The "tong" secret societies are as American as Chop Suey -- which is to say, invented in San Francisco and completely unknown in China.
The first tong was organized by Gold-Rush era immigrants as a means of mutual support and defense against a mostly-hostile white dominated world, and before long, tongs had popped up in most every city with a Chinese population.
It didn't take long, though, for the money to be made from drugs, gambling and prostitution to attract a criminal element, especially in chaotic Barbary Coast-era San Francisco. The world of tongs devolved into a near-constant state of bloody gang warfare over control of Chinatown's underworld.
In the 1880s, a young man by the name of Fung Jing Toy rose to the top of this wild-west gangster scene, and created his very own tong -- a personal army of hand-picked hatchetmen. He was nicknamed "Little Pete", and with this army of boo how doy began violently pushing the other tongs off of their hard-won turf, moving inexorably towards complete control of Chinatown.