Skip to main content
Catalog No. —
CN 014572
Date —
Era —
1921-1949 (Great Depression and World War II)
Themes —
Race, Ethnicity, and Nationality, Transportation and Communication
Credits —
Oregon Historical Society
Regions —
Author —
Edward Campbell, Oregon Journal Collection

Lung On

This photograph shows John Day merchant Lung On standing in front of a four-door sedan that he was selling. It was taken in 1927 by Oregon Journal photographer Edward Campbell.

Lung On was a prominent Chinese merchant in the eastern Oregon town of John Day for more than fifty years. He was born in China’s Guangdong Province sometime in the 1860s. Although trained as a traditional Chinese scholar, he yearned for adventure. He left China for America while still a young man, arriving in San Francisco in 1882.

In 1887, he moved to John Day, then home to the largest Chinatown in eastern Oregon. Not long after arriving in John Day, Lung On met a fellow Chinese immigrant by the name of Ing Hay, who was trained in traditional Chinese medicine. The two would become lifelong friends and business partners. In September 1888, Ing Hay and Lung On opened a general store and medical practice in the Kam Wah Chung building, a stone structure probably built in the late 1860s as a trading post and temporary fort along The Dalles Military Road.

Lung On, known to whites as Leon, soon became one of the most prominent leaders of eastern Oregon’s Chinese community. He was a personable, highly intelligent man respected by both Chinese and whites. He spoke fluent English and would often translate for his fellow countrymen in their dealings with whites. In addition to selling goods imported from China, Kam Wah Chung & Co. store served as a social center and hiring hall for the Chinese community of John Day.

With the dwindling of John Day’s Chinese population in the 1890s and 1900s came a reduction in business for the general store, but Lung On was a resourceful entrepreneur who was involved in a number of other business ventures. Together with a local white friend, he operated one of the first automobile dealerships and service stations east of the Cascades. He also owned a race horse, sold bootleg whiskey during Prohibition, and invested in real estate in Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia.

Both Lung On and his partner Ing Hay became wealthy men, though they lived modestly in the Kam Wah Chung building throughout their lives. Lung On died in December 1940 and was buried in the Restlawn Cemetery in John Day.

Further Reading:
Barlow, Jeffrey G. and Christine Richardson. China Doctor of John Day. Portland, Oreg., 1979.

McCunn, Ruthanne Lum. Chinese American Portraits: Personal Histories, 1828-1988. San Francisco, Calif., 1988.

Written by Cain Allen, © Oregon Historical Society, 2005.