Chinatown’s Hip Sing headquarters

This early 20th century postcard depicts a placid scene on Pell Street. But not far from the Chop Suey restaurant at number 36 stood 15, home base for the notorious Hip Sing tong—one of the ruthless Chinese-American criminal associations that fought for control of Chinatown and the booming opium trade in the neighborhood’s early days.

Hip Sing and similar tongs formed in New York, San Francisco, and other major cities to protect Chinese immigrants from the racism and exploitation they encountered upon arriving in the U.S. in the late 1800s. (Exhibit A: the Chinese-American Exclusion Act of 1896.) But they eventually became violent gangs that ran prostitution rings, gambling dens, and drug rackets.

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