The term 'Triad' was given by
PROMINENT CHINESE FESTIVALS AND CELEBRATIONS
The purpose of these societies, it is said, was the overthrow of the Qing empire and the restoration of the Ming. The character 'Hung,' in addition to meaning the most auspicious and lucky color 'red,' also alludes to the founder of the Ming Dynasty, Hung Wu. Because of the treasonous nature of their enterprise they developed secret forms of communication and elaborate initiation ceremonies to impress upon new members the need for absolute loyalty and secrecy.
Triads have a rather elaborate history which is partly based on reality, partly myth. It involves not only a struggle against the Qing dynasty, but a retreat to the Shaolin monastery and the eventual famous burning of the monastery are an integral part. Only five survived the fire, and these are said to be the 'Five Ancestors' of modern triads. They go on to have a number of adventures which are still remembered by triad officials and sometimes represented in initiation rituals.
Triad origin mythology holds that when they recruited thousands of people to their cause, including Sun Yat-Sen, the Qing Dynasty was finally defeated. Whatever the cause of the collapse of the Qing, and whatever the triad's involvement, when it at last fell, triad societies no longer had a dedicated cause and so realigned their purposes. Some became (and in fact had been already) devoted strictly to criminal activities. Others were martial associations. Still others were like labor unions and trading associations. Many were some combination of all of these. Joining a Triad did not mean that you were a criminal, and there were many advantages to membership. The greatest advantage was that by joining the Triad you were joining an international fraternity of like-minded individuals who could then offer assistance and protection to you when necessary. Just like people who put down their fraternity affiliation on a resume these days in the hopes that their prospective employer also happens to be a Phi Beta Kappa.
It is important to
note that the Triads are not synonymous with Chinese criminal syndicates. That
is to say, not all syndicate members or criminals are automatically triad
members. On the other hand, all triad members are criminals, if only because
membership alone is considered a criminal offence under
The triads then are not at all like the Mafia. The Mafia is known for strong familial ties, and a rigid pyramidal hierarchy. Triads on the other hand, are loose affiliations in the extreme. Although there is an hierarchy to Triad leadership, those lower on the ladder have much more freedom of lateral movement. In fact, rarely are the movements and activities of smaller gangs directed by the leaders of a triad. Triad members do not typically have to secure permission from the head of a triad in order to engage in a criminal activity, even if the activity involves partnering with people who are not members of the triad or are even in fact members of a different triad. So how does it all work, then?
Joining a triad can be a great advantage to a person who wishes to engage in criminal activity. Immediately upon entering a triad, they will have greater access to resources and be able to more easily partner with other members of the triad to pull off their money-making schemes. Not only that, claiming membership in a large criminal fraternity backs up an individual criminal and increases his status. Victims of extortion are much less likely to protest when they feel that the powerful and mysterious triads, who have tentacles all over the world, are leaning on them, as opposed to just feeling picked on by some 14 year old punk without much in the way of future prospects. The street punks themselves find greater self-respect in the fanciful idea that they belong to a fraternity of noble warriors whose history extends back hundreds of years. Although there is not necessarily a direct benefit to senior members of triad fraternities from the actions of junior members, benefits do move upward especially through monetary and other gifts given by junior triad members to their seniors on special occasions such as the Chinese New Year and other holidays.
Sun Yee On: The
largest triad in
Wo Group: There are
around nine subgroups in this triad grouping with a total membership of around
20,000. Different subgroups have been known to 'specialize' in different
activities, the Wo Shing Yee controls dockworkers, the Wo On
Lok specializes in loan-sharking, the Wo Hop To runs protection rackets, and so
on. The original Wo group triad was the Wo Shing Wo,
and it is the longest established triad in
14K Triad: Also with roughly 20,000 members, the 14K originated with the fight by the Guomintang against communism. Chiang Kai-Shek ordered that a league of all triad societies be established and used to fight communist forces using guerrilla tactics. The '14' in the name refers to the address of the original headquarters of this effort. There are over thirty subgroups to the 14K, and it remains one of the most powerful triads internationally.
