Triad (underground society)
|Founding location||Hong Kong, China, Vietnam, Macau, Taiwan, Europe, United States|
|Ethnicity||Chinese, Chinese-American, Chinese Canadian|
|Criminal activities||Contract killing, prostitution, counterfeiting, health care fraud, drug trafficking, human trafficking, extortion, murder, money laundering, arms trafficking, racketeering|
|Allies||Camorra, Sicilian mafia, Russian mafia, Corsican mafia|
|Literal meaning||Three Harmonies Society|
|Vietnamese alphabet||Hội Tam Hoàng, Xã hội Đen|
Triad refers to the many branches of Chinese transnational organized crime organizations based in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and also in countries with significant Chinese populations, such as the United States, Canada, Singapore, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.
- 1 Etymology
- 2 History
- 3 Criminal activities
- 4 Structure and composition
- 5 Rituals and codes of conduct
- 6 Current clans
- 7 Triad countermeasures
- 8 Notable members
- 9 See also
- 10 Notes
- 11 References
- 12 Further reading
- 13 External links
The term "Triad" was assumed to be coined by British authorities in colonial Hong Kong, as a reference to the triads' use of triangular imagery. While never proven, it is "highly probable" that triad organizations either took after or were originally part of the revolutionary movements called the White Lotus Society, and quite possibly, The Boxers.
Popular folklore suggests that the triads emerged out of anti-Qing sentiment and efforts to restore the former Ming dynasty in the wake of the Manchu conquest of China. According to stories circulating in southern China since the early 19th century, the Qing government burned down the Shaolin Monastery, killing all but five of the monks there. These five monks, known as the Five Elders, were said to have founded various secret societies for the purpose of restoring the Ming. The dates of the supposed destruction of the monastery vary in these accounts, as well as its purported location (with some referring to a Southern Shaolin Monastery, rather than the historical Shaolin Monastery in the northern province of Henan). In reality, the Shaolin Monastery was never destroyed during the Qing, and most scholars point to the Heaven and Earth Society of the 18th century as the earliest documented origin for the triads.
In the 1760s, the Heaven and Earth Society (天地會), a fraternal organization was founded, and as the society's influence spread throughout China, it branched into several smaller groups with different names, one of which was the Three Harmonies Society (三合會). These societies adopted the triangle as their emblem, usually accompanied by decorative images of swords or portraits of Guan Yu. Their aim was to overthrow the Qing Dynasty and restore Ming Dynasty.
In British Hong Kong, there was a strong intolerance for secret societies. While being unaware of their previous issues the British considered the Triads a criminal threat. The Triads were charged and imprisoned in Hong Kong which was under British law at that time.
During the 1800s, many such societies were seen as legitimate ways of helping new immigrants from China settle into a new country. Secret societies were officially banned by the British government in Singapore during the 1890s and slowly stamped out by successive colonial governors and leaders over time. Tracing the origins of Singapore gangs, the opium trade, prostitution and brothels were also banned. Immigrants were encouraged to seek help from a local kongsi instead of turning to secret societies, which also contributed to their decline. After World War II, these societies saw a resurgence as gangsters took advantage of the uncertainty and growing anti-British sentiment. Certain Chinese communities, such as some "new villages" of Kuala Lumpur and Bukit Ho Swee in Singapore became notorious for gang violence.
When the Chinese Communist Party came to power in 1949 in mainland China, law enforcement became stricter and tough governmental crackdown on criminal organizations forced the triads to migrate to Hong Kong, then a British colony. It was estimated that in the 1950s, there were about 300,000 triad members in Hong Kong. Academics at the University of Hong Kong say that most triad societies were established between 1914 and 1939, and that there were once more than 300 in the territory. Since then the number of such groups has consolidated to around 50, of which 14 are still regularly in the eye of police. There were nine main triads operating in Hong Kong and they had divided the land according to their ethnic groups and geographical locations, with each triad in charge of a region. The nine triads were Wo Hop To, Wo Shing Wo, Rung, Tung, Chuen, Shing, Sun Yee On, 14K and Luen. Each of them had their own headquarters, sub-societies and public fronts. After the 1956 riots, the Hong Kong government introduced stricter law enforcement and the triads became less active.
During the 2014 Hong Kong protests groups of middle-aged men attacked student protesters and their pro-democracy protest camps in Hong Kong's Mong Kok district. A Hong Kong police spokesman confirmed that men with ties to triad organized crime were among those involved in the assault.
