- File Size: 1725 KB
- Print Length: 292 pages
- Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
- Publisher: The Write Thought (May 29, 2012)
- Publication Date: May 29, 2012
- Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
- Language: English
- ASIN: B0087HC8YE
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Lending: Enabled
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #151,938 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
|Print List Price:||$15.95|
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Hatchet Men: The Story of the Tong Wars in San Francisco’s Chinatown Kindle Edition
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Top Customer Reviews
Richard Dillon compiled a long-winded saga of the intricate relationships between legitimate Chinese companies (or benevolent societies), the American police, and Chinese gangs. He did it mainly by delving into newspapers and government inquiries, reports, and court ordinances of the second half of the 19th century. Turning up a huge amount of information, he ran into trouble trying to digest it for readers. The text contains too many names, too many details of too many crimes for anyone not engaged in research to keep straight. The basic theme is very interesting however. He examines the rise of Chinese criminality from 1852, when first there was a substantial Chinese population in the city, to the end of the century. In the early days, Chinese remained law-abiding residents of the USA for the most part, though they had two weaknesses---opium and what Dillon calls "slave girls", i.e. women imported for the purpose of prostitution. Slowly however, the rise of clan and village organizations that fought each other for mastery of criminal activities in Chinatown signaled a breakdown in law and order. Chinese lived under a reign of terror during the 1880s and `90s. Hatchet-wielding killers silenced any opposition to their sway. The police had a very difficult time dealing with the problem especially since the gangs were not slow to bribe inquiring officers. These gangs are called "tongs" in the text: the details of their names, activities, leaders, and victims are extremely numerous. Eventually, tighter police control and the increasing readiness of more-Americanized Chinese to speak out against their oppressors put an end to the warfare. But the "hatchet men" or hired killers had their day. If you are interested to know what it was like, you can read this book, though it could have been better organized.
In America, we have had or still have gangsters of many national origins. They mirror our population. The Italian mafia is well-known thanks to Hollywood, then we can count the Jews, the Vietnamese, the Jamaicans, Puerto Ricans, Colombians, and the Russians. I am sure this is not an exhaustive list. Why the Chinese should be seen as exotic is part of a larger question. They were just gangs operating in their own cultural style. Dillon attempted to place his study in the framework of the progress of tolerance to Asian settlement in California, but I think this theme got overwhelmed in the details of cops and killers.
I read this book for my research into San Francisco. I found it easy to read and very interesting. It wasn't just a sensational book on the tongs like some I've come across, but delved into the political and racial tensions festering in San Francisco, and reasons why the tongs flourished in the latter half of the 19th century. I also felt that the information was presented without prejudice, which I'm always conscious of when doing research since the newspaper archives of the time period are always rife with prejudice and agendas.
Edited from five to three stars. While this was super interesting, I found a number of errors after doing further research on at least two subjects. The Bubonic Plague and the death toll of SF. In the Hatchet Men, it says that the Bubonic Plague and subsequent quarantine of the Quarter was nothing but a scare and tells of an offer of 10,000 dollars to the Consul to remove the quarantine. While that did happen, the plague was very real, and lasted well after the 1906 earthquake.
It also lists the death toll of the earthquake as something around 500. That was once the belief. Now historians put the number at over 3,000, which considering the destruction seems much more accurate.
Now I'm questioning the rest of the information.