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Rival Chinese Exposition Plans

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n 1892, two groups of Chinese Chicagoans competed for the private Chinese concession at the World's Columbian Exposition.  Both planned to focus on building a Chinese theater, to which various shops and other attractions would be added.  The winning group, led by Hong Sling, Gee Wo Chan, and Wong Kee, and calling itself the Wah Mee Company, hired the architects Wilson and Marble and deposited 20,000 with officials in Washington for permission to bring 200 actors over from China.  As noted below, the actors duly arrived and the theater, inside the fairgrounds on the Midway, opened on schedule.

The ambitious plans of the other group did not work out.  The group was led by Moy Tong Chow (a.k.a. Hip Lung) and Sam Moy, the dominant  figures of late 19th century Chinatown.  In November 1892 they announced that a specially formed corporation, the Wah Yung Company, would build a second theater outside the fairgrounds on Cottage Grove Avenue, four blocks south of the Midway. The theater was to be designed by Francis J. Norton,  They planned to import their own actors from Hong Kong.

Unfortunately, the Immigration Bureau concluded that the certificates of the Moys' actors -- 273 of them -- had been forged and refused them entry at Tacoma.  The Moys did manage to smuggle 32 actors from Tacoma to Chicago anyway, but they were not destined to appear on the stage of the Wah Yung Company's theater.  It was not finished on time and, as far as we can find, never opened.

In the meantime, representatives of the Wah Mee also tried their hand at smuggling illicit immigrants.  One Chan Ming Sue landed at San Francisco in early 1893 with no fewer than 483 so-called actors, all destined for the theater on the Midway.  He brought them to Chicago on a Santa Fe Railroad train for fares totaling $32,200.  Manager Hong Sling, not pleased at getting so many "actors" at such a high cost, chose 200 and packed the others back to San Francisco.

It turned out that Chan had run up very high expenses in other areas too: purchases of goods in China, unauthorized stock sales, etc.   The debt drove Wah Mee into bankruptcy by July of 1893, even though its exhibit was a success.