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

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3.50  ·  Rating details ·  168 ratings  ·  36 reviews
A mesmerizing true story of money, murder, gambling, prostitution, and opium: the Chinese gang wars that engulfed New York’s Chinatown from the 1890s through the 1930s.

Nothing had worked. Not threats or negotiations, not shutting down the betting parlors or opium dens, not house-to-house searches or throwing Chinese offenders into prison. Not even executing them. The New Y
...more
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published July 12th 2016 by Viking
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Average rating 3.50  · 
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Virginia
Dec 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
So we know the basics of the Irish Mob and the Italian Mob back in the day when Prohibition turned honest men bad and drugs made bad men good money. However, we don't know much about the Chinese Mob (aka Tongs) that existed during the same time period and helped shape Chinatown to the tourist attraction it is today.
Scott Seligman paints a gritty picture of the Chinese immigrants that made a home for themselves on Mott Street and then expanded their empire across the country. Filled with interes
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Patricia
Jun 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: giveaway
I learned quite a bit reading TONG WARS. I was totally unaware of the treatment of Chinese in the USA from the late 1800's into the 1930's. This book takes place primarily in New York City in the Tammany era. This book is an eye opening account for anyone interested in American Chinese at the time. TONG WARS is a fascinating read!
George Lai
Mar 01, 2017 rated it did not like it
Reading between the lines, it would seem that there was so much rich history behind The Tong Wars and the life of the Chinese in that era; somehow the book plods along as a dry regurgitation of events chronologically.
Dan
Aug 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I learned that people
were murdered in front of the
dim sum place I like.
Susan Olesen
Nov 11, 2016 rated it liked it
The book covers the rise of Chinese gangs - they started out as 'social clubs' but in reality were gangs, working alongside Tammany Hall - from 1870-1940 in NY's Chinatown. Part of the issue was our own laws against immigrants (what? I hear crickets) that prevented the Chinese from assimilating, and thus they remained their own Chinese society. NYC corruption, of course, also played a hand.

In the end the book is interesting but I think it falls flat in that there's no big conclusion - the Depre
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Dori
Cold-blooded killings, gambling, vice, brothels and opium bring non-stop action to this chilling and thorough account of a little-known set of gang wars in New York City’s Chinatown between 1900 and 1930. In the era of gang bosses Tom Lee and Mock Duck and their nefarious accomplices and hired guns, terror and mayhem ruled Mott Street and Pell Street in Lower Manhattan. Seligman’s thoroughly researched book gives readers a lively account of how America’s early Chinese immigrants lived lives almo ...more
Jimmy
May 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
What comes up in your mind when you hear “Chinatown?” For those in New York City from the 1890s through the 1930s many people associated Chinatown with organized crime. It was seen as a hotbed for betting parlors, opium dens, prostitution and violence. Sadly most people during that time associated Chinese people with vice and were seen by the elites in New York and the Newspaper as a bigger problem than other immigrant groups such as the Irish, Italians, etc. As the book agues this picture wasn’ ...more
Anthony Meaney
An interesting and well documented account of the Chinese immigrant population of New York from the late 19th century into the early 20th focusing on the "Tongs" or Chinese societies that extorted protection, ran gambling houses and also controlled prostitution in the Chinatown section of New York City.

The author has done exhaustive research and his book is very well foot-noted (almost painfully so).

I was interested in reading this book after hearing a summation of it on the woefully underrate
...more
Alan Chong
Jan 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
Having visited the Museum of the Chinese in America recently, and stayed in Chinatown during a recent stay in New York, I found this book an interesting read. The story was not particularly compelling as an organized crime documentary, but was fascinating from its unique perspective on race relations and economic power in the early 20th century in America. Even in describing organized crime, it was more a set of stories of how the Chinese in America made a community in lower Manhattan, given all ...more
Sean Lynn
Marginalized by native New Yorkers into a low paying jobs, and at the mercy of mistrustful or crooked cops, Chinese immigrants self-segregated into the community known as Chinatown. These migrant workers, unwilling, and after the Chinese Exclusion Act, unable to bring their families over to them, turned to societies or clubs for camaraderie and a place to belong. Such a group was called a 'chamber' in English and in Chinese, Tong. With few prospects of bettering their lives through legitimate me ...more
Ernest Spoon
Jul 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Interesting book about a forgotten part of US history. The later chapters of this book become rather repetitious. But that is natural when most of the actions of the competing tongs were assassinations and retaliations. The violence in New York´s tiny Chinatown of the 1880´s into the early twentieth century is, at least to this reader, seemingly out of all proportion to the overall Chinese population packed into a few urban blocks. Interesting characters, the men of the tongs, however.
Jeffrey Ryan
Dec 31, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Valuable insight into an important era

I picked up this book to get a sense for what life was like in NYC’s Chinatown. It was well researched and exactly what I was looking for. If you want to know about the rise of Chinatown and how the tongs generated and held power from the 1880s to 1930s, this is the book to read.
Marc Daley
Apr 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
The amount of research that Seligman undertook just to identify the main participants in all the tongs must have been exhausting. The peace treaties between the warring factions may as well have been written on flash paper as they were usually ignored completely within months of the handshakes and signatures.
Kelly
Sep 16, 2018 rated it liked it
Well-researched and and interesting topic. But, the book was a *little* dry at times, being laid out like a timeline of events.
Tom Mahan
Oct 24, 2018 rated it liked it
An amazing amount of detail from a time period of 120 years ago, but not mesmerizing, as the intro states.
L.M. Elm
Jun 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019, non-fiction
An interesting insight into the Chinese turf wars in New York City from the 1880s to the 1920s.
Ron
May 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
Depressing but through. Only so much you can do with court transcripts and police reports.
Damon
Feb 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
I ordered this book soon after I heard about the early skirmishes between the Chinese tongs on the China History Podcast, by Laszlo Montgomery. His podcast episode, which drew heavily on this source, was an entertaining listen, but I found myself wanting a more in depth look, so off to Amazon.com I went.

