Encyclopedia o f Chicago
Entries : Tongs


Tongs are fraternal secret societies that once represented Chinese immigrants lacking their own surname or native place groups. At the turn of the century, Chicago's On Leong Tong helped create the Chinatown at Cermak and Wentworth Streets.

Nineteenth-century tongs monopolized the Chinatown vice trade, and their protection rackets forced most Chinese to join a tong. Social conflict in Chinatowns resulted in numerous tong feuds until U.S. officials started to crack down on the organizations in the 1890s. The emergence of a significant American-born population by the 1930s and 1940s further eroded tong strength. While these traditional organizations tried to capitalize on America's anti-Communist policies in the 1950s and resurgent Chinese immigration after the 1960s, they never regained their early-twentieth-century importance in Chinese American communities.

During the 1970s, the Hip Sing Tong encouraged Chinese American merchants to establish a second Chinese community around Argyle Street. Today, organizations like On Leong and Hip Sing have dropped “tong” from their names and disavowed the “soldiers” who once defended their interests. However, police allege that the nation's tongs maintain ties to youth gangs and play a role in organized crime.

Kwong, Peter. The New Chinatown. 1987.
Tsai, Shih-shan Henry. The Chinese Experience in America. 1986.