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Triad (simplified Chinese: 三合会traditional Chinese: 三合會pinyin: Sānhéhuì; literally "Triad Society") is a term that describes many branches of Chinese underground society and/or criminal organizations based in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Macau, Malaysia and Mainland China, and also in Western countries and cities with significant Chinese populations such as Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, Toronto, Vancouver, and the San Francisco Bay Area.

Their activities include car theft, contract killing, drug trafficking, extortion, money laundering, gambling, prostitution, and other forms of racketeering. A major source of the triad's income today comes from the counterfeiting of copyrighted and trademarked goods such as clothing, coin counterfeiting, computer software, counterfeit money, handbags, music, CDs, watches and movie VCDs/DVDs. They also trade in endangered species as well as bootleg tobacco and alcohol products.

Contents

History

Precursor to triads – Tian Di Hui and White Lotus

The Triads were started as a resistance to the Manchu Emperor of the Qing Dynasty (the ethnic Manchus were regarded as a foreign occupation at the time). In the 1760s, a society called the Tian Di Hui (天地會, "The Society of Heaven and Earth") was formed in China. Its purpose was to overthrow the Manchu-led Qing Dynasty and restore Han Chinese rule. As the Tian Di Hui spread through different parts of China, it branched off into many groups with many names, one of which was "Sanhehui" (Chinese: 三合會pinyin: sānhéhuì; Yale Cantonese: saam1 hup wui), literally "Three Harmonies Society", referring to the unity between Heaven, Earth and Man.

These societies accordingly made use of the triangle in their imagery usually accompanied with swords or Guan Yu, the Chinese God of Loyalty. The name "triad" was coined by British authorities in Hong Kong, referring to that use of triangular imagery.

Some Triad organizations also trace their roots to an ancient family of millennarian revolutionary movements called White Lotus.

Post-imperial developments

Over several centuries, what are known as triads today developed from a patriotic society to a criminal organization. Following the Wuchang Uprising on October 1911 and the subsequent overthrow of the Qing Dynasty China the following year, the Hong Society's (洪門 'Flood Gate') primary purpose were thus accomplished. An unfortunate consequence of this new-found victory was the society's loss of a primary purpose; further compounded ironically by the fact that most (if not all) missed out on the opportunity to participate in the actual uprising, thus leaving many of them angry and depressed. Unable to revert back to normal civilian lives after spending years living in grave danger and extreme violence as outlaws, many ex-rebels reunited to form a cult which later came to be known as the Triad. Having lost the usual donations and support from the public with the collapse of the Qing dynasty China, members of the newly-formed cult resorted to money extortion from the unwilling public through all possible means.

Migration to Hong Kong

When the Communist Party of China took power in 1949, mainland China was put under strict law enforcement and organized crime diminished. Triad members then migrated south to the then-British crown colony of Hong Kong for the continuance of their business. It was estimated that in the 1950s, there were 300,000 Triad members in Hong Kong.[1] By 1951, there were eight main triad groups and they had divided Hong Kong up into geographic areas and ethnic groups that each group was responsible for controlling. The eight main ones at that time were the Wo, Rung, Tung, Chuen, Shing, Yee On, 14K, and Luen. Each had its own headquarters, its own sub-societies, and its own public covers. After the Riot in Hong Kong in 1956, the government actively enforced the laws that eventually diminished the Triad activities in Hong Kong.

Recent developments

Increasing in power, the triads remain low key, yet ruthless in criminal activities. The scale of triad membership is difficult even for its leaders to ascertain. Although some triads have only 50 members, larger ones have over 30,000 members. Well known triads in Hong Kong now include the Sun Yee On, Wo Shing Wo and 14K.

The triads have been engaged in counterfeiting since the 1880s. Between the 1960s and 1970s, the triads were involved in the counterfeiting of Chinese currency, often of the Hong Kong 50-cent piece. In that same decade, the gangs were also guilty of copying books, generally very expensive ones and selling them on the black market. Inevitably, as new technology was developed, and the average person grew wealthier, the triads had to move onto copying newer effects such as watches. This meant that they had a much wider market.

The 1990s also saw the popularisation of triads in popular culture and media such as Hong Kong cinema and films, notably in 1996's Young and Dangerous series.

More recently, triad counterfeit has involved designer apparel such as handbags and clothing.[2]

The real money for the triads of late, however, has come due to computers. Not only are the triads effective pornography smugglers, but they have cornered the market when it comes to computer software piracy. Obviously, since computers and the internet became a staple of the modern household, the gangs have made more and more money from pornography and piracy by employing the most ingenious computer technicians.

Triad organizational structure

Hong Kong's triads are more powerful than most people might expect. Like some of the biggest international drug traffickers who have their own armed forces and can perhaps take charge of their local governments, Hong Kong triads pursue and maintain significant resources such as their own stockpiles of ammunition. Like Western Mafia, they usually limit violence to among themselves rather than inflict it on the public at large.

