Papers presented by Alastair Y. Su since 2019

2023 Detroit, MI, United States

"The “Richest Chinaman in America:” Loo Chew Fan and the Making of Hop Kee and Company, 1852-1908"

Alastair Su , Westmont College


In 1852, the Cantonese merchant Loo Chew Fan arrived in San Francisco and established Hop Kee and Company, importing rice, tea, salted fish, opium, and other staples for California’s burgeoning Chinese community. Within two decades, Loo directed Hop Kee’s evolution from a wholesale firm to the West Coast’s leading shoe manufacturing company. But despite being the most successful Chinese entrepreneur in Gilded Age America, little is still known about Loo. Using business papers, legal records and newspapers, my paper follows Loo’s remarkable progression from a commission merchant in Gold Rush San Francisco to a full-fledged capitalist whose business empire was reportedly worth an estimated $4.5 million at its peak. By doing so, my paper builds on the historiography of transpacific capitalism by shedding light on the inner workings of what historian Elizabeth Sinn described as the “Gold Mountain trade” between Hong Kong and California. Yet Loo was more than a Chinese merchant. By focusing on his considerable exploits in the domestic shoe manufacturing industry—especially during the Chinese Exclusion era—my research pays attention to a transformation that historians have missed: Loo’s reinvention from a “heathen” alien to a freewheeling capitalist.