Chinatown, June 2014

mary soo hoo park

    mary soo hoo park on the greenway  (sonya kovacic)

mary soo hoo park on the greenway (sonya kovacic)

From the 1960s to the early '90s, a major section of Downtown and Chinatown was known as the "Combat Zone". It was Boston's red light district — an area set aside for strip clubs, X-rated theaters, and adult bookstores. The neighborhood – centered on Washington Street – was notorious for drugs, prostitution, and violent crime.

One of the main causes for the Combat Zone's demise was grassroots activism by Chinatown residents, including a woman named Mary Soo Hoo. In 1961, Soo Hoo moved from Cambridge to Chinatown to open its first beauty salon. Over the next few decades, she started a family, helped found the bilingual Chinese-English newspaper Sampan, and opened the Chinatown Cafe on Harrison Ave. She also became a community leader and advocate — for neighborhood safety and affordable housing – and against the crime-ridden Combat Zone. Her work, along with many others, helped transform the neighborhood.

In 2011, Chinatown's park on the Greenway was dedicated in Soo Hoo's memory.


The small park's most notable feature is its xiangqi players. Also known as Chinese Chess, xiangqi is a strategic board game with pieces including the "general", "chariot", and "elephant". It's one of the world's most popular board games — but Mary Soo Hoo Park is one of the only places in Boston for a layperson to see it played.

In 2011, an amateur photographer captured the cigarette-fueled action on video. We don't know how to play (yet) — but the 2:20 mark might be a good place to start.