Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Arts (MA)




Colleen O'Neill


Angela Diaz


Li Guo


During the middle of the nineteenth century, vast numbers of Chinese immigrants arrived on the west coast of the United States. Here, they sought a better life for themselves and their families back home. The new arrivals often became targets of violence and discrimination as anti-Chinese sentiment grew in the country. Chinese immigrants protected and provided for themselves by creating a variety of organizations in their communities. One such organization became known as the tong. Many groups organized themselves around family names, regional background, or employment, but tongs accepted anyone who wanted to join. The promise of physical protection, economic gain, and acceptance in a community incentivized many Chinese men to join tongs. Tongs provided a space in which Chinese men could reclaim masculinity and practice traditional gender roles. Faced with discrimination, physical abuse, marginalization, and governmental neglect, tongs filled the power vacuum in Chinese communities. Tongs became powerful leaders within Chinatowns across the West. Beginning in the 1880s, tongs clashed with one another in events known as tong wars. By 1930, the era of tong wars came to an end. Once the powerhouse of the Chinese community, tong influence declined as Chinese residents successfully gained recognition, and fought back against racism and legislative discrimination. During the twentieth century, tongs transitioned from groups focused on economic gain (often through vice) and physical protection of its members to a fraternal order within Chinatown. Examination of tongs, tong wars, and the reasons for their decline creates greater understanding of Chinese communities and a broader understanding of how immigrant communities respond to discrimination within communities, and denied governmental protection and assistance.



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