CHANG – The Chinese Giant

CHANG – The Chinese Giant

Often billed as Chang Yu Sing the gargantuan Chang Woo Gow was born in Fychow, China in 1845 and, before appearing in front the Prince and Princess of Wales by request in 1864, the nearly eight-foot giant was best known for delighting the emperor of China as part of his royal court.

It is unclear why Chang opted to leave the imperial court and visit England, but perhaps he knew there was a fortune to be had by exhibiting his 7 foot 9 inch frame. During his visit to England the reception he received was beyond his expectations and quite literally thousands of curious patrons paid good money, up to three shillings each, to witness the exotic giant speak and display traditional Chinese garb and etiquette. So great was the demand that what was initially planned as a brief visit eventually ballooned into a two year tour of England.

In the years following, Chang toured Europe with various promoters. Often he was exhibited on his own as a single attraction and sometime he was paired with a dwarf in order to accentuate his grand proportions.During his travels Chang proved to be quite an intellectual marvel as he learned to speak several languages including English, German and French and developed and adoration of literature. During exhibition, rarely was a book far from his reach.

Of course, rarely was anything far from his giant reach.

In 1881 the great P. T Barnum contracted Chang to his Greatest Show on Earth. At $600 a week Chang was one of the most well paid attractions of his time and he proved to be worth every penny. Aided by a Barnum advertisement campaign, the giant billed as being ‘as strong as Heracles’ and ‘as beautiful as Apollo’ Chang drew record crowds and hordes of admirers.In fact despite being paired with a demure Chinese woman named King-Foo, hired to play the role of his bride, female admirers were persistent in their pursuit of the Chinese giant.The courting was so intense that Chang was forced to address his availability in nearly every interview he granted as it was always amongst the first questions reporters asked.

Chang was, of course, eventually smitten. While in Australia he met a young lady from, curiously enough, Liverpool named Catherine Santley and he fell in love with her beauty, honesty and character. The couple married, had two sons and lived in China for a brief period before Chang moved everyone to Bournemouth, England.

Retired from exhibition, Chang purchased a Villa at 6 Southcote Road where he opened a tea house. There he displayed his many eastern curios and chatted with townsfolk including photographer William J. Day.

Admired and well liked for his character and kindness, Chang’s peaceful life was magnificent until his beloved wife passed unexpectedly in 1893.

Four months later, Chang died of a broken heart.

His funeral was a quiet affair as per his wishes. 50 of his closest friends gathered around his eight and a half foot plain oak casket to pay their respects. There, William J. Day summed it best when he described his friend Chang as ‘a gentle giant, a giant of giants, great of stature, but with the kindest nature and a heart as true and tender as ever beat’.

image: 1880 cabinet card of Chang the Chinese Giant.

Author, researcher and an expert of the odd, J. Tithonus Pednaud has been chronicling bizarre history and highlighting the lives of those born exceeding different for over a decade.

13 Comments

  • [...] CHANG – The Chinese Giant [...]

  • Reply May 20, 2009

    Paula

    What a lovely bittersweet tale. An interesting man who conquered the world in spite of his adversity to find friendship, romance, and then true love… only to die of a broken heart.

  • Reply June 21, 2009

    Julieann

    Awww, that’s sad. He died of being heart broken. He must really loved her.

  • Reply March 31, 2010

    D'Jok

    broken heart

  • Reply September 10, 2010

    Allister

    Hi, Chang left China under contract to James Marquis Chisholm a Scot’s painist whom he met in 1864 in Shanghai. Chisholm had split from his touring concert company and thought that he might make a good pile of money from Chang. Sadly, Chisholm had no head for business and the contract was on-sold to W.W.Newcomb, after having gone through a second agent whose name I can’t recall (and who was a scoundrel). Chang’s parents would only let him go if the contract included special arrangements if he should die abroad. A Chnese lady known as Kin Foo was also contracted to play Chang’s ‘wife’ on stage but she married in Australia to a Hotelier named Phahlert (A Prussian fellow). A male dwarf was also hired Che Mah and I’m not sure what happened to him. Chang’s two sons moved to Hong Kong to run Chang’s Importing business (mainly Tea but other things as will) which was moderately successful.

    • Reply April 9, 2012

      J Tithonus Pednaud

      Thank you for the additional information, I had heard of the tea business as well as Kim Foo – but I had to cut the article down somewhere. But again, thank you for the addition.

  • Reply February 7, 2011

    Kainsmoney

    This guy was taller than Muresan and is hard to say that.

  • Reply March 3, 2011

    john

    I would like to borrow a few inches from him :)

  • Reply July 31, 2011

    Bee

    Are those people in the picture with him, one of his sons and grandchildren? What a sweet love story, I’m surprise it has not been made into a movie. I just love this site! I just love learning about human marvels and I hate when these lovely people are called freaks. They are people just like all of us.

    • Reply April 9, 2012

      J Tithonus Pednaud

      I’m not sure who they are, but they make for a great photo!

    • Reply June 13, 2014

      Sarah

      The cabinet card picture was taken in 1880. He didn’t contract with Barnum and travel to Australia until at least 1881. His wife died 12 years after that point and he the same year – even if he had married her in 1881 their children would not yet have been adults by the time he died. It’s not possible for the people in this picture to be his family.

  • Reply November 14, 2011

    Julie Bright

    With my husband,Ray, I own and run the Ashleigh Hotel in Southcote Road, Bournemouth, former home of Chang and his family. I have read, with interest your article and the comments. I have a little information about Chang and am always pleased to add to it.

    • Reply April 9, 2012

      J Tithonus Pednaud

      Thanks for the update Julie! It’s always great to hear from someone with a connection to a featured attraction here at The Human Marvels.

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