Big Circle Gang:
Former Red Army Guards and PLA soldiers form a sort of loose affiliation of
gangs, though they are not technically a triad society. They enter
At its most basic level, the heirarchy of triad members matters little except in each individual relationship between two members, each based on ties between the 'Dai-Lo,' or big brother, and 'Sai-Lo', or little brother. The big brothers give work, protection, and advice to the younger brothers, who give loyalty, support, and money in exchange. In many cases, this is the only relationship that matters.
But there is a triad
heirarchy. It is not really known to what extent it is still used. Most
analysts agree the lower level ranks are still commonly in place, but how many
triad groups use the more complicated higher rankings and to what extent cannot
be accurately measured. Along with the names of each rank, triad ranks also
have numbers, all beginning with the number 4, which represents the four oceans
which were said to surround
489: At the top of the triad hierarchy is the man known as Mountain Lord, First Route Marshal, or Dragon Head. The Dragon Head is an elected position, and the person in this position has final responisibility for the triad organization as a whole, including arbitrating conflict within various branches, and guiding the general direction the organization should be taking. His word is law. He is sometimes referred to as a 21 (4+8+9), the character for which reflects the symbol for 'hung,' as used to represent the Hung Society as a whole.
438: Below the Dragon Head are a number of positions of equal rank: The Assistant Mountain Lord, the Incense Master, and the Vanguard. The assistant acts as the Dragon Head's proxy in his absence, and is often conferred with by the Dragon Head for important decisions. The Incense Master and Vanguard officiate over triad rituals, in this respect they are extremely important in preserving the rituals and ensuring that they remain potent symbols of the triads history and power. In this regard, the number 438 becomes 15 (4+3+8), which further breaks down into 3 X 5: 3 symbolizing creation, and 5 symbolizing longevity. Of course, all this numerological massaging is suspect at best. Although these are common explanations for the rank numbers, it is more likely that the numbers had some significance as part of the ancient mystery rites from which triads developed, long ago, significance which has long been forgotten and supplanted by explanations based on more recent triad history and numerology.
426: The Red Pole. Red Poles were originally military unit leaders, they are now gang leaders. A Red Pole may have around fifty men under his command. He is the one who takes care of the messy aspects of triad life, if pressure needs to be put on, if someone needs to be rubbed out, the Red Pole is called and he carries out the assignment with his men.
415: At the same level as the Red Pole is the White Paper Fan, or administrativie officer. The White Paper Fan is responsible for keeping the books, investing the money, determining legal strategy, and so on. Typically highly educated and not a fighter, but may consult with a Red Pole on strategy.
432: The Straw Sandal, also at the same rank in a triad organization as Red Poles and White Paper Fans, is the triad messenger. Someone need a ransom notice? The Straw Sandal delivers. He also organizes branch meetings and gang fights.
49: At the bottom of the triad hierarchy are the 49s. Almost all triad members belong to this category. They are the footsoldiers of organized crime. 49 becomes 36 (4 X 9), the number of oaths a new recruit must swear before joining the triad.
According to recent police reports, many triads organize themselves out of Red Poles and 49s. The Red Poles might each be branch leaders. A council of Red Poles presides over the triad as a whole, with one of the Red Poles being elected as Chairperson, another as Treasurer. Most of the other ranks have fallen into disuse.
Triad Initiation Ceremonies
Elements of triad initiation are derived from all aspects of the history of triad societies. The ritualized aspect derives in part from when triads were more like cults. The swearing of absolute secrecy comes from their tradition of anti-government activities. Initiation fees are paid, dating from practices in place when triads were more similar to trade-guilds or cooperatives. Each element of the initiation ceremony represents some aspect of the myth and occasionally the reality of triad origins.