Triads currently engage in a variety of crimes from extortion and money laundering to trafficking and prostitution. They also are involved in smuggling and counterfeiting goods such as music, video, and software as well as more tangible goods such as clothes, watches, and money.
Triads have been engaging in counterfeiting since the 1880s. Between the 1960s and 1970s, triads were involved in counterfeiting currency, often of the Hong Kong 50-cent piece. In the same decade, the gangs were also involved in copying books, usually expensive ones, and selling them in the black market. With the advent of new technology and the improvement of the average person's standard of living, triads have progressed to producing counterfeit goods such as watches, film VCDs / DVDs and designer apparel such as clothing and handbags. Since the 1970s, triad turf control was weakened and some triads shifted their revenue streams to underground as well as legitimate businesses.
Health care fraud
Structure and composition
Triads use numeric codes to distinguish between ranks and positions within the gang; the numbers are inspired by Chinese numerology based on the I Ching. "489" refers to the "Mountain" or "Dragon" Master (or 'Dragon Head'), while 438 is used for the "Deputy Mountain Master", a "432" indicates "Grass Slipper" rank and the Mountain Master's proxy, "Incense Master", who oversees inductions into the Triad, and "Vanguard", who assists the Incense Master. "426" refers to a "military commander", also known as a "Red Pole", overseeing defensive and offensive operations, while "49" denotes the position of "soldier" or rank-and-file member. The "White Paper Fan" (415) provides financial and business advice, and the "Straw Sandal" (432) functions as a liaison between different units. "25" refers to an undercover law enforcement agent or spy from another triad, and has become popularly used in Hong Kong as a slang for "snitch", i.e. informant. "Blue Lanterns" are uninitiated members, equivalent to Mafia associates and, as such, do not have a number designation.
Rituals and codes of conduct
Similar to the Italian mafia or the Japanese yakuza, Triad members tend to be subject to initiation ceremonies. A typical ceremony takes place at an altar dedicated to Guan Yu, with incense and an animal sacrifice, usually a chicken, pig or goat. After drinking a mixture of wine and blood of the animal or the candidate, the member will pass beneath an arch of swords while reciting the triad's oaths. The paper on which the oaths are written will be burnt on the altar to confirm the member's obligation to perform his duties to the gods. Three fingers on the left hand will be raised as a binding gesture.
The Triad initiate is required to adhere to "the 36 oaths."
After having entered the Hung 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.
I shall assist my sworn brothers to bury their parents and brothers by offering financial or physical assistance. I shall be killed by five thunderbolts if I pretend to have no knowledge of their troubles.
When Hung 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.
I will always acknowledge my Hung brothers when they identify themselves. If I ignore them I will be killed by myriads of swords.
I shall not disclose the secrets of the Hung 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I shall never embezzle cash or property from my sworn brothers. If I break this oath I will be killed by myriads of swords.
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.
If I have supplied false particulars about myself for the purpose of joining the Hung family I shall be killed by five thunderbolts.
If I should change my mind and deny my membership of the Hung family I will be killed by myriads of swords.
If I rob a sworn brother or assist an outsider to do so I will be killed by five thunderbolts.
If I should take advantage of a sworn brother or force unfair business deals upon him I will be killed by myriads of swords.
If I knowingly convert my sworn brother's cash or property to my own use I shall be killed by five thunderbolts.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I shall not appoint myself as Incense Master without authority. After entering the Hung 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.
If my natural brothers are involved in a dispute or lawsuit 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.
After entering the Hung 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I must not take advantage of the Hung 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.
I shall be killed by five thunderbolts if I behave indecently towards small children of my sworn brothers' families.
If any of my sworn brothers has committed a big offence 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.
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.
I must never reveal Hung secrets or signs when speaking to outsiders. If I do so I will be killed by myriads of swords.
After entering the Hung gates I shall be loyal and faithful and shall endeavour to overthrow Ch'ing and restore Ming by co-ordinating 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.
Tongs are similar to triads except that they originated among early immigrant Chinatown communities independently, rather than as extensions of modern triads. The word literally means "social club," and Tongs are not specifically underground organizations. 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 Tongs modeled themselves on triads, but they were established without clear political motives, yet they become involved in criminal activities such as extortion, illegal gambling, drug trafficking, human trafficking, murder and prostitution. In recent years, some Tongs have reformed to eliminate their criminal elements and have become civic-minded organizations.
