A Tong is a mutual-aid associations established by Chinese emigres in various Chinatowns. In Chinese, the word tong means "hall" or "gathering place". These organizations are described as secret societies or sworn brotherhoods and are often tied to criminal activity. In the 1990s, in most American Chinatowns, clearly marked tong halls could easily be found, many of which have had affiliations with Chinese organized crime.

While most Tongs are benevolent groups, basically a Chinese version of the Chamber of Commerce and the Elk Lodge, some of them became involved in criminal activities. Some of the Tongs copy the structure and/or traditions of the Triads. The Tongs in the Chinese diaspora in the Anglo-speaking nations of the West served as the unofficial government of the Chinatown. The residents of the Chinatown turn to the Tongs for help, and law enforcement often treats them as the defacto regime in their Chinatown.

Similar to triads, Tongs originated independently in early immigrant Chinatown communities. The word means "social club", and tongs are not specifically underground organizations. The first tongs formed during the second half of the 19th century among marginalized members of early immigrant Chinese-American communities for mutual support and protection from nativists. Modeled on triads, they were established without clear political motives and became involved in criminal activities such as extortion, illegal gambling, drug and human trafficking, murder and prostitution.

A Tong is an American phenomenon like the outlaw motorcycle gangs. Tongs were developed by family associations with common surnames. Tongs were organized by persons (some were Triad members in their home countries). Most Tongs are respectable fraternal organizations.

The Hop Sing Tong, Hip Sing Tong, Bing Kung Tong, and Suey Sing Tong all have branches in Seattle.

Organizational Structure


The hierarchy of a Tong consists of the president, vice president, secretary, and treasurer with various elders and public relations administrators. Tongs have initiation ceremonies similar to that of the Triads and pay respect to the same gods as the Triads. In the criminally-influenced Tongs, the leader was known by the Chinese gangs in Chinatown as the "Ah Kung" (grandfather) or the "Shak Foo" (uncle).


The gangs which answered to the Tong had a familial structure influenced by Confucianism mixed with elements borrowed from the Triads.[19]

  • The Dai Dai Lo (big big brother) leads the gang. He is the one who communicates with the Tong leader (the Ah Kung).
  • The Dai Lo (big brother) are the executive officers of the gang. They serve the Dai Dai Lo as his lieutenants.
  • The Yee Lo or Saam Lo are the lowest officers in the gang, the street-level Dai Lo. They lead the cliques in the gang, crews which average between 10-20 men each.
  • The Mai Jai (little horse) are the rank and file soldiers of the gang. They make up the members of the various cliques.
  • The Lian Jai are the little kids, who aren't actually members of the gang. These kids aspire to join the gang and are in the service of the gang.


Rules and norms existed that governed the gangs. The consequences for violating the rules was being punished, sometimes in a severe manner as in a physical assault or death.[[21]] Which included;

  • Respecting the ah kung or shuk foo.
  • Not using drugs.
  • Beating up members of other gangs who were on your turf.
  • Following the orders of the dai lo.
  • Not betraying your gang.
Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License