CWRU Links

TONG WARS

The TONG WARS were violent outbreaks between the ON LEONG TONG and the Hip Sing Tong Chinese societies, first occurring in 1911 when the latter organization was formed. On 20 Nov. 1911, Woo Dip, of the On Leong Tong, was shot by Leing Young of the Hip Sing Tong, witnesses said, allegedly for refusing to pay the Hip Sing Tong $2 in protection money. Police searched for Young, who escaped, but helped by national representatives from the On Leong Tong and 2 disaffected Hip Sing Tong members, 2 other members of the Hip Sing Tong were convicted. The Hip Sing Tong charged that its convicted members were victims of a conspiracy by the On Leong Tong.

On 29 May 1924, former On Leong Tong president, Yee Hee Kee, was shot 5 times; later that summer 7 Hip Sing Tong members were convicted of a $70,000 extortion scheme. Relations between the tongs remained tense; rumors of open warfare led to police searches and protection. The tong wars climaxed the following year. On 23 Sept. 1925, Yee Chock, of the On Leong Tong, was brutally murdered. Using information supplied by an elderly Chinese, Mark Ham, police arrested 3 Hip Sing Tong members. Safety Director Edwin D. Barry, however, was angered at the constant tension and periodic violence and determined to end the hostilities. He ordered every Chinese male in Cleveland--over 700 of them--arrested, closed Chinese businesses, and took steps to have the Ontario St. Chinese settlement condemned as a health and fire hazard and razed. The mass arrest soon embarrassed the city. Students visiting from China had been arrested and the Chinese government filed an official protest. Additional protests from the Cleveland Chinese community led city officials to issue an official apology to those arrested.

The murder case, meanwhile, took a confusing turn. Mark Ham changed his story, confessing that the murder had been committed by members of the On Leong Tong in order to discredit the rival tong and to punish 3 recent defectors. Ham himself had been the lookout and was charged as an accomplice. On Leong Tong members claimed that Ham's confession had been made through a Hip Sing translator and was not true. Ham hanged himself in his jail cell before the trial was over. By 1930 the tong wars were over, and by the middle of the decade the former rivals were cooperating on projects within the Chinese community.