Library of Congress

Early Motion Pictures

Item 1 of 1

San Francisco Chinese funeral

View this film.
(AVI Format....36,197,568 bytes)...To download the film for future viewing, be sure to set your browser to the "load to disk" or "retrieve to disk" option.

United States : Thomas A. Edison, Inc., [1903]


Copyright: no reg.

Duration: 1:50 at 15 fps.

Photographed: September 23, 1903. Location: Dupont Street [now Grant Avenue], Chinatown, San Francisco.

This film shows most of the ceremonial portion of the funeral procession of Tom Kim Yung (1858- 1903), military attache to the Chinese legation to the United States. The funeral procession took place at 1:00 pm on Wednesday, September 23, 1903, and was probably the largest ever seen in Chinatown. Tom's death (note that Tom is the family name) was the tragic consequence of a police assault, leading to his subsequent suicide. Following an elaborate service at the Chinese Consulate, the funeral procession formed and proceeded through Chinatown. Then the participants rode in carriages to the Ning Yung Chinese Cemetery at Colma, just south of San Francisco, for a final ceremony. The body was then returned to Chinatown and kept by an undertaker before being shipped home to China, as was the custom. Tom Kim Yung's suicide was the outcome of a tragic Chinatown incident. Tom was in San Francisco on special duty, having arrived from China a few months earlier, and was soon to leave for Washington, D.C. A colonel in the Chinese Army, he had been one of the imperial bodyguards. On the evening of September 13, 1903, he was returning to the Chinese Consulate on Stockton Street after dining with a merchant. Policeman John Kreamer, apparently mistaking him for a wanted man, insulted him as a degenerate. Tom resisted arrest and was punched in the face by Kreamer, falling to the ground. Another policeman, Officer Brodt, and two bypassers came to assist Kreamer, and Tom was temporarily tied to a fence by his queue, then hauled off to jail where he was held on the charge of assaulting a police officer. A local merchant had him released on bail. Tom brooded over his irreparable loss of face and the impunity of the police, until September 14, when he gassed himself from the light fixtures in his room at the Consulate. He left behind a note explaining his reasons for taking his life. Accounts of the subsequent investigation reveal it to have been inadequate at best. Chew Tszchi, First Secretary of the Chinese Legation, came from Washington to attest to Tom's character, having known him in Peking. Tom's diplomatic immunity was completely ignored by the authorities. In Chinatown there was some division over Tom's guilt, and anonymous leaflets distributed during the funeral suggested that Consul General Yung Bow had ordered Tom's suicide. To prevent unrest in Chinatown, Tom's body was released to the care of a Chinese undertaker before the inquest. At the inquest, seven prominent Chinatown citizens testified on Tom's behalf. Officer Kreamer refused even to attend until finally subpoenaed by the city coroner. A verdict of suicide was reached on October 9. Despite requests from the State Department that Governor Pardee and Mayor Schmitz look into the affair, no further action was taken. The whole proceeding highlights the strong anti-Chinese feeling - amounting to open racism - that prevailed at the time.

The following is a scene- by-scene description of the film: [12591] The camera looks slightly north of east across Dupont Street (Grant Avenue today), the main street of Chinatown. The Chinese transliteration of the name was Dupon Gai, meaning "slatboard capital street." The camera was probably located on the balcony of a building between Clay and Sacramento streets. All business in Chinatown was suspended for the day. Note the traditional ponytails, or queues, worn by Chinese men, a universal custom during the Quing (Manchu) dynasty (1644-1911). The procession mixes a few western elements with the full pageantry of a traditional Chinese funeral. Note that white is the color of Buddhist mourning dress and mourning relatives also wear white headbands, as do official mourners. Following three mounted police officers (not shown) come two mounted mourners [12672]. The two lanterns that follow bear the family names of the deceased [12760]. Banners precede the white military band (such bands are still in use today) [12808]. Next come twelve Tom family members carrying tablets listing the rank and titles of the deceased [12720], followed by four men in tall hats who ward off malevolent spirits [12940]. Following them are fifteen Buddhist priests in white [13038], carrying staffs with the "eight auspicious signs" of Chinese Buddhism (fish, jar, lotus, mystic knot, canopy, umbrella, conch- shell, and wheel of the law). They are followed by fifteen Taoist priests with symbolic staffs [13160]. The following carriage may contain food to be sacrificed at the cemetery [13227]. Next comes a tall banner giving the whole obituary of the deceased [13300]. Then follows the chief mourner Consul General Yung Bow attended by incense bearers [13371]. A riderless horse folows [13415], carrying the spirit of the deceased attended by two mourners. A line of San Francisco police officers precedes the hearse [13485], which is drawn by six horses and attended by mourners who are reflected in it's windows [13540]. The open carriage following bears a portrait of the deceased framed by a large floral wreath [13650] (today, the carriage would be a convertible). A banner and umbrella follow, the latter customarily presented to a popular official when he leaves a district. Tall banners mounted on the following wagon display poetic epitaphs [13752] (right: "A star has fallen to earth" ; left: "Your name is made famous by this bitter record") flanked by the names of sons, nephews, and cousins of the deceased, who will carry on the family name and honor. Next come representatives of the Six Companies (the federation of district associations that arbitrated justice in Chinatown). Several hold raised fans [13826]. Prominent merchants follow, flanked by horsemen [13848]. After a short cut in the film, two carriages of the immediate family of the deceased are seen [13941]. Although the film ends here, written accounts document that some one hundred and twenty-three additional carriages followed in the procession.

Received: 3/27/47 from Kleine estate; Original 35mm nitrate (destroyed); purchase; Kleine (George) Collection.

Received: 7/1/60 from LC film lab; ref print, dupe neg, and arch pos; preservation; Kleine (George) Collection.

Processions-- California--San Francisco.
Funeral rites and ceremonies--California--San Francisco.
Streets--California- -San Francisco.
Chinatown (San Francisco, Calif.)

Thomas A. Edison, Inc.
Kleine (George) Collection DLC

1 reel of 1 (42 ft) : si., b&w ; 16 mm. ref print.

FLA 1789 (print)