CHINATOWN in the Time of the Tong Wars!

One hundred years ago to the non-Asian New Yorker, Chinatown seemed a mysterious place that they didn't dare visit alone, but instead required guides brave enough to take them into a set of streets they imagined filled with opium dens and fantan parlors--guides that were called lobbygows.

Come with us now on a lobbygow journey where we'll separate fact from fiction in the years before and immediately after the infamous Chinese Exclusion Act and its impact on New York's Chinese population, but especially as we travel back to the year 1909, as we recall the sensational Chinatown Trunk Murder, the tragic concubine Bow Kum, the nefarious Mock Duck, and the time when Chinese slew Chinese in these very streets during the greatest of the Tong Wars just a century ago.

*Please note: This tour is about Chinatown from the 1850s through the early 20th century, not present-day Chinatown. Think of it as similar to a Little Italy Mafia tour*

Where to meet: On the island called Kimlau Memorial Square of Chatham Square, which is across the street from Citibank located at 2 Mott Street.  There is a statue of an old-time Chinese official there. This is the busy traffic circle where Mott, Bowery, Worth, and East Broadway all come together. Take the 4,5 train to "Brooklyn Bridge", or the R to "City Hall" and walk down to Chinatown, or buses like the M9, 15, and 20 that go to Chatham Square, which is very close by, too.

When to meet:  12:45pm for a 1pm start. I will be holding a sign that says "Chinatown Tong Wars".

Fee: $15 cash, exact change appreciated! Please bring bills, not coins :)

The tour will be approximately 2/2.5 hours long. While Friendly Native tours walk rain or shine 99.9% of the time, on rare occasions they will be postponed in cases of what can be deemed dangerous weather, and an email sent out to that effect to all who have registered for the event.  For sunny days, be sure to bring a hat and a bottle of water. Check the weather reports on the day of the tour; if there is a chance of rain, please bring your own umbrella!

The nearest restrooms to this location are right inside "Hamptons Market Place", though you probably have to buy something, like a bottle of water. Otherwise, there's a McDonald's further up the block on Bowery. Please be sure to "take care of things" before the start of the tour!

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  • Shaina

    Brenda and I had a great time! Thank you. It was very informative as well as entertaining.

    September 22, 2013

  • Linda

    This was a very merry band for today's Chinatown Tong War tour, with "old hands" Alba, Laura, two exciting Marys, Karen, Donald, Judy, Sandra, Elliot, Joe, and Atul, and newbies Mary Helen, Irene, Shaina, Brenda, CC, and Paul. I do hope that many took the opportunity to visit other places in Chinatown, though I must inform participants that sadly, the robotic Tic-Tac-Toe chicken that so many fondly remember from halcyon days of yore is no more. I made it my business as a researcher to go in there and find out!

    1 · September 21, 2013

    • Mary

      Learned a lot today! While making my way to Soho I came upon the new location of MOCA (Museum of the Chinese in America) on Centre St. I stopped in for a visit, and while there was no mention of the Tong Wars, its permanent exhibit embellished on the history of the Chinese emigration and the wholesale discrimination that you described today, along with their entry into the food and laundry industries. Other rooms were dedicated to Chinese herbal medicine, entertainers and fashion. Surprisingly, though highlighting a few individuals with brief bios,, the museum does not refer at all to the great strides the Chinese-Americans have made in the last 2 decades.

      1 · September 21, 2013

    • Donna T.

      That is so interesting, Mary that you also went to the Museum yesterday. I did them both but not on the same day. New York city had it's annual fashion week early this month. Seems the Asian designers have had a huge impact on this industry. I wonder if this exhibit was timed to coincide with that success. It's a relatively new museum. Hopefully their math and science expertise will be recognized in future exhibits.

      September 22, 2013

  • Donna T.

    so sorry to have missed this tour.Although I took the July 4th tour, it is so worth a second look and listen. Next time for sure.

    September 22, 2013

  • Paul K.

    Linda, Thank you for an informative, entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable walking tour. You really brought the stories and convoluted lives to light. The Chuck Connors story fascinated me most, with Carry Nation and Pickles , what colorful characters. I want to read more about them and what a huckster Connors was faking the opium dens for the "slummers>" Thanks again, I will watch for your next event. Sad about the chicken. I wonder if it wound up in a dish of chow mein.

    September 21, 2013

  • Mari L

    Though I would have loved to hear this, I won't be able to make it this time due to unavoidable schedule conflict. These are wonderful tours. So many people are waiting, at least a cancellation isn't a problem. I'll stay turned for more!

    September 16, 2013

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