Asian American History

Washington Post Oct 15, 1976

The District’s Own Asian Gatsby: Koreagate & the “Tongsun Park Problem”

Depending on how you look at it, the 1976 Koreagate scandal didn’t really start with Tongsun Park. But when the media caught wind of “the most sweeping allegations of congressional corruption ever investigated by the foreign government,” Tongsun Park’s charm and personality made him an entertaining antagonist. Part of the intrigue was that Park’s story didn’t conform to the stereotypical immigrant narrative. Park, born in 1935, grew up with wealth. By the 1970s, Park’s opulence – “expensive homes, lavish Embassy Row parties, worldwide jet travel and purchase of his own downtown office building” – made him a Washington celebrity, the District’s “Asian Gatsby.”

Chinese American soldiers

"Together, Together:" D.C.'s Chinese March in Mass for the First Time

As the new PBS documentary Asian-Americans notes, many Asian-American immigrants maintained strong bonds to their home countries and were deeply affected by World War II conflicts that occurred in the Pacific theater. In fact, even before U.S. involvement and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Asian-Americans from the D.C. area closely followed the brewing conflict between China and Japan. Many still had close relatives in China, and Japanese imperialist expansion into China and the resulting Second Sino-Japanese War moved Chinese-Americans at home to organize. On July 7, 1938, in recognition of the one year anniversary of the war’s outbreak, D.C. Chinatown's shops and restaurants closed as the Chinese community gathered in the streets.

Triple Murder in D.C.: Ziang Sung Wan & the Unsolved Mystery that Shocked the Nation

Wan in courtroom

As far as Chinese immigrants go, Dr. Theodore Ting Wong, Chang Hsi Hsie, and Ben Sen Wu were doing alright for themselves. All three were well educated, hailed from affluent Chinese families, spoke nearly fluent English, and served as diplomats for the Chinese Legation. Ushering in the Chinese New Year on the evening of January 29, 1919, the three men had much to celebrate and even more work to get to the next day. But by morning, the mission house was eerily quiet. The postman rang the doorbell in vain; the milk delivery was left sweating on the stoop; the laundry package sat unattended by the door. Concerned, a neighbor entered the house through an open window. What he found sparked a case that would headline papers for years, reach the Supreme Court, and even pave the way for our “right to remain silent.” It was January 31, 1919, and the three residents of the mission had been dead two days.