CHP-171-The Tong Wars of New York Chinatown Part 1

In this long awaited and oft requested episode Laszlo explains about the Tong Wars of New York’s Chinatown. With the help of Scott Seligman’s latest book, Tong Wars, The Untold Story of Vice, Money and Murder in New York’s Chinatown, we go back to late 19th – early 20th century America and focus on New York’s Chinatown. These were terribly unpleasant days for most citizens of Chinese ancestry and especially for those immigrants who either had not begun the process or lived in the shadows illegally. The Chinese Exclusion Laws tarred these citizens like no other immigrant group in US history. The Tong Wars didn’t happen because of these laws but they were certainly part of the story. With everything Chinese-Americans have done to make America great over the past century it’s interesting to look back at another time when the ordinary law-abiding Chinese and the bloodiest Tong soldier were equally reviled in society that was loathe to accept them.


Tong Wars, The Untold Story of Vice, Money and Murder in New York’s Chinatown

by Scott Seligman


Article from Signature Magazine that explains the Turf Wars in NY Chinatown


Wish Lanterns – Young Lives in New China

by Alec Ash


ALSO CHECK OUT – The new home of the great Sinica Podcast and a wonderful place to stay in daily touch with what’s up in China.



Qing Chao monian 清朝末年The last years of the Qing Dynasty

Mao Zedong 毛泽东   Chairman Mao

Shaoshan 韶山   Birthplace of Chairman Mao, in Hunan

Toisan   台山 City in the Pearl River Delta where many early Chinese immigrants came from

Hoiping   开平 Another city in the Pearl River Delta where many early Chinese immigrants came from

Sun-wui   新会 Another city in the Pearl River Delta where many early Chinese immigrants came from

Wong Chin Foo   王清福 First to use the term Chinese American. His life was featured in CHP episode 136

Wo Kee Early Chinatown Merchant also known as Wong Ah Chung

Wong Ah Chung Real name (maybe) of the “pre-Tom Lee” Chinatown personality known as Wo Kee

Wung Ah Ling 李希 (Tom Lee) Chinatown elder credited with the formation of the On Leong Tong and other NY Chinatown organizations

Loon Yee Tong 联谊堂 Cantonese for the Lianyi Tang a.k.a. Chee Kung Tong (致公堂) Society that went back to the Qing dynasty///also known as The Chinese Masons and The Hongmen

Lianyi Tang   联谊堂 Mandarin pronunciation of the Loon Yee Tong

Hongmen   洪门 A secret society formed in China during the Qing who pined to restore the good old days under the Chinese Ming dynasty (as opposed to despised Manchu Qing). It later inspired other similar secret societies and fraternal organizations

Lee Sing 利胜 Chinatown merchant on Pell who publicly assaulted Tom Lee and got away with it

fan tan 番摊 The game of games for Chinatown gamblers…a game of skill and guessing. Also called Chinese Roulette

pi-gow 牌九 A Chinese domino-based game of chance

On Leong Tong   安良堂 The Tong led by Tom Lee

An Liang Tang   安良堂 Mandarin pronunciation of the On Leong Tong

Hip Sing Tong   协勝堂 The rival of the On Leongs, led by (but not established by) Mock Duck

Xie Sheng Tang   协勝堂 Hip Sing in Mandarin

Lee Toy   李彩 Tom Lee’s nephew and chief tough guy in the On Leongs

Lee Quon Jung 李观长 a.k.a. Charlie Boston One of the top guys in the On Leongs

Yuet Sing Another wealthy On Leong merchant in Chinatown

Wong Get 黄傑 A Hip Sing everyman…Used by reforming politicians to rat out the On Leongs and by his fellow Hip Sing tong brothers to make things difficult for the On Leongs.

Mai De a.k.a. Mock Duck   麦德 Top guy (but not the founder) of the Hip Sing Tong. A slippery as an eel and hard to pin down by the authorities…directed and took part in a lot of Chinatown violence

Lung Kin was a Hip Sing member who was the first to get shot in the First Tong War


  • A fantastic narrative of Tong Wars by Laszlo Montgomery. Now, I can better understand the murky world of Boston Chinatown of my great grandfather, Chung Hoy Lun. He was boss of gambling hall and opium den.

    • Hi Steve: Go look at People v. Hall, 1853. Basically it said Chinese or Chinese-Americans could not testify against a white person. It didn’t say it was OK to kill Chinese. But if you were white, you could kill a Chinese person and if the only witnesses to the crime were Chinese…you could effectively get away with murder.

      • Yeah, I know….But the whole idea appalled me so much I used the kind of language I did to make a point. Maybe I should go back and edit that sentence out.

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