Jing Chuan Ling remembers her father's Chinese apothecary in Tacoma's Japantown neighborhood and the disappearance of her Japanese playmates and neighbors in the 1942 incarceration

  • By Tamiko Nimura
  • Posted 10/10/2017
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 20451

Given Tacoma's expulsion of Chinese immigrants in 1885 and the resulting lack of a Chinatown in the city, it's perhaps surprising to find the existence of a Chinese apothecary in the Columbus Hotel in downtown Tacoma's Japantown neighborhood decades later. In the late nineteenth century, Japanese immigrants were somewhat wary of growing their businesses and community near the old Chinese waterfront settlement and developed the Japantown (Nihonmachi) neighborhood near the downtown core instead. And there Ling Yu Nan Medicine operated in a storefront space below the Columbus Hotel for at least 14 years in the first half of the twentieth century. In a 1989 anthology, Jing Chuan Ling, one of the shopowner's daughters, recalled growing up in the family home behind the apothecary shop and seeing her neighbors disappear during the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans. Tamiko Nimura contributed this People's History containing excerpts from Jing Chuan Ling's account.

A Chinese Family in Japantown

Yunan Ling (also known as Ling Yunan or Ling Yu Nan), the apothecary, operated his business and lived with his family in the space at 1556 Market Street below the Columbus Hotel, near the southwest corner of Tacoma's small Japantown. Eventually, the Ling family grew to include nine children. The eldest, Jing Ho, graduated from Stadium High School as a co-valedictorian in 1943 and received a scholarship to the College of Puget Sound in nursing. The family lived below the Columbus Hotel for 14 years and then moved down the street to 1532 Market Street, where Ling continued his apothecary business.

In the anthology Tacoma: Voices of the Past, published in conjunction with the 1989 celebration of the centennial of Washington's statehood, Yunan Ling's daughter Jing Chuan recalled growing up in the 1940s Columbus Hotel. Remarkably, her account included a memory of watching her playmates and neighboring Japanese businesses disappear:

"By the time I was three years old, the family had moved to 1556 Market Street. Three more brothers and a sister were added to the family here. We lived at this address for fourteen years. My father, Yunan Ling, an herb doctor and an importer of Chinese curios, had his office and display window on the south and front side. The rest of the area was partitioned off with panels to accommodate a dining-living area, a kitchen, a bathroom, a large bedroom, a small closet, a storage room and an attic. Above us was the Columbus Hotel which had several floors. Next door, to the north, was the Tacoma Jujitsu School. Jujitsu is a Japanese offensive and defensive show of strength without weapons. In the evenings, my brothers and I would take turns peeking through the keyhole to observe the activity of young men tossing and slamming their bodies onto mats laid out on the floor.

"To my knowledge, we were the only Chinese family on Market Street. Several Japanese families had living quarters in the rear or above their places of business. The Tofu Company Food Products was at 1546 Market Street, the Pacific Hand Laundry was at 1356 Market Street, and a grocery store was at 1354 Market Street. It seemed that these businesses just disappeared overnight along with all my Japanese playmates. I was too young at the time to understand or question the sudden change in the neighborhood when the Japanese were sent to concentration camps. What remains in my memory are the stickpins labeled 'Chinese' which we were required to wear to identify ourselves."



Jing Chuan Ling, "The Street Where I Lived," in Tacoma: Voices of the Past, Vol. 1, ed. by Wilma Snyder (Tacoma: Pierce County Committee for the Washington State Centennial, 1989), copy available at Jack Cameron's Tacoma Stories website accessed October 10, 2017 (https://tacomastories.com/2011/05/04/being-chinese-in-tacoma-in-the-1940s/); "Richards Studio D14575-10" (Ling family portrait), Tacoma Public Library Digital Archives website accessed October 10, 2017 (http://cdm17061.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/p17061coll21/id/34055/rec/1); HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Tacoma expels the entire Chinese community on November 3, 1885" (by Priscilla Long) and "Tacoma Neighborhoods: Japantown (Nihonmachi) -- Thumbnail History" (by Tamiko Nimura), http://www.historylink.org/ (accessed October 9, 2017).

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