San Franciscans Protest Naming Chinatown Subway Station After Communist Power Broker

May 12, 2019 Updated: May 13, 2019

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif.—Hundreds of San Francisco residents rallied in front of City Hall on May 6 to protest the city’s proposal of naming the new Chinatown subway station after the late Rose Pak.

Pak, an activist known for her ties with the Chinese communist regime, died in September 2016. After her death, members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors introduced a resolution in October 2016 to name the Chinatown subway station after Pak.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) rejected the 2016 resolution, explaining that stations should be named after geographical locations rather than people. As a result, it was proposed that the station should be named “Chinatown Station” for clarity and simplicity.

The rally on May 6 this year took place after Aaron Peskin, Supervisor of San Francisco District 3, recently reintroduced a resolution that “strongly urges the SFMTA Board of Directors to name the Central Subway’s Chinatown Station the ‘Rose Pak Chinatown Station,’” according to The San Francisco Examiner.

In response, hundreds of people at the rally voiced their opposition to the name.

Participants held signs reading “No Rose Pak,” and “Chinatown Station Only,” and other slogans. Some participants also explained their reasons for protesting against the proposed name.

“How can I explain to my children, there is such a person who does things unreasonably in Chinatown. And she doesn’t pay to get [a] haircut, doesn’t pay to eat,” Maggie Tang, a Chinatown resident, said in Cantonese, translated by a live translator.

Tang explained that Pak often used her status to gain free services at local Chinatown shops, so it would be morally unfit to have Pak’s name be used for any public spaces.

Local media often referred to Pak as Chinatown’s political power broker. She was an executive director of the China Overseas Exchange Association, an organization overseen by the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the State Council of China.

Because of Pak’s close ties with communist China, some participants at the rally argued that using her name would be a constant reminder of the terrors committed by communist China.

Da Fong, another San Francisco resident, recounted her story of being persecuted by the Chinese Communist Party and why she opposes the use of Pak’s name.

“I escaped from China in 2011 and came to San Francisco. Back in China, my little sister was tortured to death at the labor camp because of her practice of Falun Dafa [also called Falun Gong, a popular spiritual discipline that is persecuted by the Chinese Communist Party]. My brother was imprisoned for 12 years because he wouldn’t give up his beliefs,” said Fong in Chinese, according to a translator.

Fong said that she was also tortured with an electric shock device, but she was eventually able to escape to the United States.

“I came to the United States because I believed the United States government had the power to provide compassionate protection, no matter one’s beliefs or cultural background. But I had no idea that after coming to San Francisco, I would still encounter the persecution of communist China through their representative Rose Pak,” said Fong.

“[Pak] arranged people to openly attack Falun Gong practitioners,” Fong said.

Pak was also widely considered the de facto leader of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce. In 2004, she banned Falun Gong practitioners from participating in San Francisco’s annual Chinese New Year parade, which is the largest of its kind outside Asia.

In addition to “Chinatown Station” and “Rose Pak Chinatown Station,” there has been a proposal to name the station after Sun Yat-Sen, the founding father of the Republic of China, which is now Taiwan.

In 1912, Sun established the Republic of China in mainland China as the first democratic nation in Asia.

The Kuomintang Party, which Sun founded, was defeated by the communists in 1949. After that, the Republic of China under the Kuomintang’s leadership assumed the governance of Taiwan.

During a Board of Supervisors meeting the day after the rally, Gou Tan, a local Chinatown resident, said: “This is not just the business of Chinatown or San Francisco or California; it covers the whole world. All the people [who] come to Chinatown will see the name, so it matters to all of us, not just San Francisco.”

Of the three station names being proposed, only the name “Rose Pak Chinatown Station” has received criticism and opposition.

One passerby said: “How the city mayor’s office and Board of Supervisors would name something that obviously has such an impact on individuals—and it’s probably more than this, a lot of people are just quiet about it—I think that’s a disgrace to San Francisco, as a visionary city, to turn backwards and name the station after Rose Pak. I’m in full support of not naming it after Rose Pak.”