Organizing Crime in Chinatown

Race and Racketeering in New York City, 1890–1910

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About the Book

More than a century ago, organized criminals were intrinsically involved with the political, social, and economic life of the Chinese American community. In the face of virulent racism and substantial linguistic and cultural differences, they also integrated themselves successfully into the extensive underworlds and corrupt urban politics of the Progressive Era United States. The process of organizing crime in Chinese American communities can be attributed in part to the larger politics that created opportunities for professional criminals. For example, the illegal traffic in women, laborers, and opium was an unintended consequence of “yellow peril” laws meant to provide social control over Chinese Americans. Despite this hostile climate, Chinese professional criminals were able to form extensive multiethnic social networks and purchase protection and some semblance of entrepreneurial equality from corrupt politicians, police officers, and bureaucrats. While other Chinese Americans worked diligently to remove racist laws and regulations, Chinatown gangsters saw opportunity for profit and power at the expense of their own community.
Academics, the media, and the government have claimed that Chinese organized crime is a new and emerging threat to the United States. Focusing on events and personalities, and drawing on intensive archival research in newspapers, police and court documents, district attorney papers, and municipal reports, as well as from contemporary histories and sociological treatments, this study tests that claim against the historical record.

About the Author(s)

Jeffrey Scott McIllwain is an associate professor in the Criminal Justice and Criminology Program and co-director of the Graduate Program in Homeland Security at San Diego State University. He lives in La Mesa, California.

Bibliographic Details

Jeffrey Scott McIllwain
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 260
Bibliographic Info: photos, appendix, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2004
pISBN: 978-0-7864-1626-4
eISBN: 978-0-7864-8127-9
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments      vii

Preface      1

PART I: RACE AND THE AMERICAN UNDERWORLD

1. Alien Conspiracy, Yellow Peril and the “Threat” Posed by “Non-Traditional” Organized Crime      5

2. Social Networks and the Organization of Crime      10

3. Social Networks and the Institutionalizing of Guanxi      25

PART II: ORGANIZING CRIME ON GOLD MOUNTAIN

4. The Four Vices and the Bachelor Society      41

5. Chinese Syndicates: Prostitution and Opium      50

6. Chinese Power Syndicates: Gambling and Muscle      67

PART III: NEW YORK, NEW YORK

7. New York After Chinatown      83

8. Chinatown Vice and “The Bowery! The Bowery!”      105

9. Setting the Stage for a Tong War      127

10. The Gloves Come Off      147

11. “The Dead Dove of Peace”      166

PART IV: ORGANIZED CRIME AND THE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE

12. Rethinking the Gangster Image      183

Appendix: Comments on Literature, Sources, and Methodology      189

Chapter Notes      203

Bibliography      231

Index      245

Book Reviews & Awards

“Useful…recommended”—Choice; “McIllwain writes well…interesting and informative…engrossing and exhaustive in its detail…well done…colorfully written”—Journal of American Ethnic History; “Fascinating…unique look.”—Jay Albanese, author of Organized Crime in America; “This is revisionist history at its best…a meticulously documented work of scholarship.”—Joe Albini, author of The American Mafia; “Exciting example of modern interdisciplinary scholarship…an important contribution.”—Michael Woodiwiss, author of Organized Crime and American Power; “Unprecedentedly close look at New York’s Chinatown.”—David Courtwright, author of Violent Land and Forces of Habit.