Long Live the Wong Dynasty

Katie Gee Salisbury
6 min readDec 15, 2021

a story of familial love

newspaper clipping from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 13, 1934; the Wong clan from left to right: Frank Wong, Roger Wong, Mary Wong, Wong Sam Sing, Anna May Wong, Richard Wong, and Lulu Wong

When reporters asked movie actress Anna May Wong about her family and whether she had any brothers and sisters, she answered cheerfully that there were, in fact, seven Wong children. “We’re not a family — we’re a dynasty,” she’d add with a twinkle in her eye.

As modern and outré as AMW was for a Chinese American woman in the 1920s, eschewing marriage for a career in the movies against the wishes of her parents, there were some traditional values that she held quite dear. Family was deeply important to her, and her loyalty and dedication to her brothers and sisters was unwavering.

little Anna in a white dress and bonnet sits in her mother’s lap, while her older sister Lulu stands next to them, circa 1905, via the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research

Perhaps it had something to do with her parents. Wong Sam Sing and Lee Gon Toy were both born in California in the late 1800s, the children of immigrants who had been lured from Southern China to seek their fortunes on Gold Mountain. Both were only children. Wong Sam Sing lost his mother at the age of five and was raised by relatives for a time while his father continued running his general store business in the mining town of Michigan Bluff. Lee Gon Toy’s father ran a cigar factory in San Francisco. At the tender age of 15 she married Wong; the couple was match-made through a marriage broker, as was the custom of the times. Wong was 41. Lee lost touch with her parents when she moved down to Los Angeles with her new husband. After some years her parents returned to China and she never saw them again.

It makes sense in a way that together, Wong Sam Sing and Lee Gon Toy would produce a large family, a kind of substitute for the one they lacked growing up in the wilds of the Western frontier. Lulu was the first of the clan and born in 1902.

“Her arrival was not the signal for any rejoicing in the family,” AMW recalled in her memoirs for Pictures magazine in 1926. “In fact, when father found out that his first child was a girl he was so disgusted that he didn’t come home for days.”

Little Anna came next in 1905. While Wong Sam Sing bemoaned the delivery of yet another daughter, two girls in a row was a blessing in disguise. Lulu and Anna protected and helped one another…



Katie Gee Salisbury

Author of NOT YOUR CHINA DOLL, a new biography of Anna May Wong, forthcoming from Dutton on March 12, 2024. Available for pre-order: www.notyourchinadoll.com