Tong Wars: The Untold Story of Vice, Money, and Murder in New York's Chinatown
By Scott D. Seligman
Viking Press (2016)
Reviewed by Emily Brooks
In Tong Wars, Scott Seligman tracks the rise, internal functioning, and conflicts of New York City’s two main Chinese gangs, or tongs, from the 1880s to the 1930s. Seligman provides a thoroughly researched and tightly focused study of the On Leong and Hip Sing tongs that battled for control in the city’s Chinatown. He describes these groups as semi-underground fraternities that served social purposes, but whose primary functions involved running gambling parlors, and extracting payment from businesses operating in their respective territories. The violent clashes between the two groups receive particular attention in Seligman’s narrative. He mines newspaper articles, federal and state census records, court records, and Chinese exclusion era case files to track tong members through these conflicts with impressive detail. The author also uses these sources to show that the tongs formed a significant institutional presence in NYC’s Chinatown. The institutional landscape in Chinatown included regional and clan societies, as well as the tongs. These societies provided mutual aid and social connections within and across cities. Seligman’s exploration into the Tongs will prove of interest to readers curious about how Chinese immigrants, who were excluded from many elements of American society, formed their own institutions, and how these institutions then competed for dominance.
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