Tong Wars by Scott Seligman
Tong Wars: The Untold Story of Vice, Money, and Murder in New York’s Chinatown by Scott D. Seligman provides a definitive look at more than 30 years of violence in this fascinating and nuanced examination of Manhattan’s Chinatown.
A mesmerizing true story of money, murder, gambling, prostitution, and opium in a “wild ramble around Chinatown in its darkest days.” (The New Yorker)
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 York DA 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. Welcome to New York City’s Chinatown in 1925.
The Chinese in turn-of-the-last-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—gambling, opium, and prostitution—available but, sadly, 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 a historical true crime set against the perfect landscape: Tammany-era New York City. Representatives of rival tongs (secret societies) corner the various markets of sin 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 its lucrative franchise, co-opted a local reformist group to help eliminate it. Pretty soon Chinese were slaughtering one another in the streets, inaugurating a succession of wars that raged for the next thirty years.
Scott D. Seligman’s account 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.
Scott D. Seligman is a historian, retired corporate executive, and career China hand, and he holds degrees from Princeton and Harvard. Fluent in Mandarin and conversant in Cantonese, he lived in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China and has worked as a legislative assistant in Congress, a businessman in China, and a communications director of a Fortune 50 company. He is the author of many scholarly and business books, including Chinese Business Etiquette and The First Chinese American. He has published articles in the Asian Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, the Seattle Times, the China Business Review, the Jewish Daily Forward, China Heritage Quarterly, and the New York History and Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center blogs.
Publisher: Viking Books | Penguin Random House
Published: July 12, 2016