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Chinese American Historical Museum at the Ng Shing Gung, History Park

Museums, Galleries and Archives (Local and County Historical Societies, Museums, and Archives)

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The Chinese American Historical Museum, housed in the reconstructed Ng Shing Gung (Temple of the Five Gods) building in San Jose's History Park, is dedicated to the history of Chinese Americans in the Santa Clara Valley. The building includes the original Heinlenville Chinatown Ng Shing Gung's 1888 façade, altar, statues, and furnishings, which are displayed on the second floor along with a screening area for Jessica Yu's Oscar-winning documentary Home Base: A Chinatown Called Heinlenville, while the ground floor traces local Chinese American history and culture from the 1850s and 60s to today. The museum is run jointly by History San Jose and the Chinese Historical and Cultural Project (2; 3).

The Chinese American Historical Museum in the historic Ng Shing Gung (image from CAHM)
Ng Shing Gung, Temple of the Five Gods (image from CAHM)
Altar of the Ng Shing Gung, dating to 1892 (image from CAHM)

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The Chinese American Historical Museum, housed in the reconstructed Ng Shing Gung (Temple of the Five Gods) building in San Jose's History Park, is dedicated to the history of Chinese Americans in the Santa Clara Valley. The building includes the original Heinlenville Chinatown Ng Shing Gung's 1888 façade, altar, statues, and furnishings, which are displayed on the second floor along with a screening area for Jessica Yu's Oscar-winning documentary Home Base: A Chinatown Called Heinlenville, while the ground floor traces local Chinese American history and culture from the 1850s and 60s to today. The museum is run jointly by History San Jose and the Chinese Historical and Cultural Project (2; 3).

The Ng Shing Gung and Heinlenville Chinatown

San Jose's Chinatown changed locations four times between the 1860s and 1931. In 1887, after a fire set by an arsonist destroyed Chinatown at Market Street, German immigrant and businessman John Heinlen offered leases to displaced Chinese businesses and families. He received death threats from the community at large, and initially the 6th Street Chinatown (which became known as Heinlenville) had to be fenced and locked at night to protect the neighborhood, but as the town thrived and the population increased, the area became more secure (1; 2). 

The residents pooled their meager resources for the construction of the Ng Shing Gung (Temple of the Five Gods) only one year after their move to Heinlenville. The temple, dedicated to Kwan Yin (Goddess of Mercy), Choi Sun (God of Wealth), Cheng Huan (God of Canton City), Kwan Gung (God of War, Justice, and Loyalty), and Tien Hou (Queen of Heaven), also served as a community center and hostel for travelers with no local family to house them. On the second floor were the carved, gilded altar and statues of the five gods to whom the temple was dedicated. The ground floor community center held classrooms for children's lessons in Chinese calligraphy and literature (2; 3).

A combination of factors worked to end the era of Heinlenville as a Chinese American community during the 1930s—the Chinese Exclusion Act prohibited immigration, the younger generations integrated with American culture and community, and Heinlen lost his fortune during the Great Depression (1; 2). The neighborhood estate went bankrupt, and the City of San Jose became the owner of the Heinlenville property. The city razed everything except Ng Shing Gung, which remained intact until 1949, when over the objections of local historians, the temple was demolished (2). The original altar, furnishings, and part of the façade were rescued and later incorporated into the Ng Shing Gung replica and Chinese American Historical Museum which now stands in San Jose's History Park segment of Kelly Park (2; 3).

Sources

1. Bryant, Dale. "The Chinese American Museum at History Park San Jose celebrates 20 years." The Mercury News. October 6, 2011. Accessed October 28, 2016. http://www.mercurynews.com/2011/10/06/the-chinese-american-museum-at-history-park-san-jose-celebrates-20-years/. 2. Chinese Historical and Cultural Project. "CAHMuseum." Accessed October 28, 2016. http://chcp.org/cah-museum/. 3. History San Jose. "Chinese American Historical Museum at the Ng Shing Gung." Accessed October 28, 2016. http://historysanjose.org/wp/plan-your-visit/history-park/chinese-american-historical-museum-at-the-ng-shing-gung/.

Address
1650 Senter Road
San Jose, CA 95112
Phone Number
(408) 287-2290
Hours
1st and 3rd Sundays every month, 11:00 am - 4:00 pm and for special events
Tags
  • Asian and Asian American History
  • Cultural History
  • Ethnic History and Immigration
  • Religion
  • Local History Societies and Museums
  • Urban History
This location was created on 2016-10-21 by Sara Marian .   It was last updated on 2017-01-13 by Sara Marian .

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