Sister Ping and the Golden Venture
December 2, 2009 11:11 AM   Subscribe

Cheng Chui Ping came to the US like many others from the Fujian province in China. Through hard work and determination, she rose in the ranks of New York City's Chinatown business community. But, "Sister Ping" was not one to follow laws if it didn't suit her. Among the snakeheads who engaged in human trafficking, none were better than her.

Working with notorious gangsters, Sister Ping set up a global network to help smuggle Fujianese immigrants into the US.

Sean Chen and others were among those who were on the ill fated trip that ultimately sent Sister Ping to prison. Their ordeals were not over either. Many spent years in immigration detention centers, waiting to enter the country they had endured so much to get to.

Sister Ping is due to be released from prison in 2030.
posted by reenum (15 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
The most surreal portion of the Golden Venture saga was when the Fujianese ship was stuck in Mombasa, Kenya. Passengers left the ship and many began staying at a local hotel called the Oceanic Resort. A group of them opened a restaurant in the hotel and were so successful that when it came time to leave for the U.S., the group opted to stay in Kenya. In the words of Patrick Radden Keefe, "they had a business to run."
posted by reenum at 11:13 AM on December 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


There was a great feature on this on Fresh Air a few months back with the author of The Snakehead (Patrick Radden Keefe).
posted by zennoshinjou at 11:19 AM on December 2, 2009


From the article on The New Yorker, one person who survived the Golden Venture and now owns a restaurant in suburban Columbus, Ohio. He arrived when he was 20. I am always impressed by people who survive terrible conditions to come to another country and flourish.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:27 AM on December 2, 2009


I hope there is a special place in hell for her. The passengers—mostly adults, but a few children—were emaciated. They had been confined in the ship’s hold for months . . . . . One Coast Guard officer who performed CPR on two men onshore recalled, “I could feel the gristle of their bodies, the cartilage. They walked up out of the water, collapsed on the beach, and died.” Six bodies were recovered from the surf; four others were found later.
posted by bearwife at 11:56 AM on December 2, 2009


The thing is, I can understand why many Chinese-Americans feel sympathy for the snakeheads. It really isn't that easy to smuggle so many people into the country from so far away, at an affordable rate.

Bribes have to be paid, circuitous routes taken, etc. When one thing goes wrong, taking care of hundreds of people on a ship on the move is not going to be easy. I mean, many of us have heard of airplane or cruise ship horror stories where something breaks down or food poisoning compromises damn near everything, to the point that they become unlivable, with passengers going through hell.

... and this is the kind of crap that happens under legal, best-case scenarios, without such huge distances, long delays, or heavy cost overruns.

The simple fact is, there is no reliable, healthy, humane way to smuggle a fellow human being... especially when significant effort is being expended to stop the smuggling.

It simply makes no sense to assume that every smuggler is intrinsically evil. (Unless they smuggled blacks to freedom from the South... in which case they were heroic. )

Smugglers have a right to believe that what they are doing is, by and large, a good thing, even if it's illegal. They also have a right to make money at it, because that is how you can afford to bring more people out of difficult circumstances to a better life. Please note that the woman who did this was not one to lavish luxuries on herself. It could very well be that she was a true believer in what she did, because she *knew* firsthand what it was like in China, and what it *could* be like in the U.S.

What she didn't know, I would imagine, is just how bad it could get so quickly for the people she was supposed to be taking care of. It is highly questionable that she wanted things that way, however.

If we, as Americans, do not like foreigners dying to come to our country, perhaps we should consider policies and practices that contribute to their deaths?!
posted by markkraft at 4:30 PM on December 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


"If we, as Americans, do not like foreigners dying to come to our country, perhaps we should consider policies and practices that contribute to their deaths?!"

Um... reconsider... not consider.

That said, our government is better at considering harmful immigration policies.

At one point in the late 1800s, about 10% of California's population were Chinese... until we left tens of thousands of hardworking, tax-paying immigrants to die as lonely old bachelors.

I often ask myself... where would America be today if we hadn't halted immigration from China. Would sixty or seventy years worth of wealthy Chinese-Americans developing, influencing, and democratizing China have checked China's corruption and blocked the excesses of communism by providing a clear, obvious alternative for success? Would strong US/China relations have encouraged increased openness from Japan, and prevented the kind of power vacuum in China that made Japanese imperialism possible?

The simple historical truth is, it's pretty much impossible to point to any example of curtailing immigration that has clearly helped this country.
posted by markkraft at 4:43 PM on December 2, 2009


Maybe she didn't lavish luxuries on herself, dunno, but she made $40 million doing this. She was linked to at least 4 deaths from smuggling in 1988, 5 years before the Golden Venture incident I quoted from, along the way allied herself deliberately with a very violent gang, and as for after that . . . After the Golden Venture incident, it was no longer feasible to send ships directly to U.S. shores, but she continued shipping people to Central and South America. In 1998, she sent a shipload of passengers to the coast off Guatemala. The off-loading went awry, and fourteen people drowned.


Nothing about the US immigration laws excuses any of this.
posted by bearwife at 5:44 PM on December 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Markkraft, California would probably look like more like Malaysia without the Chinese Exclusion Act.

Ping is no living Buddha. She made her family a lot of money , and allied herself with killers.
posted by wuwei at 5:55 PM on December 2, 2009


Smugglers have a right to believe that what they are doing is, by and large, a good thing, even if it's illegal. They also have a right to make money at it, because that is how you can afford to bring more people out of difficult circumstances to a better life.

