Fascination – A Dr. Gong, Chinese Herbalist Story, by Charlie Chin

by Charlie Chin. Posted July 21, 2023.

     Detective Carter was perplexed as he reviewed his notebook.  The carefully penciled notes were clear. “June 20, 1910, 5th precinct, adult White male body found in Fisher’s Ally at Mott Street.  Victim was beaten to death, skull crushed with blunt object.  Locals identified the dead man as one “Chuck” Connors, occupation Chinatown tour guide.  The prime suspect was a John Riley, nick name “Johnny Quick.”  A reference to both his occupation as a pickpocket and his habit of flying into a rage.  He had a possible witness, a Miss Edna Bronson, a barmaid at the notorious dive on Pell Street called “Blackie Dan’s”.  She was Johnny Quick’s common law wife, but she claimed Johnny had been at home the night of the killing.  Carter had interviewed a few other patrons at Blackie Dan’s but came up with nothing he could use.

New York Chinatown. Photo by Elric Pxl on Unsplash.

     Detective Carter needed help on this case and realized that his friend Dr. Gong, the noted Chinatown Herbalist, might be of some use.  Twenty-five minutes later he was at 12 Mott Street and the office of Dr. Gong.  As he entered Carter gave a slight head bow out of courtesy,

     “Nei ho ma? Gong Sing Saang.”  The little Chinese man in a silk jacket chuckled,

     “Detective Carter, your Cantonese is getting better.  How can I be of help?”  Carter explained what the situation was.

     “Dr. Gong, this “Chuck” Connors was called a “Lobby Go,” which he said meant, “Chinatown Guide.”  And he tried to impress tourists with the fact that local storekeepers and restaurant owners had given him a Chinese name, “Moe Young.”   He always introduced himself with that name to Chinese people and he was always greeted with smiles.  Dr. Gong smirked, poured a cup of tea for Detective Carter and remarked,

      “These are mispronunciations of Chinese words.  The first, Lobby Go is “Lo Bot Gow,” means the “Old White Dog.”  And the second name, the one he was so proud of, “Mo Yung,” simply means “Mr. Useless.” Carter chuckled,

     “He claimed that he had grown up around Chinatown and knew everybody and everything that went on there.  Did you know this fellow?”

      Dr. Gong sat back and mused,

      “This Chuck Connor was an orphan and grew up in the alleys of the area.  He first came to notice as a thief when he was a child over at the shanties of Mulberry Bend.  An orphan, he survived as best he could.  When he became old enough, he ran a very sordid business.  He would stand a few blocks away on the Bowery and announce that for a price he would take interested parties on a tour to see the real Chinatown.  He promised to show everything, sing song girls, opium dens, the hidden tunnels, and so forth.”   Carter sat up right,

Illustration by Paul Grange.

     “There are hidden tunnels under Chinatown?”  Dr. Gong wave his hand dismissively,

     “Of course not, they may be cellars, storage rooms, and so forth, but I’m sorry Detective Carter, there are no hidden tunnels.”

    “Why would people believe such a story?”  Dr. Gong casually brushed a bit of lint from his silk jacket front,

     “I supposed because Americans want to believe that there is something secret and hidden in Chinatown.  To take advantage of the curious and silly, this Chuck Connors led tourists on a confusing route through the back alleys to basements he had rented and filled with scenes that people wanted to see.  In one case, he rented a cellar on Bayard, and set it up as an opium parlor.  He paid some Chinese fellows to lie on a bunk and smoke opium.  Then he would lead a group of tourists through while telling them to be quiet and not ask questions.”

     “How did he find these men?”  Dr. Gong laughed.

     “Detective Carter, do you think it would be hard to find men who would be willing to lie down and smoke opium for money?  At other times he hired poor young White girls to lie in crib beds and pretend they were victims of White Slavers.  Of course, they were just poor working girls who were paid twenty-five cents apiece to lie on the cots when tourists were led though, nothing more than that.

      “Is this still going on?”  Dr. Gong laughed,

        “No, Family and District Associations, and the On Leong Tong, the Chinatown businessmen’s group found out what he was doing and put an end to it.  They had their strong young men go over and break up the supposed dens and cribs.  This Chuck Connor didn’t show his face for six months and was allowed back only when he promised not to do it again.”

      Carter explained his problem.  He had a murder case and a very likely suspect, but the only witness was a woman he lived with, and she had refused to say anything about the suspect.  It was no secret that he beat her frequently and that she lived in constant fear of him.

     Dr. Gong thought about the matter for a moment and then suggested,

    “Can you bring this witness, this Edna Bronson, over to a store on Mott Street, the Chung Hing?  I would like to talk to her.”  Carter looked surprised,

     “Well, I could, but what good would that do?”   Dr. Gong smiled,

     “Please trust me on this matter.”  Carter did.  He picked up Patrolman Gillispie and went to Blackie Dan’s. In a short time, he returned with a disheveled young woman in tow.  She resented having to leave her work at the saloon in the middle of the day, but Patrolman Gillispie had “helped” her down the street and brought her into the Chung Hing store.  Dr. Gong was waiting behind a massive desk and offered her a seat.   Patrolman Gillispie had to push her down into the chair.

Child at tenament fire escape. New York 1897. New York Association for Improving the Conditions of the Poor.

     She quieted down when Dr. Gong offered her a cup of tea.  She took a sip and then looked around the office.  The beautiful oriental watercolor paintings and fine carved teakwood furniture drew her attention.   She whispered beneath her breath,

    “Tis a fine place this.”  Dr. Gong smiled and took a friendly tone,

    “Yes, it belongs to my friend, Mr. Wu.  Do you like fine things Miss Bronson?”  She nodded and continued to look about at the ivory carvings and jade statues.

