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

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

Scott D. Seligman. Viking, $29 (368p) ISBN 978-0-399-56227-3

Historian Seligman (The First Chinese American) provides a definitive look at more than 30 years of violence in this fascinating and nuanced examination of Manhattan’s Chinatown. The story begins in 1878 when a man named Tom Lee left San Francisco on a mission from the Six Companies, the umbrella group of fraternal societies “at the apex of Chinese society in the United States.” His goal was to help develop, protect, and represent New York’s Chinese community. After arriving in New York, Lee quickly infiltrated the city’s source of power, Tammany Hall, a social organization turned corrupt political machine. He landed the position of deputy city sheriff, even though most Chinese New Yorkers could not vote at the time. Seligman traces how Lee’s positioning in the city’s police force and the struggling Chinese community led to “four bloody wars and countless skirmishes fought intermittently over more than three decades” by the sworn brotherhoods, which were “organized ostensibly for social purposes but very much involved in criminal activity.” He places the violence in context, explaining why Chinese-Americans could have no faith in the police or the courts to get justice, and how their systematic exclusion from American society alienated them. This is the best kind of true crime book: a solid social history as well as a gripping narrative of murder and revenge.[em] (July) [/em]