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.
This is the history I tried to capture in Hell’s Kitchen and the Battle for Urban Space. It was, admittedly, a task that exceeded my talents, but I have tried to bring it to life in its various locations: the tenement rooftop, the hold of the cargo ship, the sidewalk, the ash heap, the dead horse, the spaces of daily living where real people form real relationships, where shifting loyalties, new solidarities, old divides, and modes of resistance and acquiescence form the daily stuff of historical change.
Click below to read an excerpt from “Hell, Death, and Urban Politics,” Chapter Six of Hell’s Kitchen and the Battle for Urban Space (Monthly Review Press, 2013)
By Jennifer Fronc
On September 28, 1912, George Francis O’Neill headed out to Marshall’s Hotel, a black-owned establishment that offered comfortable accommodations, delicious food, cold drinks, and hot jazz. Located in two neighboring brownstones in the heart of the Tenderloin district, Marshall’s Hotel featured live music and attracted throngs of fashionable New Yorkers -— both black and white -— every night of the week. Indeed, Marshall’s revolutionized social life for black New Yorkers, who began to abandon the older clubs downtown. According to James Weldon Johnson, by 1900 Marshall’s had become the center “of a fashionable sort of life that hitherto had not existed.” The “actors, the musicians, the composers, the writers, and the better-paid vaudevillians” congregated at Marshall’s; white actors and musicians also spent evenings there in the company of their black friends. Luminaries such as Rosamond Johnson, James Reese Europe, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Florenz Ziegfeld, and W.E.B. DuBois all frequented the establishment. In short, Marshall’s Hotel was not a gin-soaked, rat-infested, honky-tonk, but an important gathering place for New York’s black cultural elite.
is a blog for
independent and professional scholars of New York City
Send inquiries to the Managing Editor,
View our past contributors here
Visitors looking for
"The Gotham Blotter" (2006-2015)
will find it here,
revised as blog posts
in The Gotham Center's research seminar and workshop should contact Martin Lund for more information