     Dr. Gong reached across the table and picked up a delicate porcelain bowl from its teakwood stand.  He looked at it with pleasure and then offered it to the young woman to hold and inspect.  As he held it out to pass to her, he commented,

      “Be careful.  This bowl is over a thousand years old.  A priceless treasure from the Sung dynasty.”  The woman hesitated for a moment and then reached for the bowl with both hands.  As the bowl was being passed from Dr. Gong to the woman, somehow it slipped and fell to the floor and smashed into pieces.   The woman was stunned.  She stared at the shards of broken porcelain with a combination of horror and shock.  Dr. Gong whispered to her softly,

     “The bowl is broken.  It cannot be replaced.  You broke it with your clumsy handling.”  The woman pressed the back of her hand to her open mouth and stared at the shards on the floor in disbelief.

     “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to.”   Dr. Gong quietly commented,

      “Wait a moment, all is not lost, I’ll show you a trick.  I will wave my hand and the shards will join again.  But first you must count them carefully.”  The woman stared at the pieces and counted beneath her breath.  She was shaken but she turned to Dr. Gong and announced,

      “There are 25 pieces.”  Dr. Gong used a gentle tone and said,

     “No, count again, there are 27 pieces.”  The woman was confused and counted out loud.

     “20, 21, 22, ”  At this point Dr. Gong spoke in a deep chest voice,

     “Don’t fear, I am putting them back together again.”   He made slow circular gestures with his hand over the shards and asked,

     “Now can you see how they are joining together again?” The woman stared at the broken pieces on the floor.

     “No, I don’t see, oh wait, yes, you’re right, they seem to be joining together.”  Dr. Gong leaned back in his chair and went on in a monotone,

    “See how the pieces are joining together.  Watch how they are slowly moving together.”  The woman was staring with unblinking eyes at the porcelain debris and nodding silently.   Dr. Gong went on.

     “It’s tiring to stare and count, very tiring.  It’s making your eyes tired.  Why don’t you close your eyes for a minute and relax?”   As she closed her eyes, Dr. Gong gestured to Detective Carter to lean in closer.

    “This is Mr. Carter.  He is a nice man; he is going to ask you some questions.”  Dr. Gong announced clearly,

     “You will answer truthfully, Isn’t that right Miss Bronson?”  The seated woman nodded in the affirmative without opening her eyes.

      Carter was not sure what was going on but immediately understood this was an opportunity.    He drew out his logbook, glanced at the notes he had,

Old New York. Illustration by Jerome Myers, courtesy of Wikimedia.

     “Miss Bronson, was Johnny at home last night?  Between 8:00 and 12 o’clock midnight?”  The woman answered in a quiet voice,

     “No, he went out, like he always does.”  I told him to stay home but he went out with those men, those bad men. He said that Chuck Connor owed him money, a lot of money and he was going to get it back, one way or the other.  He came back with blood on his shirt and laughing.  He had a cobble stone in his hand, covered in blood and bits of hair.  He washed it in the sink and then put it on the fire escape.”  Detective Carter asked,

     “Where do you live Miss Bronson?”  As if she were in a dream she answered,

     “Wheeler Street, Number 27-Wheeler Street.”  Carter quickly wrote down the words and address.    Then Dr. Gong clapped his hands three times and said,

     “Oh, Miss Bonson, you must be tired, you fell asleep.  Why don’t you go home and get some rest?  Perhaps, Patrolman Gillispie will walk you home.”   She got up slowly, a little unsure on her feet, but she made it out the front door.  After she and Gillispie had gone, Carter thanked Dr. Gong.

     “Well, that’s more than enough proof for me to bring Johnny Quick in.  As they left, Dr. Gong thanked the owner Mr. Wu, and both headed back to Gong’s office on Mott Street.  Carter was curious,

     “Tell me, what happened back there?”  Dr. Gong strolled along casually and confided,

     “I believe she wanted to tell us what she knew.”

     “How’s that?”

     “No matter how much that man Johnny Quick has tried to control her, some part of her wanted to tell us about him and the crime.”

     “I couldn’t get anything out of her, why did she suddenly start telling the truth to you?”  Dr. Gong laughed.

     “It is an ancient trick.  You must have noticed it.  Politicians, religious leaders, and charlatans use it all the time.  You must first get the person’s complete and total attention, and then lead them into a quiet place in their mind.  At that point, any simple suggestion will be acted upon.  If this young girl was accustomed to submitting to a powerful man who had frequently beat her then she was an easy target for any kind of suggestion.  On the other hand, I believed we may have saved his life.”

    “His life, you mean Johnny Quick?”

     “Yes, he beat poor Miss Bronson often, but like most abusers, he neglected to think of the obvious.”

     “What’s that?”

     “Sooner or later, he would have to go to sleep, and then she would find a way to take her revenge.   All I did was offer her a way to tell us about his crime without feeling guilty.”

     “What about that Sung Dynasty bowl?”

     “I wouldn’t worry about that bowl Detective.   My friend, Mr. Wu at the Chung Hing store has several more in the storeroom, they’re modern copy’s that cost 2 for a dollar.”


Author’s Bio:  Charlie Chin is an author, singer/songwriter, and master storyteller. He served as the Community Education Director at the Museum of Chinese in America in New York City and as Artist-in-Residence at the Chinese Historical Society of America in San Francisco. He is the author of several children’s books, including China’s Bravest Girl (1992) and Clever Bird (1996).

Featured Image:

Chinese herbalist photo courtesy of CNN website.

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