San Francisco: Mun Ching, 1954-1955. Six newsletters, all mimeographed, 7x8.5 inches, minor pen marks or doodles on the cover, one with pencil doodles on the interior. Earlier issues are titled Min Qing Tuan Bao, later issues shortening this to Min Qing (Mun Ching in Cantonese). Text in Chinese. Issues present are whole numbers 117, 119, 121, 122 (special issue for the 15th anniversary of the organization), 123, and 130 (special issue to commemorate the May 5th literary and cultural movement). Also present, but not included in the count, is issue 184 from 1958, missing the back cover. Contents of these newsletters include updates on activities, members’ discussions of how they became involved and what Mun Ching meant to them personally; updates on theatrical performances and clubs, and on a broader level, discussions of international politics and Marxist theory.
Mun Ching began as the New Chinese Alphabetized Language Study Society, an organization in Chinatown devoted to alphabetizing the Chinese language in order to promote literacy in the working class. In 1943, in the context of China’s battle against Japan, the group broadened its mission and re-named itself the California Overseas Chinese Youth League for National Salvation. They put on plays to raise money for care packages for Chinese American soldiers, also issuing mimeographed publications and building a library. By this point, political theater was a core part of the group’s activities, as part of its outreach to the broader Chinese-speaking public. In 1946, the group was renamed the Chinese American Democratic Youth League, often known by the abbreviation of its Cantonese name, Mun Ching. In the late 1940s this group sided with the Communists in China’s civil war, seeing that side as allied with such progressive ideals as racial equality women’s rights. Mun Ching activities soared in late 1949, after Chairman Mao proclaimed the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. Mun Ching saw its role at this time, in the words of one newsletter, as “Introducing the culture of New China to Chinatown’s society.” They created study clubs, sports teams, and continued the drama and song clubs that had already become part of the organization’s outreach. During the Korean War; most Mun Ching members believed that China was fighting for Asian independence and freedom, while the US forces were pawns of Wall Street and imperialism. There was a visceral sense of solidarity with the People’s Republic of China. And yet, there was usually a reason why these people were here in San Francisco rather than in China. America meant something to them as well, and they generally wanted to stay here. The FBI used this internal conflict to suppress Mun Ching, getting individual members to split off from it and name names in exchange for assistance with their citizenship status. In 1956, the FBI managed to have an agent or an informant access the Executive Committee’s records and photograph three years’ worth of minutes. The FBI was very intent on determining the identities of the group’s officers, since Mun Ching had a rule that only pseudonyms were used in publications like these newsletters. The FBI arrested known members in public to instill panic, and rescinded the citizenship of some, provoking long legal battles; other members were deported or moved to other countries. The trauma of these experiences was such that most former members who are still alive remain unwilling to be “outed,” even decades later. The vast majority of Mun Ching internal newsletters and other documents were discarded or destroyed by their owners during this period. We are aware of only two significant troves that were consciously preserved: those saved by Him Mark Lai, which were donated to UC Berkeley, and those saved by Jackson Chan, one of those members whom the FBI arrested on the street in broad daylight, who went on to play a leading role in the Chinese Folk Dance Association. These are duplicates from Chan's papers; his archive is now held at the Erhnic Studies Library at UC Berkeley.