Triad activities were also present in Chinese communities around Southeast Asia. When Malaysia and Singapore, which have the region's largest population of ethnic Chinese, first became Crown Colonies, secret societies and triads were much more common and controlled the local communities similar to the way the Sicilian Mafia did through extortion of "protection money" and illegal money lending. Many conducted blood rituals such as drinking one another's blood as a sign of brotherhood, while others engaged in running opium dens and brothels.
Remnants of these former gangs and societies still exist. Due to the efforts of the government in both countries to reduce crime, such societies have largely faded away from the public eye, especially in Singapore.
Triads were also common in Vietnamese cities with large Chinese (in particular Cantonese and Teochew) communities. Especially during Vietnam's French colonial period, many businesses and wealthy residents in Saigon (especially in the Chinatown district) and Haiphong were under the tutelage and control of various protection racket gangs. Failure to provide such payments often result in various reprisals from the triad, ranging from assault, kidnapping for ransom, destruction of property, robbery and even murder of the client or a family member.
However, with the arrival of Vietnamese independence in 1945 (in the North) and 1955 (in the South), organized crime activity, including protection rackets, was drastically reduced as both the Northern and Southern governments purged criminal activity in their halves of the country. President Ngô Đình Diệm in the South ordered the military to eliminate, disarm, and imprison organized crime groups in the Saigon-Gia Định-Biên Hòa- Vũng Tàu region and in cities like Mỹ Tho and Cần Thơ in the Mekong Delta. Diem also banned brothels, massage parlours, casinos and gambling houses, opium dens, bars, drug houses and nightclubs (which are all establishments triads frequented). In the North under Ho Chi Minh, law enforcement was even stricter with stringent control and monitoring in the activities of its citizens. The Northern communist government purged and imprisoned organized criminals, including triads, in the Haiphong and Hanoi areas, along with shutting down businesses which it viewed as "capitalist", "Western" or "decadent" while collectivizing and nationalizing all other private businesses and properties.
Triads are also active in other regions with significant overseas Chinese populations: Macau, Taiwan, Hong Kong Triads and countries such as the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Brazil, Peru and Argentina. They are often involved in helping immigrants enter countries illegally. Shanty & Mishra (2007) estimate that annual profits from narcotics is $200 billion; revenues from human trafficking into Europe and the United States are believed to amount to $3.5 billion per year.
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Law enforcement means
The Organized Crime and Triad Bureau (OCTB) is a division within the Hong Kong Police Force that is responsible for triad countermeasures. The OCTB and Criminal Intelligence Bureau work together with the Narcotics Bureau and Commercial Crime Bureau to process data and information collected by their operation units to counter triad leaders. Other departments involved in countering triad activities include Customs and Excise Department, Immigration Department and ICAC. They cooperate with the police to impede triads' expansions and other organized gangs. Police actions regularly target organised crime, including raids on entertaining establishments under control of triads, and the placing of operatives deep undercover – this was the central theme to the Infernal Affairs trilogy.
The Guns and Gangs Unit of the Toronto Police Service is a specialized command detective unit that is responsible for handling triads. Formerly the Asian Gang Unit of the Metro Toronto Police was responsible for dealing with triad related matters, but a larger unit was created to deal with the broader array of ethnic gangs in the city.
At the national (and in some cases provincial) level, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police's Organized Crime Branch is responsible for investigating all gang related activities including triads. The Canada Border Services Agency Organized Crime units works with the RCMP to detain and remove non-Canadian triad members.
The Organized Crime and Law Enforcement Act was created to deal with organized crime and gives a tool for police forces in Canada to handle organized criminal activities. This Act enhances the general role of the Criminal Code of Canada (with amendments to deal with organized crime) in dealing with triad criminal activities.
As of 2011, it was estimated that criminal gangs associated with triads controlled 90% of the heroin trade in Vancouver.  Due to its geographic as well as demographic characteristics, Vancouver is the point of entry into North America for much of the heroin produced in Southeast Asia, much of the trade being controlled by international organized crime groups associated with the triads.
Primary laws in addressing the triad problem are the Societies Ordinance and the Organized & Serious Crimes Ordinance. The former was enacted in 1949 to outlaw triads 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 can be fined up to HK$1 million and a prison term of up to 15 years.
