Tongs: Gangs, Secret Societies, or What?

Several tongs existed in Victoria’s early years.  The main ones were the Chee Kung Tong (CKT) and the Hip Sing Tong (HST).  These tongs were rival branches (or “lodges”) of the Hongmen Society, a secret society formed in China in the 1760s with the purpose of tossing out the Manchu Regime and restoring the Ming Dynasty to power.

How these branches of the same society became rivals is not exactly clear.  In his writings on tongs, noted urban geographer and Chinatown specialist Dr. Cheun-Yan David Lai notes the close, clan-like relationships in tongs.  If someone in a tong slighted or hurt a member of another tong, the others in the tong would set out to avenge the wronged member.  It may well be that a “family feud” of sorts developed.

Turf wars may also have had a hand in the developing rivalry.  Since many tongs were initially dependent on revenues from what we would view as less than legitimate sources (prostitution, gambling and opium dens), it stands to reason that competition for customers and real estate was intense.

Source: Lai, Chuen-Yan David, Chinatowns: Towns Within Cities in Canada, University of British Columbia Press, Vancouver, 1988.