After publishing of the book “The Price of Salmon” in the summer of 2022, I received a message from Debbie Jiang who read about the news. In her email, she told me of a Portland Chinese contractor by the name of Lee Mee Gin.
Debbie wrote: “I accidentally discovered the cannery middleman when I was researching my cousin’s father-in-law. Have you heard of Mr. Lee Mee Gin? He owned and operated Kwong Lun Tai, a dry goods store, among other things. He also was a contractor for Chinese workers heading to the canneries in Alaska. Mr. Lee was Portland’s Chinatown’s mayor and was the peacemaker among all the tong wars. He lived in Portland for 49 years.”
Debbie wrote further in a separate email: “Lee Mee Gin is really a standout person to me in Portland’s Chinatown history. He was a long-time U.S. resident and merchant of 49 yrs (owned a dry goods store, a hop ranch, married four times (including his 4th marriage to Ling Lena Wong), had nine children (including Jack Lee, Charles Lee, Woodrow Lee, Frank Lee, Fanny Lee, Jessie Lee, Elsie Soong, Ada Kwan, Frances Liang), was an APA contractor, Peace Society President and President of the Chinese Empire Reform Assn. He quelled many Tong wars and carried a weapon to defend himself. When I began my research, I asked the Portland Chinatown museum if they had anything on him. To my surprise, they had not heard of him! Then I began my research in earnest. I have amassed quite a bit on his life story and I am still researching.”
Her email piqued my interest in Mr. Lee, and I decided to put together a webpage for Mr Lee. Since Lee resided in Portland for decades, I asked my research partner Kristin from Portland if she could find some information about Mr. Lee Mee Gin. After a week, Kristin came back and reported that she found Lee’s name from an old photo she took at the museum of Oregon Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association(CCBA, the spokes group for the Chinese community. CCBA was formed in the late 19th century to assist Chinese individuals in their struggle with discrimination in employment, business, and citizenship.) This cropped photo is shown at top of this page.
For a more detailed description of Mr. Lee Mee Gin’s extraordinary story, click on the button under the contractors tap at the top of the website.