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Scott D. Seligman
A 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. New York's
District Attorney was running out of ideas and more people were dying
every day, as the weapons of choice evolved from hatchets and meat
cleavers to pistols, automatic weapons and even bombs.
New York City‘s Chinatown in 1925.
The Chinese in turn of the century New York were mostly immigrant
peasants and shopkeepers who worked as laundrymen, cigar makers and
domestics. They gravitated to lower Manhattan and lived as Chinese
an existence as possible, their few diversions available, but illegal. It didn’t take
long before one resourceful merchant saw a golden opportunity to
feather his nest by positioning himself squarely between the vice
dens and the police charged with shutting them down.
Tong Wars is historical true-crime set against the perfect
landscape: Tammany-era New York City. Representatives of rival tongs
(secret societies) corner the various vice markets using admirably
creative strategies. The city government was already corrupt from
top to bottom, so once one tong began taxing the gambling dens and
paying off the authorities, a rival, jealously eyeing their
lucrative franchise, co-opted a local reformist group to help
eliminate them. Pretty soon Chinese were slaughtering one another in
the streets, inaugurating a succession of wars.
The book roars through three decades of turmoil, with characters
ranging from gangsters and drug lords to reformers and do-gooders to
judges, prosecutors, cops, and pols of every stripe and color. A
true story set in Prohibition-era Manhattan a generation after
Gangs of New York, but fought on the very same turf.