There is no father-figure in the Hong Kong triads to control all other members in illegal activities via a hierarchy. On the contrary, Hong Kong triads are generally composed of several independent groups. Although they form and organize themselves with similar ceremonies and hierarchical systems, they do not function under an absolute and strict dominion-and-compliance plan. For example, the "King Yee" is a subsidiary branch of the "Sun Yee On", but members of the King Yee do not take orders from the "supremacy".

The actual power of triads lies at the ground level of the hierarchy. Usually, a triad "official" ("Red Pole") leads a group of 15 active members (soldiers), and wields aggression on a turf, a leader with apparent hegemony may not be able to command other leaders; and leaders may sometimes wage war against one another for more benefits.

Triads also use numeric codes to differentiate the ranks and positions inside a gang. For example, 426 would mean "fighter" (打仔). Another code 49 (四九仔) would denote a rank-and-file member. 489 is the code for "the mountain master", 438 for the "deputy mountain master", 415 for "the white paper fan", and 432 for the "straw sandal". The code 25 (二五仔), an undercover/spy of the gang, has entered common usage in Hong Kong to mean a "traitor".

As the Hong Kong economy progresses, triads barely provide "satisfying" social and pecuniary conditions to foster absolute loyalty among their members. One consequence is that the current triad structure has become more flexible: the customary eight-ranking system has changed into one that consists of four ranks (refer to the diagram below). Also, the sophisticated ceremonial rituals for new members have simplified: the most commonly practiced is "hanging the Blue Lantern" (i.e. following the leader), which is an oral agreement with little formality. The degree of autocracy within the organization has fallen; members have higher tendency to prioritize their personal interests. Should a member discover that there is little advantage in remaining in the group, he might transfer himself to another one which is more socially robust and potent: the traditional principles of triad moral beliefs have been disregarded under such personal benefits first stance.

Traditional triad organizational structure.

Initiation

Triad members are subject to initiation ceremonies, much like the Mafia or the Yakuza. A typical ceremony would take place at an altar dedicated to Guan Yu, the Taoist god of brotherhoods, with incense smoke and a sacrifice of an animal, such as a chicken, pig, or a goat. After drinking a potion composed of wine and the blood of the animal or of the candidate, he would pass beneath an arch of swords while reciting the Triad oaths. The paper on which the oaths are written would then be burned on the altar, to confirm the duty of the member to perform his duty to the gods. Three fingers on the left hand would then be raised as a binding gesture.[3]

Triad oaths

Below is a heavily abridged version of the thirty-six traditional Triad oaths of the nineteenth century. For an accurate, if lengthy, English translation, see Appendix C of Fei-Ling Davis' "Primitive Revolutionaries of China".

