Honor societies and fraternities are a fixture in U.S. colleges. Most often they use Greek letters for their names, and some have names in English. However, the men's honor society of Santa Cruz High School (Santa Cruz, California) is called "Hi Tow Tong".

The word "Tong" is well explained as a neighborhood hall or benevolent association. In light of the origins of most of the Chinese in California at the time, I suspect, but am not sure, that the spelling is a Wade-Giles spelling of Cantonese. There are lots of other local tongs (not high school clubs) listed in Wikipedia's article on the Tong Wars.

According to a blog post containing much later text from the school student newspaper,

Hi Tow Tong Men’s Honor Society was organized in 1910. The first initiation ceremonies were adopted embracing the sentiments of Confucius, Jesus and other world leaders to emphasize the thought that leadership ability carries with it the responsibility to serve.

What does "Hi Tow" mean? Are several readings possible?

  • Well first let me leave this here: Tong = 堂. Tow should be 道, presumably. – Mou某 Aug 18 '19 at 2:23
  • My best guess would be 氣道堂 (not to be confused with 合氣道 or Aikido). The combination of /hiː/ is not possible in standard Cantonese, and none of the words with finals such as /aːi/ or /ɐi/ would make sense with 道. Perhaps this could be a dialectal reading? Nanning Cantonese for example has /hi³³/, and Meixian Hakka has /hi⁵³/. – Toby Mak Aug 18 '19 at 4:34
  • Given that the fraternity was founded and manned by non-Chinese (based on the photos and member ship lists Internet search turns up), I don't think it "translates" to anything "valid" in Chinese. It could be just something that sounded "Chinese" to the founders. – imrek Aug 19 '19 at 8:49
  • Another way to find its meaning is to ask the author of blog post who know the original source. – OmniBus Aug 25 '19 at 4:24

"tow tong" means "道堂", without doubt. e.g.:

enter image description here

堂 (u+5802) should be interpreted as "association"

道 (u+9053) means "tao", the proper way.

about the first character "hi", my best guess is, in sequence:

凱 (u+51f1) roughy means "victory", that "hi tow tong" would be "the association of the tao of victory"

second is 開 (u+958b) roughy means beginning, that "hi tow tong" would be "the association of the tao of beginning"

have fun :)

  • "Hi" may be Cantonese 繫 /hai6 / : connect – Tang Ho Aug 18 '19 at 7:44
  • em . . . possible :), better than 開 – 水巷孑蠻 Aug 18 '19 at 8:04
  • "with doubt" or "without doubt"? – Aaron Brick Aug 19 '19 at 14:42
  • 1
    ahhhhh. . . . a typo :( – 水巷孑蠻 Aug 19 '19 at 14:44

My guess is it's probably 諧道堂 [haai4 dou6 tong4] 'Society of the Harmonious Tao', but I have nothing to back that up.

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