TONG WARS: the untold story of vice, money and murder in new york's chinatown    

Many documents and images that help tell the story of the wars of the New York tongs could not be included in the book for space or logistical reasons. Some selected exhibits are included on this page. Click on the image for a better view.

Tom Lee is Naturalized, 1876


Tom Lee, the "Mayor of Chinatown" and über boss of the On Leong Tong for nearly four decades, was known as Wung Ah Ling when he left China for America in the 1860s. He spent time in San Francisco, St. Louis and Philadelphia before arriving in New York in 1878. He was naturalized as an American citizen in St. Louis in 1876, a half dozen years before passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act, which rendered Chinese ineligible for citizenship.

No. 18 Mott Street, 1880s 

An early, undated photo of Chinese men lined up outside No. 18 Mott Street, a building owned by Tom Lee that became the headquarters of the Loon Yee Tong in 1880. Lee also ran illegal gambling establishments in this building.

New Rates for the Gambling Houses, 1891

One of the few Chinese-language documents that survives testifies to new arrangements imposed on Chinatown's gambling dens by the organization that eventually became the On Leong Tong. The announcement sets out new rates for "commissions" and probably signaled that the cut given to the New York police had increased.

The Tongs Incorporate, 1896-7

In its quest for respectability, the Hip Sing Tong drafted articles of incorporation which were approved by the Supreme Court of Brooklyn in 1896. Not to be outdone, the On Leong Tong followed suit soon after. It secured its charter at the Chinese Merchants Association from Albany in early 1897.

The Shooting of Ah Fee, 1900

Ah Fee, a Newark tailor and an On Leong, was ambushed at the corner of Doyers Street and shot in the back as he ran up Pell Street. He was able to identify his attacker, a Hip Sing named Sue Sing, before he died of his wounds later that night. He had been targeted to prevent him from serving as an alibi witness for the earlier shooting of a Hip Sing, and his death marked the onset of the First Tong War.

Peace Banquet, Port Arthur Restaurant, 1906

At the end of March, 1906, the On Leongs and the Hip Sings celebrated a treaty of peace that put an end to the six-year First Tong War. The gathering honored Judge Warren W. Foster, who had mediated the dispute, and was memorialized in a cartoon in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. The five-hour banquet was held at the Port Arthur Restaurant on Mott Street. It was the first time anyone could recall that the tongs had sat down at a meal together.

Bow Kum is Brutally Murdered, 1909

The Second Tong War, fought between the On Leong Tong and the Four Brothers' Society, was set in motion by an argument over a 21 year-old Chinese woman. She was brutally murdered in an out-building behind No. 17 Mott Street. Here is Bow Kum's official death certificate, which lists her cause of death as a "penetrating stab wound of abdomen and chest."

Gin Gum and Mock Duck are Related, 1913

When 50 year-old Gin Gum, a senior On Leong, fell in love with Josephine Toy, he went to his arch-enemy, Mock Duck, head of the Hip Sing Tong, who was married to Josephine's daughter Frances, to ask for her hand. He apparently did not object, because the two were married in Ohio in April 29, 1913, as this certificate testifies.

Mock Duck Goes to Sing Sing, 1913


Despite his cutthroat reputation, Mock Duck was never convicted of murder. He was frequently jailed, however, and he did hard time once for running an illegal gambling establishment, spending more than a year at Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, New York. 


Stay of Execution Sought, 1915


Convicted for murdering Tom Lee's nephew, Eng Hing and Lee Dock were sentence to die in the electric chair in 1913. But appeals and even the revelation of perjury at their trial failed to free them, as did a last-ditch attempt by attorney Frank Moss to stay their execution.


Charlie Boston's Funeral, 1930

Rare, surviving video footage shows the 1930 funeral procession for Charlie Boston, (Lee Quon Jung), the last of the old lions of the On Leong Tong. A member beginning in the 1890s, he had served a term at Atlanta State Penitentiary for smuggling and distributing opium and assumed leadership of the tong after the death of Tom Lee. Boston was given a Presbyterian sendoff with some Chinese touches, and interred at Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn.

The Tongs Hold Conventions, 1931

Both the Hip Sing and On Leong tongs held their annual national conventions in New York City in April, 1931. Police braced for trouble as several thousand Chinese of both stripes from dozens of cities descended on lower Manhattan. But the organizations had more pressing matters on their minds: rather than attack each other, they had to grapple with the grim question of how to provide relief for those of their brethren who had lost their livelihoods in the Great Depression.  



© Scott D. Seligman, 2019-21. All rights reserved.  Contact