  1. After having entered the Han gates I must treat the parents and relatives of my sworn brothers as my own kin. I shall suffer death by five thunderbolts if I do not keep this oath.
  2. I shall assist my sworn brothers to bury their parents and brothers by offering financial or physical assistance. I shall suffer death by five thunderbolts if I do not keep this oath.
  3. When Han brothers visit my house, I shall provide them with board and lodging. I shall be killed by myriads of knives if I treat them as strangers.
  4. I will always acknowledge my Han brothers when they identify themselves. If I ignore them I will be killed by myriads of swords.
  5. I shall not disclose the secrets of the Han family, not even to my parents, brothers, or wife. I shall never disclose the secrets for money. I will be killed by myriads of swords if I do so.
  6. I shall never betray my sworn brothers. If, through a misunderstanding, I have caused the arrest of one of my brothers I must release him immediately. If I break this oath I will be killed by five thunderbolts.
  7. I will offer financial assistance to sworn brothers who are in trouble in order that they may pay their passage fee, etc. If I break this oath I will be killed by five thunderbolts.
  8. I must never cause harm or bring trouble to my sworn brothers or Incense Master. If I do so I will be killed by myriads of swords.
  9. I must never commit any indecent assaults on the wives, sisters, or daughters, of my sworn brothers. I shall be killed by five thunderbolts if I break this oath.
  10. I shall never embezzle cash or property from my sworn brothers. If I break this oath I will be killed by myriads of swords.
  11. I will take good care of the wives or children of sworn brothers entrusted to my keeping. If I do not I will be killed by five thunderbolts.
  12. If I have supplied false particulars about myself for the purpose of joining the Han family I shall be killed by five thunderbolts.
  13. If I should change my mind and deny my membership of the Han family I will be killed by myriads of swords.
  14. If I rob a sworn brother or assist an outsider to do so I will be killed by five thunderbolts.
  15. If I should take advantage of a sworn brother or force unfair business deals upon him I will be killed by myriads of swords.
  16. If I knowingly convert my sworn brother's cash or property to my own use I shall be killed by five thunderbolts.
  17. If I have wrongly taken a sworn brother's cash or property during a robbery I must return them to him. If I do not I will be killed by five thunderbolts.
  18. If I am arrested after committing an offence I must accept my punishment and not try to place blame on my sworn brothers. If I do so I will be killed by five thunderbolts.
  19. If any of my sworn brothers are killed, or arrested, or have departed to some other place, I will assist their wives and children who may be in need. If I pretend to have no knowledge of their difficulties I will be killed by five thunderbolts.
  20. When any of my sworn brothers have been assaulted or blamed by others, I must come forward and help him if he is in the right or advise him to desist if he is wrong. If he has been repeatedly insulted by others I shall inform our other brothers and arrange to help him physically or financially. If I do not keep this oath I will be killed by five thunderbolts.
  21. If it comes to my knowledge that the Government is seeking any of my sworn brothers who has come from other provinces or from overseas, I shall immediately inform him in order that he may make his escape. If I break this oath I will be killed by five thunderbolts.
  22. I must not conspire with outsiders to cheat my sworn brothers at gambling. If I do so I will be killed by myriads of swords.
  23. I shall not cause discord amongst my sworn brothers by spreading false reports about any of them. If I do so I will be killed by myriads of swords.
  24. I shall not appoint myself as Incense Master without authority. After entering the Han gates for three years the loyal and faithful ones may be promoted by the Incense Master with the support of his sworn brothers. I shall be killed by five thunderbolts if I make any unauthorized promotions myself.
  25. If my natural brothers are involved in a dispute or law suit with my sworn brothers I must not help either party against the other but must attempt to have the matter settled amicably. If I break this oath I will be killed by five thunderbolts.
  26. After entering the Han gates I must forget any previous grudges I may have borne against my sworn brothers. If I do not do so I will be killed by five thunderbolts.
  27. I must not trespass upon the territory occupied by my sworn brothers. I shall be killed by five thunderbolts if I pretend to have no knowledge of my brothers' rights in such matters.
  28. I must not covet or seek to share any property or cash obtained by my sworn brothers. If I have such ideas I will be killed.
  29. I must not disclose any address where my sworn brothers keep their wealth nor must I conspire to make wrong use of such knowledge. If I do so I will be killed by myriads of swords.
  30. I must not give support to outsiders if so doing is against the interests of any of my sworn brothers. If I do not keep this oath I will be killed by myriads of swords.
  31. I must not take advantage of the Han brotherhood in order to oppress or take violent or unreasonable advantage of others. I must be content and honest. If I break this oath I will be killed by five thunderbolts.
  32. I shall be killed by five thunderbolts if I behave indecently towards small children of my sworn brothers' families.
  33. If any of my sworn brothers has committed a serious offense I must not inform upon them to the Government for the purposes of obtaining a reward. I shall be killed by five thunderbolts if I break this oath.
  34. I must not take to myself the wives and concubines of my sworn brothers nor commit adultery with them. If I do so I will be killed by myriads of swords.
  35. I must never reveal Han secrets or signs when speaking to outsiders. If I do so I will be killed by myriads of swords.
  36. After entering the Han gates I shall be loyal and faithful and shall endeavour to overthrow Ch'ing and restore Ming by coordinating my efforts with those of my sworn brethren even though my brethren and I may not be in the same professions. Our common aim is to avenge our Five Ancestors. If I break this oath the Incense Master has a right to assassinate me.

Activities overseas

Currently, Triads are active overseas in cities with sizeable overseas Chinese populations, such as San Francisco, New York City, Philadelphia, Seattle, Chicago, Sacramento, Boston, Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Tampa Bay, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney, Auckland, New Orleans, Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Denver, Beaumont, Texas, Atlanta, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, Cape Town, Buenos Aires, Rosario and São Paulo. It is also believed that London, Plymouth, Birmingham, Glasgow, Belfast, Dublin, Manchester, Amsterdam, Berlin and especially Paris (Avenue de Choisy) are new centers of triad activity. They are often involved in smuggling illegal immigrants from East Asia into the USA, Canada, and Britain.

Tongs

Tongs are similar to triads, but they originated among early immigrant Chinatown communities independently rather than as extensions of modern triads. The first tongs formed in the second half of the 19th century among the more marginalized members of early immigrant Chinese American communities for mutual support and protection from nativists. These first tongs modeled themselves upon triads. However, unlike the triads, the tongs formed without clear political motives and soon found themselves involved in criminal activities, including extortion, gambling, human trafficking, murder, and prostitution.[2] In recent years, some tongs have reformed themselves to remove their criminal elements and have become civic-minded organizations.

Triads in the United Kingdom

Gang fighting

Comparing the cultural differences of criminal organizations can be difficult; generally, they all solve their disagreements in the same way—violence. Unsuccessful financial deals are resolved in street battles. For example, the 14K Triad faction in Macau used car bombs, drive-by shootings, 100 knives attack, etc. to war with another Triad spawned from a workers' union.