What?
posted by b1tr0t at 9:06 PM on December 2, 2009


The funny thing is that I firmly oppose illegal immigration, but I don't think that this woman is so terrible. This is just one of those kinds of things that happens. Whenever something is made illegal, for right or for wrong, people will make a profit by selling it, anyway. That's just what happens. This woman doesn't seem especially good or bad. She was doing it for profit, but it doesn't sound like she was cheating anyone but the government. She wasn't trying to hurt anyone, and probably saw what she did as a valuable and welcome service. No doubt, so did many of her customers.

It's not like she was in a position to offer people umbrellas for their deck chairs, if you know what I mean. This wasn't going to be a Carnival cruise. Sure, she dealt with gangsters and unsuitable ocean vessels. I can't imagine a large scale smuggler who would be able to avoid those. I don't get the anger at her. What do you expect, OSHA compliance? If she was tricking people into indentured servitude and prostitution, then sure, she would be a total evil scumbag. But I'm not reading any such accusations (although, I haven't read ALL of the articles).
posted by Edgewise at 11:51 PM on December 2, 2009


I often ask myself... where would America be today if we hadn't halted immigration from China. Would sixty or seventy years worth of wealthy Chinese-Americans developing, influencing, and democratizing China have checked China's corruption and blocked the excesses of communism by providing a clear, obvious alternative for success?

That's a pretty bizarre view of Chinese history. In the 1800s, the Qing dynasty was still in operation. And, they did become democratic, the republic of China, with a democratic/capitalist structure was formed in 1911, which ruled all of china until the 1940s. And there was a close working relationship between the U.S. and the ROC, which still controls Taiwan.


Would strong US/China relations have encouraged increased openness from Japan, and prevented the kind of power vacuum in China that made Japanese imperialism possible?

The US's relation with the Republic of China was already pretty strong before the war, and it was especially strong after the war. The fact that we were allied so closely with the disliked KMT is probably a big part of the reason why we were so disliked in China after the communist revolution.

The fact is, we "lost" China because we were obsessed with fighting "Communists" and allied ourselves with a government that people didn't like. Rather then being willing to work with Mao, we allied with the KMT in trying to suppress the people, ala south Vietnam (in fact, China was for a time 'split' north/south like Vietnam and Korea)

You're comment reeks American exceptionalism (if only these savages had been aware of how awesome things were in the U.S. they would have never become commie! Nevermind horrible capitalist government everyone hated and we were actually supporting!) and a really lack of understanding Chinese history. It isn't like the Chinese were never a capitalist 'democracy'. I'm not sure if the KMT ever held an "election" or not before the war, but their first after the war (in Taiwan) was in 2000, which they lost.
posted by delmoi at 12:18 AM on December 3, 2009


From the article:
The press took evident satisfaction in the conviction (“EVIL INCARNATE” ran a typical trial headline, from the Daily News), but the Fujianese community in Chinatown was less enthusiastic. “A lot of people in Chinatown are saying that we’re putting Robin Hood on trial,” Steven Wong, the Fujianese community leader, told me. The World Journal reported that villagers in Shengmei had volunteered to do prison time on Sister Ping’s behalf; they described her as a living Buddha.
Yeah, I'm having trouble understanding why people are calling her evil. People knew what they were getting into getting on that boat. It sounds like this particular operation was the result of her getting greedy and reckless, working with violent gangs (who ended up having a gang war while the ship was still at sea) and using that rickety ship in the first place. But people knew what they were getting into. It sounds like most of her earlier operations went pretty smoothly and she had a reputation for treating people fairly. She was selling people an illegal and risky product, but it was one that they wanted.
posted by delmoi at 12:24 AM on December 3, 2009


Perhaps the most telling illustration of the allure this country has for the Fujianese is the number of Golden Venture passengers who endured the voyage, imprisonment, and deportation, only to return to the United States. In 1998, Wang Wu Dong, who had been imprisoned and deported, was re-apprehended when a snakehead powerboat—the Oops II—ran aground off the Jersey shore. According to Peter Cohn, a filmmaker who has interviewed several of the passengers for a new documentary, scores of those who were deported have returned illegally.
posted by delmoi at 12:33 AM on December 3, 2009



At one point in the late 1800s, about 10% of California's population were Chinese... until we left tens of thousands of hardworking, tax-paying immigrants to die as lonely old bachelors.


Well, that's a very generous way of describing why the Chinese population went down ...

The Chinese called this the driving out time ... The 'Chinese Question' framed the labor stance for Democrats and Republicans: while Democrats exploited the race hysteria to win the support of labor, Republicans supported the business ideal of an unlimited supply of second-class, low-wage labor. Caught between the racism of both political parties, the Chinese were used to inflame and distract white workers, frustrated by rising unemployment and an economic depression.

From Los Angeles to Denver, from Seattle to Rock Springs, Wyoming, Chinese were driven out. In Tacoma, Washington, hundreds of Chinese were herded onto boats and set adrift at sea, presumably to their deaths. Mobs burned all the Chinese homes and businesses in Denver in 1880. Newspapers from The New York Times to the San Francisco Chronicle stirred fears that the Chinese, together with the newly freed black population, would become a threat to the Republic. Years earlier, orator Horace Greeley had captured the sense of the intelligentsia


-- Helen Zia, Asian American dreams
posted by Comrade_robot at 5:02 AM on December 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


I remember hearing on the NPR story about this that when the people came over they still had to pay her off so in a sense it was like indentured servitude. I however am on the side of folks who don't see what the big deal is. People made a choice understanding the risk and cost and the fact that the risk came to pass doesn't make the situation any different.
posted by zennoshinjou at 8:13 AM on December 5, 2009


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