'Wu Assassins' on Netflix: The True Story of Chinatown's Little Pete

In the new Netflix series Wu Assassins, chef Kai (Iko Uwais, The Raid) is granted unrivaled martial arts abilities by the "Monk Piece," a stone containing the power of a thousand monks. But there's a catch: Kai must now find and kill five elemental warlords — Earth, Water, Metal, Wood, Fire — corrupted by the power of the Wu. One of those five elemental evils happens to be Kai's adoptive father, Uncle Six (Byron Mann, Altered Carbon), a powerful businessman and gang leader in San Francisco's Chinatown. But while Wu Assassins is a wildly fictional medley of crime, magic and martial arts, one of the villains of the series takes his inspiration from a real-life figure: a Chinatown godfather named Little Pete.

Uncle Six and Kai Jin face off in an episode of Netflix's "Wu Assassins." Netflix

In the first episode of Wu Assassins, Uncle Six shares with a rival gang member (just before killing him) how he plans to follow in Little Pete's footsteps.

"Have you ever heard of Little Pete?" Uncle Six asks the doomed man. "He was the first Chinese millionaire in the United States. The first Chinaman to refuse to carry papers required by the Geary Act. The first dragon head in Chinatown. People said crossing Little Pete was like erasing your name from God's journal."

While not every element of Uncle Six's story can be verified, since Little Pete's exploits have taken on mythic proportions, the true story behind the gang leader that became known as the "King of Chinatown" is just as fascinating.

Gary Kamiya, journalist and historian of San Francisco, shared the true story of Little Pete in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Born Fung Jing Toy (or Fung Ching), as a child Little Pete immigrated from Kow Kong, a town about 50 miles from Macau, in Guangdong Province, to San Francisco. While he began working as an errand boy in a shoe factory, his fluent English soon made him an invaluable addition to Sam Yup Company, one of the Six Companies that not only dominated Chinatown business, but also community affairs, providing services — like returning bodies for burial in China — to the insular immigrant community.

A meeting of the Six Companies Benevolent Association in Chinatown, circa 1946. Bettmann / Contributor

Little Pete soon gained a reputation among both Chinese and white San Franciscans, who thought of him as a community liaison, or "Mr. Chinatown." Soon enough, Pete had enough capital to open a business of his own, the F.C. Peters and Co. shoe company (named so as not to scare away white customers).

With his newfound wealth, Little Pete began opening gambling and opium dens, protecting his new assets with a fighting "tong," a combination of secret society and gang. Little Pete took to wearing 35 pounds of chain mail and a steel hat. By 1890, Pete was just 25 and leader of the Som Yop Tong, which became the dominant power in Chinatown after defeating the Sue Yop Tong in a gang war. The war also solidified Pete's fearsome reputation. He fought with hatchets and clubs and was widely believed to have killed more than 50 rival tong members.

A turn-of-the-century opium den in San Francisco's Chinatown. Culture Club / Getty Images

Infamous throughout San Francisco, Little Pete hired notorious local hatchetman Lee Chuck to his team of bodyguard, who soon proved his worth by shooting a would-be assassin to death on a Chinatown street. When Pete tried to bribe local police into releasing Lee Chuck, he was convicted of bribery and sentenced to five years in Folsom Prison.

Released a hardened criminal, Little Pete remade his fortune, this time in sex trafficking and rigging horse races. While Pete still had the support of local whites, he was soon the target of rival tongs once more.

"Everybody wanted a piece of Little Pete. Hatchetmen were imported from China to assassinate him. The Irish tried to burn him out of the docks. The police came after him with clubs and silly ordinances, designed to kill his soul and drive him out of Chinatown," Uncle Six says in the first episode of Wu Assassins. "Everything failed. You know why? Because, like me, Little Pete was willing to do whatever's necessary to protect his business, his people, his territory."

But there's one thing about Little Pete's story that Uncle Six gets wrong, because Little Pete's competition eventually caught up with him.

On the night of January 23, 1897, Little Pete sent his white bodyguard (whose racial privilege provided extra protection) out to buy a newspaper while he went to a barbershop across from his shoe factory. Two tong gang members grabbed him by the hair while he sat in a barber chair, pulled up his chain mail and fired four bullets into Little Pete, killing him instantly. The assassins were never caught, but returned to China as rich men.

Will Kai Jin's newfound power as the Wu Assassin lead to Uncle Six suffering a similar fate to Little Pete? Netflix

Little Pete's assassination is considered a pivotal moment in the Tong Wars, which supplanted the Six Companies and resulted in widespread gang warfare until, weakened in the aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, new legislation and aggressive policing brought an end to the tongs' domination of Chinatown.

All ten episodes of Wu Assassins is now available on Netflix.

'Wu Assassins' on Netflix: The True Story of Chinatown's Little Pete | Culture