# SAN FRANCISCO'S CHINATOWN TRIADS
IntroductionThe streets of San Francisco Chinatown seem like a regular tourist spot to most people. People gather there to eat, shop, or just sightsee. All this is very common in the daytime, but during the night, it’s a completely different scene. If you ever go to Chinatown during the daytime, you most likely see a lot of old Chinese people going grocery shopping or tourists looking around, but by 7 pm or so, the stores are closed and the streets are nearly deserted. The reason for this is that at night, the street gangs of Chinatown start to get active. There is a lot of history in San Francisco’s Chinatown that not too many people know about. Chinatown wasn’t the safe place everyone thought it was.
Origin of Gangs
It all started when Tongs started to form in Chinatown. A Tong is the term used for a type of secret society found among Chinese American immigrants. Tongs started forming during the 1850’s during the California Gold Rush when many Chinese immigrants started flocking to the city they called “Gold Mountain.” They went to California thinking they were going to be able to make a fortune but many Chinese found themselves unwelcomed. Some were being robbed, and some were being taken advantaged of by the early settlers such as the Irish or Italians. They felt like they couldn’t go to the local law enforcement because a lot of the police were of Irish descent. The Chinese needed some sort of protection, the kind they had in their homeland, which led to the forming of Tongs. Tongs were created for mutual support and protection, especially from groups hostile towards the Chinese immigration. Industries and families formed their own Tongs and built meeting halls. Each Tong was a form of self government that looked after themselves. “If you were a shoemaker, there would be a shoemaker tong. If you were a seamstress, you would be in a seamstress tong.” There would also be tongs that were formed from last names. For example if a persons last name was Wong, they would be in the Wong tong. The Tongs were, and are today, a lifesaver to many hardworking immigrants.
The Tongs also had another side to them. Some Tongs use their power to extort local merchants, both legitimate and illegal. Tongs also recruited gangsters to do their dirty work. “Some of the tongs actually have a separate branch of gangsters that work for them. Who would enforce the rules and regulations.” The FBI has kept a list of criminally influence tongs. One of the major tongs was named “The Hop Sing Tong.”
Raymond Chow and the Hop Sing Tong
Raymond Chow was one of Chinatowns most notorious criminals. Chow was born in Hong Kong in 1960. At the age of 9, he joined a gang. “I just want to be the best gangster, best fighter, and party, making money, and also selling a lot of drugs.” In 1976, Chows family moved to San Francisco where he enrolled in high school. He was in school for about two months when he got picked on for being a foreigner. To retaliate, Chow shot a classmate in the leg. He dropped out of school and spent all his time practicing martial arts. He practiced in a well known Chinese playground where a lot of gangsters hung out. One gang in particular caught Chows eyes which was the “Hop Sing Boys.” He joined the Hop Sing Tong because of their culture, loyalty, trust, and honor.
The Hop Sing Tong was one of the criminally influenced tongs that the FBI had a list of. “If you say that the Hop Sing Tong is a criminal organization, you’re wrong, because there are some members in there that are not criminals.” Raymond Chow began working for the Hop Sing Tong in 1976. At that time, there were two gangs that were employed under the Hop Sing Tong, which were the Hop Sing Boys and the “Wah Ching.” These two gangs made sure that the rules of the Hop Sing Tong were enforced.