In King of the Yees, a mysterious underworld boss known as Shrimp Boy may be involved in the disappearance of Lauren Yee’s father. Find out more about this larger than life real character and his ties to San Francisco’s Chinatown.
When Kwok Cheung Chow was a smaller-than average child growing up in Hong Kong, his grandmother nicknamed him Ha Jai, or Shrimp Boy: a name you will hear throughout King of the Yees. She could not have guessed that her diminutive grandson would grow up to be one of San Francisco’s most notorious gangsters—or that he would continue to use the moniker she bestowed on him as he navigated a life of crime, infamy, repentance and relapse. After immigrating to the United States in 1976 at the age of 16, Shrimp Boy attended high school in San Francisco for one month, then dropped out and joined the Hop Sing Tong, a gang in Chinatown. He quickly gained status among criminals, engaging in such diverse unlawful activities as racketeering, illegal gun sales, prostitution, drugs, money laundering and conspiracy to deal stolen property. At age 18, he was convicted of robbery and spent seven years in prison. The next two decades saw Shrimp Boy imprisoned and released, again and again, all the while maintaining his reputation as one of San Francisco’s most tough and wily criminals. In 2003, Shrimp Boy testified against a former boss in exchange for a reduced sentence; he was released. He ostensibly began to assimilate into a
life he’d never known: he spoke to youth groups about the dangers of joining a gang, and planned field trips for his girlfriend’s school age daughter and her classmates.
In 2014, Shrimp Boy’s period of normalcy ended when he was arrested during an FBI raid in an investigation into the corruption of California State Senator Leland Yee. His legal troubles continued as he was prosecuted on 162 counts, including many for money laundering, and one for murder. On August 4, 2016, he was found guilty on all counts and sentenced to two life terms in prison.
Read more about Shrimp Boy from The New York Times Magazine.
But given where he came from – as a United States attorney put it in a recent court filing, he has an ”extensive and horrible criminal record” involving ”almost all manner of racketeering possible” – he did pretty well. He counseled at-risk high-school students about addiction to crime.