“Richie Rich” Richard Cheung is the chairman of the Eng Suey Sun Tong and has been for the past 12 years, following several tri-yearly re-elections. His nickname reportedly comes from the 1994 comedy Richie Rich. According to Richard, he “opened the newspaper and saw an advertisement for the movie Richie Rich. I decided then that was my new nickname.”
Richie was born in the district of Tianbei in Shenzhen to the merchant Fung Moon Cheung and his wife Po Lei Cheung. He grew up as an apprentice to the father, hoping to follow his footsteps. However, they moved to the United States in 1962 where his family settled in San Delfina Chinatown. There, he worked as a longshoreman at the docks before becoming a welder.
Richard associated himself with local benevolent organizations at a young age, becoming a flyer-boy for the Chinese American Association where he was first introduced to politics. He had a heart for Chinatown and the Chinese American community in San Delfina. More particularly, he worked to empower the Chinese American working class as a spokesperson.
Cheung married and had two children. In Chinatown, people took note of Richie’s talents as a public speaker. When the Chinese American Association was disbanded, he was invited as a spokesperson for the Eng Suey Sun Tong, serving as a public official for several years.
Throughout the ‘90s and the early ‘00s, overseas triads gained a greater interest in transcontinental regions. They sought out Chinese American communities and benevolent organizations to gain political influence. At the time, the tongs in San Delfina Chinatown saw a significant membership decrease. With this resulting in financial problems, they gradually fell prey to corruption and the infiltration of their organization by individuals with corrupt intentions.
Richie – worn by years of tong politics – was assigned the position of treasurer. To the outside, Cheung was perceived as a person “easy to influence”. Truely, he tried to maintain a status quo through a path of least resistance. He was later elected as chairman and was re-elected for several terms for 11 years. Under Cheung, Chinatown maintained relative stability until his death.