The ON LEONG TONG, also known as the Chinese Merchants Assn., has served the local Chinese-American community as a bank, welfare agency, mutual benefit society, cultural preservation group, and trade association. First established in New York in 1904, the Cleveland branch was formed in 1910. By 1916 it established headquarters in the city's Chinatown, moving to a new facility at 2150 Rockwell Ave. in 1930. In 1948 it hosted the organization's national meeting, doing so again in 1961 and in 1973.
Although the Chinese word tong means simply "meeting hall," the Chinese tongs operated as secret societies; and although on leong means "happiness and contentment," the local On Leong Tong in its early years was controversial to many outsiders because of its association with violence and murder during the TONG WARS of the 1910s and 1920s, and because several of its leaders were reportedly linked to the strong-arm tactics used to coerce contributions to the Chinese war-relief fund in 1939. By the mid-1930s, however, the On Leong Tong and its former rival, the Hip Sing Tong, cooperatively raised money to transfer the remains of 120 CHINESE to China so they could rest next to relatives and ancestors. By 1970 the tongs had lost much of their power within the Chinese-American community; Cleveland's On Leong Tong functioned mainly as a business and cultural-preservation organization. In 1968 its stated purpose was preserving Chinese traditions; in 1971 it was described as an agency working "to insure that Chinese businesses don't needlessly compete with one another." In 1995 the association was headquartered at 2150 Rockwell Ave. Its stated purpose was to enhance the well-being of Chinese business enterprises.