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Organizing Crime in Chinatown: Race and Racketeering in New York City, 1890-1910

Organizing Crime in Chinatown: Race and Racketeering in New York City, 1890-1910 (Paperback)

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A century ago, Chinese organized criminals were involved symbiotically with the politics, economics, and social life of the Chinese-American community, infiltrated the larger American society, and victimized Chinese and non-Chinese alike. Remarkably, they did this in the face of difficult language and cultural barriers and rampant institutional racism. Organized crime in the Chinese-American community is a long-term historical phenomenon that can be attributed to fundamental contradictions in the society, politics, and economics that created opportunities for professional criminals of all backgrounds, often specifically for those of Chinese descent. For example, the illegal traffic of women, laborers, and opium were consequences of the anti-Chinese laws. Despite a hostile, racist climate, however, Chinese criminals were able to purchase protection and some semblance of economic and political equality from corrupt politicians, police officers, and bureaucrats. While other Chinese-Americans worked diligently and bravely to remove racist laws and regulations, Chinatown gangsters instead saw opportunity for profit and power.

This study tests the conventional wisdom of academics, the media, and the government about Chinese organized crime against the historical record and seeks to establish whether it is emerging, nontraditional, or both, and whether it personifies a new international criminal threat to the United States. The analysis of the historical perspective of Chinese organized crime is augmented by detailed accounts of individual gangsters and events. The research is accumulated from contemporary histories and sociological treatments of New York's Chinatown and tong warfare, as well as from newspapers, reform pamphlets, travel guides, and municipal reports. There is a void in the history, criminology, ethnic studies, and sociological fields that this unique book will surely fill.

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.

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