Onserf Distribution Mural
BOW ON TONG
The Bow on Tong Joss House was constructed in 1920 to replace an earlier Bow on Tong Joss House that was located at 945 G St. The building was designed for two purposes: residential and religious. Commercial spaces were located on the ground floor while lodging and a temple was located on the second floor.
Although Tong associations carried a negative stigma because of their close ties with organized crime, joss houses functioned as social centers for the whole community. The Bow on Tong Joss house represented a large number of Fresno’s Chinese and according to newspaper articles the opening of the building was a cause for great celebration.
“Practically half of the inhabitants of the local Chinese quarter are members of the company, which represent those of the celestial who have not yet given up their old country customs for those of the new world.”
“The new joss house has been fitted out at a cost of about $2,000. Eight rooms in all compromise the part of the building devoted to the use of the order. Of these, seven are for transient guests of the society, the other being a lounging place as well as one of worship.”
935 China Alley, Fresno, CA 93706
Joss Houses (Chinese temples) were religious and social centers for Chinese Americans and immigrants. The word joss is a corruption of the Portuguese word deos (God); hence, idol. The temples were often a stark contrast to the Christian temples Americans were used to.
Taoism was the religion practiced in Joss houses and worship was typically a solitary practice rather than a group activity. Prayers or questions were written on papers and burned on the altar. On special occasions food and drinks were offered to the deities. Answers to prayers or questions were often given through prayer sticks which were read by the temple’s priest or deacon. Joss houses provided Chinese immigrants an opportunity to remain in touch with their culture and roots. Often community festivities focused on the temples.