Since the 1970s, the power of triads has further diminished due to the establishment of the Independent Commission Against Corruption in 1974. The agency targeted brazen corruption within police ranks linked with triads. Being a member of a triad is already an offence punishable by fines ranging from HK$100,000 to HK$250,000 and three to seven years imprisonment under an ordinance enacted in Hong Kong in 1994, and aims to provide the police with special investigative powers, to provide heavier penalties for organized crime activities and to authorize the courts to confiscate the proceeds of such crimes.
- List of Chinese criminal organizations
- List of criminal enterprises, gangs and syndicates
- Organized crime
- Triads in the United Kingdom
- Secret societies in Singapore
- Chongqing gang trials
- Hong Kong action cinema
- Russian mafia
- Sio Sam Ong
- Broken Tooth Koi
- Criminal tattoos
- Gertz, for the Washington Times. British authorities in colonial Hong Kong dubbed the groups triads because of the triangular imagery.
- Triad Societiespage 4
- Ter Haar 1998, pp. 18-19.
- Levin, Dan (4 October 2014) "Triad Links to Attack on Protesters Raise Some Old Questions". The New York Times
- Gertz, for the Washington Times. "Like other organized crime groups, triads [...] are engaged in a range of illegal activities such as bank and credit card fraud, currency counterfeiting, money laundering, extortion, human trafficking and prostitution." Triads rarely fight other ethnic mob groups, fighting mainly among themselves or against other triads. However triads were involved in some territorial disputes with the Irish mob, Jewish mafia and others.
- M. Booth, 'The Dragon Syndicates; The Global Phenomenon of the Triads', Doubleday-Great Britain 1999, pp 386-400.
- Wong, Natalie (21 January 2011) "Dragons smell blood again". The Standard
- Stephen L. Mallory, Understanding Organized Crime (Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2007), page 137
- Stephen L. Mallory, Understanding Organized Crime (Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2007), pages 137-138
- Secret Societies, page 167
- Gertz, for the Washington Times. "Like other organized crime groups, triads have elaborate initiation ceremonies similar to those of the Italian mafia [...]"
- "Feature Articles 378". AmericanMafia.com. Retrieved 2010-08-31.
- Triad Societies, Volume 5. Google Books. 1941.
- Andrew Sekeres III, Institutionalization of the Chinese Tongs in Chicago's Chinatown (accessed June 26, 2011)
- Shanty, Frank; Mishra, Patit Paban Organized crime: from trafficking to terrorism, pg 138, Volume 2. ISBN 1576073378 ABC-CLIO (September 24, 2007)
- Hong Kong - The Facts: Police
- Google Books
- "Guns and poses: inside the drug lords' deadly world," The Sydney Morning Herald (August 30, 2010). Retrieved 10 June 2013.
- Bolton, Kingsley; Hutton, Christopher (2000). Triad societies: western accounts of the history, sociology and linguistics of Chinese secret societies. Taylor & Francis.
- Booth, Martin. The Dragon Syndicates: The Global Phenomenon of the Triads
- Mallory, Stephen L. (2007). Understanding Organized Crime. Jones & Bartlett Learning.
- Reynolds, John Lawrence (2006). Secret societies: inside the world's most notorious organizations. Arcade Publishing.
- Ter Haar, B. J. (1998), Ritual and Mythology of the Chinese Triads: Creating an Identity, Sinica Leidensia 43, ISBN 9789004110632
- Gertz, Bill; "Organized-crime triads targeted," The Washington Times (Friday, April 30, 2010). Retrieved 10 June 2013.
- Wong, Natalie; "Dragons smell blood again," The Standard (January 21, 2011). Retrieved 10 June 2013.
- Government publications
- Hong Kong - The Facts: Police, Information Services Department, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government, August 2010
- Lintner, Bertil. Blood Brothers: The Criminal Underworld of Asia. Allen & Unwin.
- Journal Papers
- Lo, T. Wing. "Beyond social capital: Triad organized crime in Hong Kong and China." British Journal of Criminology 50.5 (2010): 851-872.
- Wang, Peng. "The Increasing Threat of Chinese Organised Crime: national, regional and international perspectives", The RUSI Journal Vol. 158, No.4, (2013),pp. 6–18.
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- Asian Gang Sweep 2 Chinatown biz bigs busted. Pete Bowles. Newsday. 12/10/1993.