Tong (organization)

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A Chicago landmark: The On Leong Merchants Association Building.

In Chinese culture, the word tong means "hall" or "gathering place".[1] In North America a tong (Chinese: ; pinyin: táng; Cantonese Yale: tong; literally: "hall") is a type of organization found among Chinese living in the United States and Canada. These organizations are described as secret societies or sworn brotherhoods and are often tied to criminal activity. Today in most American Chinatowns, if one can read Chinese, one can find clearly marked tong halls, many of which have had affiliations with Chinese crime gangs, especially in the 1990s.[2]

Today tongs are, for the most part, members of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Associations, which are pro-Kuomintang traditional groups. Today these associations provide essential services for Chinatown communities such as immigrant counseling, Chinese schools, and English classes for adults, among countless others.[3] Tongs follow the pattern of secret societies common to southern China and many are connected to a secret society called the Tiandihui, which follows this pattern. Other groups worldwide that follow this pattern and are connected with the Tiandihui, are known as hui, hongmen, and triads.[2]

History[edit]

Prior to the 1840s few Chinese emigrated to the United States or Canada, although large numbers had left China, particularly Fujian and Canton, since the seventeenth century to seek their fortune in southeast Asia and Taiwan.

After settling in San Francisco and other California cities, Chinese workers faced hostility from their American peers who felt threatened by the Chinese who worked for lower wages. As labor unions and angered workers became more aggressive, many Chinese felt pressure to leave and go east, where they heard life would be less dangerous.[4] As a result many Chinese immigrants moved to cities such as New York and Boston where today there are large enough populations to build communities known as "Chinatowns".[5]

Many Chinese soon organized voluntary associations for support and protection. These focused around their originating district in China, family name, native dialect in the case of Hakka speakers, or sworn brotherhoods.[6] Unfortunately, as Ko-lin Chin has asserted, many of these volunteer societies did not have the financial ability to fund community events or look after their members, and those that did tended to focus inward and provide help only to their own members. As a result, many tongs with little or no hereditary financial value had to either disband or operate activities such as gambling houses. This transformed them from benevolent associations to providers of illegal services.[7] Notably, many of the illegal tong activities were legal in China, but not North America.[8] The early Chinese populations in the United States and Canada were overwhelmingly male in nature, a situation that became worsened when sex-restrictive immigration laws were passed in 1882 in the USA and 1923 in Canada respectively. (see Chinese Exclusion Act and Chinese Immigration Act, 1923 For this reason tongs participated heavily in importing women from China both for marriage and to serve as prostitutes. A large percentage of the "tong wars"—disputes between the rapidly growing and powerful tongs—of the 19th and early 20th century often centered around these women.[2] In the early years they employed "hatchet men" or boo how doy as hired killers to fight the bloody street battles that ensued over turf, business, and women.[9]

Structure and aims[edit]

Tongs in North America showed many similarities to Triad of Hong Kong and British-controlled southeast Asia. These included similar initiation ceremonies and paying respect to the same deities. This is because both are similar organizations that follow the patterns of southern Chinese secret societies and sworn brotherhoods.[10] The Triad societies were underground organizations in British controlled areas that also existed for self-help of members, but spoke of the overthrow of the Qing dynasty.[2] Ko-lin Chin outlined that most tongs have similar organization and have a headquarters where one can find a president, a vice-president, a secretary, a treasurer, an auditor, and several elders and public relations administrators.[11] Today their main aims are to care for their members and their respective communities.

Notable Chinese tongs[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Chin, Ko. "Chinatowns and Tongs". In Chinese subculture and criminality: non-traditional crime groups in America. New York: Greenwood Press, 1990. P.53
  2. ^ a b c d Peter Huston. Tongs, Gangs, and Triads: Chinese Crime Groups in North America (1995) Paladin Press, Boulder CO
  3. ^ Chin, Ko. "Chinatowns and Tongs". In Chinese subculture and criminality: non-traditional crime groups in America. New York: Greenwood Press, 1990. p.48
  4. ^ Sucheng, Hsu Chan, Madeline Y (2008). "Chinese Americans and the Politics of Race and Culture" Temple University Press
  5. ^ Chin, Ko (1990). Chinatowns and Tongs". In Chinese subculture and criminality: non-traditional crime groups in America. New York: Greenwood Press. p. 47
  6. ^ Chin, Ko. p. 53
  7. ^ Chin, Ko. p. 51
  8. ^ Tong War (United States history) -- Britannica Online Encyclopedia". Encyclopedia - Britannica Online Encyclopedia. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/599143/tong-war (accessed February 12, 2011).
  9. ^ Dillon, Richard H. The hatchet men: the story of the tong wars in San Francisco's Chinatown. New York: Coward-McCann, 1962. p 18
  10. ^ Chin, Ko. "Chinatowns and Tongs". In Chinese subculture and criminality: non-traditional crime groups in America. New York: Greenwood Press, 1990. P.59
  11. ^ Chin, Ko. "Chinatowns and Tongs". In Chinese subculture and criminality: non-traditional crime groups in America. New York: Greenwood Press, 1990. P.58

References[edit]

  • Chin, Ko-lin. Chinatown Gangs: Extortion, Enterprise, and Ethnicity Oxford University Press, 2000.
  • Chin, Ko-lin. "Chinatowns and Tongs". In Chinese subculture and criminality: non-traditional crime groups in America. New York: Greenwood Press, 1990. P.47–66
  • Dillon, Richard H. The hatchet men: the story of the tong wars in San Francisco's Chinatown. New York: Coward-McCann, 1962.p 18
  • Ebrey, Patricia Buckley. ”The Cambridge Illustrated History of China”. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
  • Tong War (United States history) -- Britannica Online Encyclopedia". Encyclopedia - Britannica Online Encyclopedia. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/599143/tong-war (accessed February 12, 2011).
  • Huston, Peter. Tongs, Gangs, and Triads: Chinese Crime Groups in North America (1995)
  • Sucheng, Hsu Chan, Madeline Y. “Chinese Americans and the Politics of Race and Culture” Temple University Press, 2008
  • Asian Organized Crime Groups - Chinese - Tongs and Street Gangs
  • SF Weekly Feature Article Profiling Member of Hop Sing Tong -- Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow (2007)
  • Tongs Encyclopedia of Chicago