San Francisco’s Subway Station Naming Proposal Receives National Criticism

August 20, 2019 Updated: August 20, 2019

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s (SFMTA) continuous push for naming the new Chinatown subway station after the late Rose Pak has recently garnered the attention of the Human Rights Law Foundation (HRLF) and multiple scholars and China experts.

HRLF is a nonprofit organization “established to deter human rights abuses, develop human rights legal standards, and educate the public on the cultural forms and institutions that undergird the practice of persecutory campaigns,” its website states.

In a letter to the SFMTA board members, HRLF expressed concern about naming the subway station after Pak, who was an activist known for her ties with China’s communist regime. The letter was sent by email to various media organizations on Aug. 19.

HRLF opened the letter by stating: “Congratulations on the new subway stop in Chinatown. That is a huge accomplishment, for which Rose Pak may deserve some credit, though not the high honor of having her name immortalized on a San Francisco landmark.”

The letter added that “naming a geographic feature after an individual deserves true greatness,” something that many people believe Pak did not live up to.

HRLF gave the example of Liu Xiaobo, a philosopher, poet, and human rights activist who won the Nobel Peace Prize, as someone who is worthy of being immortalized.

The San Francisco Chinatown community also briefly advocated for the station to be named after Sun Yat-Sen, who was the founding father of the Republic of China (also known as Taiwan) and built the first democratic republic nation in Asia.

However, the SFMTA’s policy on public transit station names states that stations should be named after geographical locations rather than people. Thus, the most widely supported name for the station is simply “Chinatown Station.”

The HRLF stated, “We would suggest naming the subway stop as simply Chinatown, which represents all the great diversity of the neighborhood over the many decades of its flourishing.”

A Controversial Figure

Many people are against naming the station after Pak because of her controversial ties with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). For years, Pak worked as a power broker among the San Francisco Bay Area’s Chinese American community to influence politics.

HRLF, along with scholars and China experts, stated in the letter that the CCP engages in unethical activities and suppresses groups that stand for freedom and democracy, conflicting with the values of the United States.

“China uses influence tactics, especially through its United Front Work Department, to compromise U.S. democracy, and democracies around the world,” HRLF stated in the letter.

“The most horrendous examples of this are in East Turkistan, where 1–3 million minorities have been locked up due to their beliefs, in Tibet, where Buddhist monasteries are torn down, [in the persecution of] Falun Gong, who are subject to forced organ transplants, and in Hong Kong, where the hopes of over a million people who have marched to demand freedom and democracy from the Chinese Communist Party are being suppressed through police brutality,” the letter added.

The letter stated that Pak was also known to share Beijing’s use of the terms “overseas Chinese” or “overseas compatriots” rather than “Chinese Americans” to refer to people in Chinese communities in the United States. Some scholars have described this phrasing as a form of political manipulation.

HRLF’s letter analyzed how Pak was also recognized as the “de facto” head of the City’s Chamber of Commerce, which allowed her to ban certain Chinese Americans from participating in San Francisco’s annual Chinese New Year parade. Only groups that were aligned with the CCP’s interests were given the right to participate in major city events.

According to FBI archives, Pak was investigated twice, once for illegal housing purchases and another time for her ties with the CCP.

The 14 individuals who signed the letter included Terri Marsh, executive director of HRLF. Marsh coordinates and manages the legal and policy work of HRLF, works on human rights cases in the United States and abroad on behalf of persecuted groups from China, and she advocates for dissidents in China through human rights reports and projects.

Anders Corr, who also signed, worked in military intelligence and is now publisher of the Journal of Political Risk, undertaking field research in various countries around the world.

Mark Eades, an Asia-based educator and an independent researcher, also signed the letter.

Other signees include professors from the University of Pennsylvania and Georgetown University, the former director of the American Institute of Taiwan, a retired naval officer, the Department of Defense, China studies research fellows, a human rights lawyer, independent authors and researchers, and human rights activists from all over the United States.

Over the past few months, San Franciscans have held protests and spoken at San Francisco City Hall public hearings to voice their opposition to naming the subway station after Pak, saying that “Chinatown Station” is the only appropriate name.