Henry Lee Chiu and His Paper Son

The case file of Henry Pean (also known as Chiu Hing Lee) maintained by the Immigration Bureau (later known as the Immigration and Naturalization Service or INS) is an interesting one. Pean was born in Alexandria, Virginia in May 1887 to Joseph Pean, a Chinese immigrant, and his German wife, Catherine Joseph. His father reportedly brought Pean back to China when he was around two-years-old, and then left him with his grandfather to receive a Chinese education.  Pean remained in China until he was twenty-one, and then travelled to New York City where he was readmitted to the US in 1908 as a US citizen.

Although seeming straightforward, Pean’s file did not end with his 1908 re-admittance and verification of his American citizenship. He returned to China two more times and was required to go through the same rigorous process each time he returned. In 1912, he went to China to marry, but returned without his wife.  In 1915, he returned to the US with his wife,  Jung She.  Jung She, who was initially denied entrance to the States because of trachoma (a very contagious eye infection), experienced the same series of interview questions as her husband. In this particular situation, the Immigration Bureau was trying to find any discrepancies in their statements.

These interviews were not limited to Pean’s travels to China. Pean and his wife asked the Immigration Bureau permission to visit his cousin in Toronto, Canada and experienced the same process. Between 1915 and 1920, the Peans also gave birth to two children, Leaf Gold and C. Quen Woo, and the parents were asked questions about them. The Pean family were allowed to visit their cousin in Toronto and returned to the United States in 1920.

At first, Pean’s file appears to be a straightforward series of documents, but upon close examination it shows that it was not. Over the years, Pean’s knowledge of his family seemed to grow. In 1908, when he first arrived in New York, Chiu seemed to know little to nothing about his family, which was understandable seeing as he left the US as a two-year-old. Over the years, Chiu became more adept at answering questions, indicating that his family had filled him in on his family history.

Even more interesting in the Pean file is the very last document. Dated August 31, 1929, the letter stated that Chin Jan Wick, also known as Chiu Jan Wick, the alleged son of Pean, was denied entrance into Seattle, Washington and was deported back to China.  Pean had claimed Chiu Jan Wick as his son, but the Immigration Bureau did not believe him. Like many “paper sons,” Chin might have been a family member, friend, or someone Pean had sold information to.  What ultimately happened to Chin and Pean is not known.

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