The initiation ceremony as it was practiced as recently as twenty years ago could take six hours to complete. These days, however, triad officials have little time to conduct such elaborate ceremonies, and fewer and fewer people even know the proper way to conduct one. Instead, new recruits are given a quick, fifteen minute ceremony in which they must swear the thirty-six oaths, and really that's about it. The longer ceremonies may still occasionally be conducted for promotions.
It begins, then, with entrance into the triad lodge. The lodge is not a fixed space, rather it is wherever the ceremony is set up. It could be someone's basement, or even an alleyway. As a result, the layout of the ceremonial chamber is adapted to meet the needs of the situation. The recruit is summoned to the lodge by a notice written on red paper or a strip of bamboo. The recruit must remove his shoes and socks, and bare his chest before entering. The Incense Master and the Vanguard preside over the ceremony.
Upon entering the
lodge, there are three archways or gates through which the initiate must pass.
In front of the first, on which a warning is written which reads, 'On entering
the door, do not proceed further if you are not loyal,' the initiate does a
ritual dance, then passes through. The archway itself
is made of crossed swords, and entering the archway is called 'Passing the
At last, the initiate stands before the triad altar at the end of the hall, where senior triad leaders recite some triad poetry to him. Believe it or not, there are books full of triad poetry, kept carefully guarded and secreted away by some triad members. After the poetry slam, the initiate washes his face, removes his clothes, and is given white robes and straw sandals to wear. His old life washed away, he is now prepared for his rebirth as a triad member. In front of the altar, he swears the thirty-six oaths, and binds the oaths with blood -- usually a cock is killed and its blood dripped into a bowl of wine. Then yellow paper is burned and its ash added to the blood wine, and it is tasted by the initiate. The bowl is broken to illustrate what becomes of traitors. The recruit is now a 49. The ceremony ends with a trip to a restaurant for a feast of celebration.
ceremony instills respect and fear of the institution into new triad recruits.
As long as a sense of awe and respect fills his heart, he will be loyal. But
ever since the crackdown on triads in
The Thirty-Six Oaths
I found many sources
for the thirty-six oaths, each one differing widely from the other. The most
legitimate list I could find comes from W.P. Morgan's Triad Societies in
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. I will always acknowledge my Hung 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 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.
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 Hung family I shall be killed by five thunderbolts.
13. If I should change my mind and deny my membership of the Hung 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 an 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 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.
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 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.
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 Hung brotherhood in order to opress 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 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.
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 Hung secrets or signs when speaking to outsiders. If I do so I will be killed by myriads of swords.
36. 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.
Just wondering if you have the chinese version of this poem. I am currently working on a film project and research about the history of Triad.
will give you credit on the film if you could help me out.
Posted by: Joel Chu at March 28, 2006 12:44 AM
How did this information come to being out in the open. When did such an event take place for such information to be released unto the publics view. Who allowed this.
Posted by: Black Dragon at March 29, 2006 02:15 PM
Where did you get all this information?
Posted by: 432 at April 1, 2006 02:20 PM
would like to know more about 36 triad society in
Triad group of the three that carries out the extermination of a
specifically-targeted individual in
Posted by: Agustine Affandi at October 30, 2006 10:39 PM
Do you know what the logo of the triad gang is? if so could you e-mail me a copy of the link please or include it in your e-mail THANK YOU! ^^
Posted by: John Rothwell at February 7, 2007 06:24 PM
Such information should not to be known to normal people... I dont know who allowed this but what im sure of is... A secret is broken when someone who hold the secret broke it!
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.
35. I must never reveal Hung secrets or signs when speaking to outsiders. If I do so I will be killed by myriads of swords.
i am no triad but for me its all about loyalty n faithfulness... thats are the quality that cant be found in normal crowd...
Posted by: RakozRakochan at February 11, 2007 07:07 AM
An excelent and very acurate article. Well done.
However one thing you have missed. There is one rank lower than a 49.
He is called a 'Blue paper Lantern'. The rank of an un initiated 49.
Just thought you would like to know.