« AnteriorContinuar »
THE JAPANESE IN OUR CITIES
R. SUN YAT-SEN," said a California friend of
mine, “ought to be thankful to the Japanese
gamblers in California for his success in establishing the Chinese Republic."
“What!" I exclaimed in astonishment. What did the Japanese gamblers do for him?” And this is the story which my query elicited from my friend:
The Chinese revolution of two years ago was financed mostly from the United States. Not by the money kings of Wall Street, as one may imagine, but by the apparently impecunious Chinese living in various parts of this country. Sun Yat-sen, the star in the drama of revolution, was long an exile in many lands, and while in America he visited every village and town where Chinese were found in any considerable number. Inspired by his ardour and patriotism, every Chinese who came in contact with him pledged support for the cause of liberation. Thus the revolutionary fund was raised. Among the Chinese who contributed to this fund were merchants, farmers, domestic servants, camp cooks, and what not, but the most liberal contributors were the keepers of gambling dens in California and those deriving benefits from them, for money easily acquired is also easily parted with. Now the patrons, or rather victims, of these dens were mostly Japanese. In California alone these gambling dens used to levy from the Japanese a
toll of several million dollars every year! So the revolutionary fund raised in America virtually came from the pockets of the Japanese.
The story seemed a hyperbole and I could not believe it. But when I visited all the towns and villages which my friend told me were rendezvous of gamblers, I began to realize the magnitude of the evil business conducted by the Chinese. One can form no adequate idea of the gambling business from what one sees in the Chinatowns of San Francisco or Los Angeles, though even here gambling dens are numerous enough. One must visit the underworld of such smaller cities as Fresno or Stockton, and again make a detour into such out-of-the-way places as Walnut Grove, Isleton, or Courtland on the Sacramento River.
In the earlier days the Chinese were mostly employed on farms and orchards. As these labourers grew older and incapacitated for heavy work, they quit the country and moved to the city. Meanwhile, the exclusion law prevented the replenishing of the ranches and orchards abandoned by the older Chinese with younger and sturdier labourers from China. Thus
Thus it has come to pass that almost eighty per cent. of the Chinese population now in California is in the city, only the remaining twenty per cent. still being engaged in farming or farm labour. And in every city or town where Chinese congregate gambling dens have sprung up as their necessary accessories. The Chinatowns of Stockton and Fresno consist mostly of gambling houses, while the legitimate business conducted by a comparatively few Chinese is largely dependent upon the business of ill-repute. In the small rural towns dotting the vast agricultural fields of the Sacramento Valley, the Chinatowns are simply groups of gambling dens. When I first walked through rows of
such dens in Walnut Grove, I could not help exclaiming, This is hell!”
One naturally wonders, as I did, how these gambling dens can do a thriving business. Obviously there are not enough Chinese in the country to justify the maintenance of so many dens. The explanation that they depend upon Japanese patronage is not at first convincing, for even the Japanese are not much in evidence most of the time. One can, however, understand the situation if one knows something of the agriculture of California. Farming industries in the State require large forces of hands only in certain seasons.
When such seasons are over the farm labourers are dismissed and naturally drift into towns, where they seek relaxation with their hard-earned money. It is then that the Chinese gambling houses do big business. The Japanese, fresh from orchards and ranches, have their purses filled with gold and silver, but before their first month in the city is gone they are “broke." Where does the money go? Seldom anywhere else than to the Chinese gambling den. Is it because the Japanese are poor gamblers that they are always fleeced by the Chinese? Undoubtedly that is one of the reasons, but there seems to be some intricate device invented by the Chinese so that no gambler, however crafty, could come out of the den without parting with all the money in his pockets.
The city of Fresno, being the centre of a vast grape country, naturally attracts a large number of Japanese labourers when the busy season on the vineyards is over. Here Chinatown, which is separated from the “ Ameri
town by a railroad track, may well be called a gambling town. Block after block is congested with those untidy, dismal buildings within which are played the evil games. A lure for the Japanese labourers, they are also
their snare. The law forbids open gambling, but in no Chinatown in California have such laws been strictly or consistently enforced. A few years ago the gambling mania became so alarming that the better classes of Japanese in California organized an association whose object was the extermination of gambling among Japanese. But to prevent gambling by the Japanese the Chinese gambling houses must first of all be closed. The task was herculean, almost quixotic. But the Japanese Reform Society undertook it first in Fresno, then in other cities.
The greatest difficulty in such a campaign lies in the difficulty of proving before the court that such and such Chinese are operators of gambling dens. The moment the police attempt to raid the den their activities are detected by the Chinese spies, who warn their fellows of the approach of the authorities, so that when the police enter the tables are clear of dice and gamblers. All is serene and quiet, the few remaining Chinese peacefully smoking their exotic pipes and twinkling their curious eyes in apparent innocence. How are the police to tell that only a few minutes since there was on the very spot a group of gamblers absorbed in their game ?
The daring souls in the Japanese Reform Society of Fresno, seeing that the authorities could not be relied upon, volunteered to raid the gambling dens themselves. They called themselves the “ Band of Desperates,” and such indeed they were. Some of them, disguised as gamblers, would enter the den and feign interest in the game. Meanwhile other members of the band, obliging unwilling officers to accompany them, would suddenly descend upon the den. As usual, the Chinese spies would come hurrying to warn their employers, but at this critical moment the reformer-gamblers would suddenly throw aside
disguise and change into allies of the officers and Japanese rushing into the scene of disorder. The reformergamblers, instead of being scared away by the spies, would surrender themselves to the raiding police, subsequently to appear before the court to testify that such and such Chinese kept gambling dens.
For a while the heroic scheme worked splendidly and a few gambling dens were closed. But the police proved by no means consistent in backing the Japanese. The court, too, issued an injunction, forbidding the police to invade the dens without the proper warrant. These circumstances made it impossible for the Reform Association to carry on the crusade.
The Japanese in America are possessed to a remarkable extent of public spirit and civic sense. town in the Western States they have organized the Japanese Association, whose primary object is the promotion of moral well-being among the Japanese. If the authorities would only co-operate with such organizations, much reform could be effected. The Reform Society, though no longer able to secure official support, is still waging war against gambling, but not so effectively as before. The only thing it can lawfully do under the circumstances is to admonish Japanese gamblers and place them under a sort of surveillance. The campaign has produced some effect, and the Japanese frequenters of Chinese dens are palpably decreasing.
The inaction and unwillingness of the authorities are often responsible for retarding the reform of the underworld. Mr. Chester Rowell, editor of the Fresno Republican, in a brilliant article in the “ Annals of the American Academy," justly credits the Japanese with public spirit, but asserts that the Japanese in Fresno declined to co-operate with the police in the cleansing