The book gives depth and personalities to the characters involved in the early years of the Hip Sings and the On Leongs, as well as spending ample time on the personalities in the New York Police
...more
Matt Lohr
Aug 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
I first learned of the brutal tong wars of New York's Chinatown in Herbert Asbury's 1928 book "The Gangs of New York." The passages chronicling the days of On Leong and Hip Sing tong members massacring each other with hatchets and cleavers in the shadows of Mott and Doyers Streets were among the most electrifying in Asbury's book, but I also know that anything written in those pages, from a standpoint of veracity, should be taken with a grain of salt. So I was very excited when Scott D. Seligman ...more
William
Nov 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
My guess is this is an important historical work. (For instance, a full quarter of the volume consists of notes of various kinds). Seligman's research is meticulous, and I would be surprised if much of what is in this book has been covered in print before. The text seems impartial, and Seligman does all he can to write with a light touch.

There is actually more than one story here. The one which works better for me is the one with direct relevance to our recent presidential election: America's r
...more
Adam Clark
Sep 17, 2016 rated it liked it
Info dense, relatively interesting.

http://www.runspotrun.com/uncategoriz...
...more
Ralph Blackburn
Jul 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
Tong Wars by Scott Seligman- The Untold Story of Vice, Money, and Murder in New York's Chinatown. The title pretty much says it all. This is a historical account of thirty years of an on-going war between rival factions in New York's Chinatown, but, in reality, happening all over the United States. Starting in 1870's, when the transcontinental railroads were completed, many immigrant Chinese laborers found themselves unemployed and unwanted. Gradually many drifted East to New York and settled in ...more
J.
Jul 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Disclaimer: In compliance with FTC guidelines, I received this book for free through Goodreads Giveaways.

Tong Wars is a comprehensive study on the criminal element in New York City's Chinatown. Thorough research by the author makes the reader understand both cause and effect of the secret societies that were created to improve lives of members that ultimately lead to economic and social ruin for the whole of Chinatown.
Seligman takes the reader back in time to the era of the Tommy Political Mach
...more
Martie Nees Record
May 25, 2016 rated it liked it
First off this is not a fair review. This piece is an extremely well researched non-fiction account of the nineteenth century Chinese gang wars that took place in the Five Points area of the lower east side of Manhattan. The same slums that produced the Irish and Italian mobs also gave birth to Chinatown’s gang lords known as Tongs. The author clearly knows his stuff and the book is filled with gritty facts. The reason why I only give a three star rating is that I was expecting the book to read ...more
Rich Grech
Aug 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I enjoyed this book quite a bit. It is a well researched telling of an interesting niche in American (and more specifically, New York) history. This book did make me wish I could hop in a time machine and experience Manhattan's Chinatown as it existed during the height of the Tong Wars.

One theme that really stood out for me was how the sentiment towards non-white immigrants in the late 18 to early 1900's is not terribly dissimilar from the sentiments towards them today. While the abject racism o
...more
Downward
Jul 24, 2016 rated it liked it
a consciously unsensational and sober take on the tong wars that terrorized nyc's chinatown from the late 1800s up until the 1930s. seligman takes great pains to quote directly, source, double source, and avoid rumors for the sake of accuracy to circumvent the racism that defined white america's response to the bloodshed in and surrounding chinatown. part of what seligman is doing here is attempting to redefine our relationship with the past, by painting that past accurately where before it had ...more
Holly
May 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: giveaways
I received this book as a Goodreads Giveaways winner. What an impressive account of the New York Chinatown tong wars! Not only is the storytelling intriguing, but historically accurate; there are over 80 pages of bibliography, notes, maps, timelines, and anything else of imperative importance to following along in the book. There's even a section dedicated to the explanation of the Romanization of the Chinese names! This also does not include the great photographs strewn througout the book. This ...more
Cassidy
Sep 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
Overall very interesting.
The story line focuses on the clash between the two main tongs that originate from NY and SF.
The vignettes of people affiliated are born out of extensive research. A lot of it was fascinating but some got really tedious. Just when I'd start skimming however, the author would shift gears and broaden the discussion to the City's overall political climate, the federal government's attitudes on immigration at the time, and the social state of Chinatown and Chinese immigrati
...more
Kristine
Jun 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: amazon-reviewed
Tong Wars: The Untold Story of Vice, Money, and Murder in New York's Chinatown by Scott D. Seligman is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in late June.

Seligman's historical narrative is a lot like Erik Larson's: everything's occurring in one large area bustling with people, there are multiple equidistantly-covered main characters (each with their own staff and henchmen), and all the action is colorfully dramatic, serious, and motivated by real emotion and gravity.
Holly
May 26, 2016 rated it liked it
A well-researched, interesting look into what was for me an unknown part of American history. It did drag a bit at the end, though.
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