Organized crime

Modern day triads have become more business-like organizations. The interactions and integrations of power among triad gangs from mainland China, Taiwan, Macau and Hong Kong are often not to evade counter-operations from local authorities, but rather to attain business benefits. At the present, the largest and most business oriented market is the mainland. Triads head for any profitable opportunity, and some Hong Kong triads have taken to making legitimate investments in the Mainland, either for legitimate reasons or just to exploit the legitimacy of these businesses for other illegal purposes.

Triad countermeasures in Hong Kong

The Organized Crime and Triad Bureau (OCTB) is the division of the police chiefly responsible for triad countermeasures. The OCTB and Criminal Intelligence Bureau work hand in hand with the Narcotics Bureau and Commercial Crime Bureau to process data and information collected by their operation units, to fight the triad heads. Other departments such as the Customs and Excise Department, Immigration Department and ICAC have also joined forces with the local police to impede expansion of triads and other organized gangs.

Ironically the law has given "protection" to the criminals. Due to inadequate authority to investigate the criminal leaders' sources of wealth and the lack of laws to impose heavier punishments such as confiscation of proceeds from crimes and extended imprisonments, the efforts of police have been hampered. Therefore, to resolve this issue, the local law system is also frequently revised to endow the police with sufficient authority to fight against triads. An example is that the police authority proposed the Organized and Serious Crimes Ordinance, fully in force since 1995.

According to the Security Bureau, there is no current evidence to indicate any worsening of the triad problem in Hong Kong. For ten years (1993-2002) the proportion of crimes with triad involvement remained fairly steady at about 3.8%; and the figure for the first nine months in 2003 was 2.7%. Nonetheless, the bureau has added more than 240 anti-triad specialist posts since 1995/96 to strengthen the anti-triad power of the police force.

There is also a comprehensive publicity programme to forge triad awareness of the public. For instance, the Junior Police Call is an organization with complete networks to publicise anti-triad messages. At the same time, the Crime Prevention Bureau is keeping contact with local businesses and encouraging them to report triad activities.

Furthermore, the Hong Kong Police cooperate with law enforcement agency overseas specialized at organized crimes, especially of places with a sizeable Chinese population, to combat triads at an international level such as with the Doan Family Protection Agency that is spread out through out the world.

The primary Hong Kong laws addressing triads are the Societies Ordinance and the Organized & Serious Crimes Ordinance. The Societies Ordinance, enacted in 1949, makes all triad societies unlawful societies in Hong Kong. It stipulates that any person convicted of professing or claiming to be an office bearer or managing or assisting in the management of a triad society can be fined up to HK$1 million ($129,030.59) US dollar and imprisoned for up to 15 years. Membership of a triad society is itself an offence punishable with fines from HK$100,000 ($12,902.52) US dollar to HK$250,000 ($32,256.26) US dollar and 3 to 7 years' imprisonment.

The Organized and Serious Crimes Ordinance was enacted in Hong Kong in 1994. The Ordinance aims to provide the Police with special investigative powers, to provide heavier sentences for organized crime activities, and to provide the Courts with the power to confiscate the proceeds of organized crime. The same investigative powers exist also for drug trafficking crimes and terrorism (since 7 January 2005).

Even though most gangs and triads act independently of one another, their attempt to pretend that they are "the invisible yet invincible" has made the police's work much harder by forcing their victims into silence. In order to encourage the public to report the criminal activities of triads, the Security Bureau has established the Witness Protection Unit in 1995 to augment witness security. Later in 2000 the Witness Protection Ordinance was enacted and came into operation on 9 November to provide a legal basis for the Witness Protection Programme.

List of Triads

See also

References

  1. ^ Hong Kong's T-Shirt Contest, TIME, November 28, 2007
  2. ^ M. Booth, 'The Dragon Syndicates; The Global Phenomenon of the Triads', Doubleday-Great Britain 1999, pp 386-400.
  3. ^ [1]

Further reading

  • The Dragon Syndicates: The Global Phenomenon of the Triads (ISBN 0-7867-0869-7) by British author Martin Booth (who was born and raised in Hong Kong). This book mainly looks at the history and rise of triads living in the United Kingdom and Los Angeles. The book is well researched and accurately describes triad society.
  • Blood Brothers: The Criminal Underworld of Asia by Bertil Lintner. Pub: Allen & Unwin. Criminals exist outside the law, but not outside society. Nowhere is this more true than in Asia, where the tentacles of organized crime reach far into the worlds of business, politics and even law enforcement. In his latest book, Blood Brothers: Crime, Business and Politics in Asia, REVIEW Senior Writer Bertil Lintner examines the nature of these entanglements both in the region and outside it.

External links








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