First off; what is a Tong? In Cantonese, the word "tong" translates to hall or meeting place, a rather innocuous thing. In America, "tong" came to be associated with the darker side of Chinese-American culture. Originally, tongs in the US were established as meeting places for Chinese immigrants who were in need of community or protection. For many, the tong was the place where they could find employment, business connections, and community support. Often they were family-oriented, and those who were first arriving in the US would visit the tong upon entrance. In a sense, the Chinese Masonic Hall served a very similar purpose for many and could be considered a tong. However, many tongs grew to a mafia-like status in cities like San Francisco and New York, and even to a small extent here in Boise.
The two most prominent tongs in Boise were the Hip Sing Tong and the Hop Sing Tong. In both tongs, the lower quarters of the buildings were devoted to businesses and the upper rooms were the place of community meetings and the actual tong activity. Hip Sing Tong was located at 215 1/2 South Seventh Street, while the Hop Sing Tong was located on Front Street. The two buildings housed competing organizations and the rivalry was fierce. Hip Sing was traditionally considered a very strong association and the tong hosted national conventions multiple times throughout the years. At these events, leading members of other tong associations would come to Boise and participate in yearly gatherings. The Hop Sing association was also strong and had branches in many other cities as well. For the most part, the tongs, although rivals, attempted to keep the peace in Boise and did not allow the competition between other branches of their organizations to affect day to day operations in the city. Tong violence on the whole was rare, but occasionally tempers would flare, and tong affiliates would engage in acts of retribution against the competition. By the 1930's all tongs of Boise, including the rival Hip Sing and Hop Sing, agreed to a lasting truce which would prevent the outbreak of "tong wars" in the area, regardless of incendiary actions perpetrated by any association.
Learn more about Chinese-American history in Boise.