A Chinese laundryman’s Enemy Was Sometimes Other Chinese laundrymen

Usually one thinks of Chinese laundrymen having to do battle with organizations of white owners of steam laundries, labor unions, and discriminatory laws such as the San Francisco prohibition against laundries in wooden buildings (Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 1886). In their communities, they suffered pranks, assaults, robberies, and homicides. Add to that, the Chinese Exclusion Act, and the inability to bring wives and children from China, they definitely had a difficult existence.

As if these circumstances were not dire enough, competition among Chinese laundrymen was sometimes fierce. Cut rate pricing offered a way to increase patronage, but at the expense of other laundries.  For example, in 1896, Sam Sing, a laundryman in Alexandria, Virginia, accused a nearby competitor, Ah Moy, of sending anonymous obscene letters to Sing’s wife. It was suspected that Moy may have been motivated to send these letters because Sing had cut his laundry prices to gain more business at Moy’s expense. Moy, being single, may have been also motivated by jealousy of Sing who seemed happily married with two children.

1896sam sing and ah moy excerpt

Two years later, another bitter battle developed among some laundrymen in Washington that also involved conflict over cut rate laundry prices. Moy Gee You, aka Hop Sing as well as Ah Sing, was the only laundryman offering cut rate prices, which the Chinese laundry union opposed. They retaliated by accusing him of mailing obscene literature. The plaintiffs admit they paid off Moy Gee You to hold the line on higher laundry prices. They charge he did not live up to their price fixing contract, and should be required to refund the money he had received to fix prices.

It is interesting that in both cases, the way chosen to get back at someone was to accuse them of sending obscene mail. You could get your opponent in trouble with the authorities and he would have to spend time and money defending himself.

1898 Moy Gee You or Ah Sing cut rate laundry  versus the Ch laund Union also accus of obscene letters  1898 price fixing Ch accuse Ah Sing or Moy Gee You and taking fees to keep hi prices but did not

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