events, and dialogue, and while it is easy to be entertained by Quong Lung and The Shadow of Quong Lung the reader is constantly reminded of the bigotry of the stories.
While Doyle and the Quong Lung stories repeat the contemporary mythology of San Francisco’s Chinatown being uniquely corrupt and violent—a mythology with some bearing in reality—the causes of this corruption and violence were far from the simplistic, racially-prejudiced reasons advanced in the Quong Lung stories. In the late 1890s, when the Quong Lung stories appeared, the homicide rate among the Chinese in San Francisco was 40 per 100,000, compared to 10 per 100,000 for whites.4 But the causes of this extraordinarily high murder rate were historical circumstance, not something inherent in the Chinese culture; Chinese immigrants only began killing each other in high numbers around 1870 and abruptly stopped in the early 1920s:
Underlying much of the discord in nineteenth-century Chinese affairs in Chinatown was the conflict between the Manchu governmental establishment and the rebellious elements of the Han Chinese who found a much more comfortable home in overseas settlements, away from the direct scrutiny of governmental agents. To further complicate matters, many Chinese held memberships in both criminal and non-criminal associations. It is important to an understanding of nineteenth-century Chinatown violence in San Francisco that the patterns of violence were remarkably similar, albeit on a much reduced scale, to the communal feuding rooted in surname and native-place rivalries which afflicted Southeastern China of the period. (One is reminded of the communal faction fights which characterized rural Ireland at about the same time.)5
Print: Dr. C.W. Doyle, The Shadow of Quong Lung. London: Forgotten Books, 2015.
1 Dr. C.W. Doyle, “The Entertainment of a Mouse by a Cat,” in The Shadow of Quong Lung (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1900), 52.
2 Dr. C.W. Doyle, “The Illumination of Lee Moy,” in The Shadow of Quong Lung (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1900), 39.
3 Dr. C.W. Doyle, “Preface,” in The Shadow of Quong Lung (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1900), 7.
4 Kevin J. Mullen, Dangerous Strangers: Minority Newcomers and Criminal Violence in the Urban West, 1850-2000 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 64.
5 Mullen, Dangerous Strangers, 65.