CHEE KONG TONG: Chinese Freemasons
Written By Lai Ying Yu (The Chinese Historical Society of New England) and Reggie Wong (Chee Kong Tong)
Considered to be the oldest Chinese civic organization in the United States, the Chinese Freemasons is a fraternity that dates back to the 1800s during the East-West maritime trade and the construction of the transcontinental railroad.
In 2006, the Boston Lodge of the Chinese Freemasons will be celebrating its 138th anniversary. The Chinese Freemasons, also known as “Hung Mun,” is an international organization that was originally established as an all-male fraternity to promote Chinese values, customs, and the ideals of democracy, in a strong network of brotherhood that has roots dating back to over three hundred years ago in China. After adopting many of the symbols and customs of Western freemasonry used by seafaring traders of Europe and the United States, its members decided to adopt the name, “Chinese Freemasons.”
Known in the political arena as the “Chee Kong Tong,” the Chinese Freemasons is perhaps most renowned for its support of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, the founding father of the Republic of China, during his campaign to overthrow the Manchu rulers of the Qing Dynasty. The Chinese Freemasons, its large membership, and its nationalistic goals, were well known to those in China. In 1904, Dr. Sun Yat-Sen joined the Chee Kong Tong in Hawaii to build support for the Nationalist party and the coming revolution in 1911. His world travel extended through the entire United States and included Massachusetts. When he arrived in Boston, the Chee Kong Tong hosted his stay and actively supported his campaigning activities.
In addition to its support for the well-being of China, the Chinese Freemasons actively promotes and participates in the growth of its local communities. Today there are Chinese Freemasons Lodges in major Chinese communities of the United States, Canada, and many other countries. Indeed, many of the Chinese Freemasons members were involved in founding the commercial and family associations of their Chinese communities. In this way, the Boston Lodge has continued to provide a sense of leadership to the Chinatown community via their members and activities. The Chinese Freemasons in Boston, whose membership extends throughout New England, was the firstamong the Chinatown family associations to begin accepting female nominations around the 1950s.
There is also documentation that a “Chee Kong Tong” chapter was incorporated in Portland, Maine, in 1922. Also, the Boston Lodge is believed to have been the first Chinese organization in Boston to purchase its own real property, 6 Tyler Street, in 1909, and it still maintains its headquarters there. With a membership of around six hundred, the Boston Chinese Freemasons is also among the nation’s first Chinese Freemasons to sponsor a youth group – Hung Ching, whose activities involve promoting Chinese culture and organizing youth sports activities and tournaments. The Chinese Freemasons also directly supports sports involvement by annually co-sponsoring international volleyball and basketball tournaments. Several years ago, the Chinese Freemasons took the lead role in fundraising for the earthquake disaster in Taiwan, and most recently, has helped organize a benefit for the Tsunami Relief Fund.
(This article was originally published in the Fall 2005 Newsletter of the Chinese Historical Society of New England)