A Reporter at Large
The criminal odyssey of Chinatown’s Sister Ping.
Patrick Radden Keefe
April 24, 2006
Several hours before dawn on June 6, 1993, two Park Service police officers were patrolling the
road next to Jacob Riis Park, a long stretch of beach on the Rockaway peninsula, in Queens,
when they were startled by two Asian men flagging them down. As the officers got out of their
car, they heard the sound of screams coming from the beach. The moon was full, and about a
hundred yards offshore the officers saw a hundred-and-fifty-foot tramp steamer that had run
aground. The ship’s deck was crowded with people, and, as the officers watched, men and
women jumped over the side, falling twenty feet into the surging waves below. Dozens of figures
bobbed in the water, some managing to clamber ashore, others flailing wildly, apparently unable
to swim. The officers radioed for backup.
The ship’s name, stencilled in white block letters on the bow, was the Golden Venture. Its cargo
was nearly three hundred illegal Chinese emigrants. Before reaching the Rockaways, the ship
had sailed some seventeen thousand miles, from Thailand to Kenya, around the Cape of Good
Hope, then across the Atlantic to New York.
The passengers—mostly adults, but a few children—were emaciated. They had been confined in
the ship’s hold for months, subsisting on rice, peanuts, and purified salt water. It had been