Nation: The Chinatown Detail

For corruption, vice and violence, few cities could match 19th century San Francisco. Opium dens, brothels, gambling parlors, Shanghai saloons and gangs flourished by dint of maximum bribes to police and minimum legal scrutiny. Civic morality occasionally counterattacked the Barbary Coast and its adjunct, Chinatown; in 1875 authorities formed an elite corps of policemen to check Chinatown's bloody tong wars.

The Chinatown detail's first action —against the secret protection societies whose Mafia-like gang wars had terrorized Chinatown—was in the style of the times. The cops descended on tong headquarters with axes and smashed...

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