Backlash to claim that tunnels have been found beneath SF Chinatown

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Experts on Chinese American history say Chinatowns across the nation -- including in many California cities -- have always been rumored to have tunnels, but no proof exists that they were anything more than connected basements. They say the hype surrounding the legends revives misconceptions that fanned xenophobia in earlier times.

Oral histories and newspaper accounts from the early 20th century include clues that Los Angeles' original Chinatown (where Union Station now stands) was connected by a web of tunnels leading to brothels, speak-easies and other illicit businesses. But when the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority dug up the area in 1990 for subway construction, it found artifacts but no tunnels.

Some historians say the tunnel tales originated from a misunderstanding of Chinese culture, and overt prejudice.

"The 19th century was an extremely racist climate," said Phil Choy, past president of the Chinese Historical Society of America and a skeptic of tunnel lore. "There had always been an attempt to remove the Chinese. You had this population of undesirables. The more mysterious they make us, the better."

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