What is a Triad?
Triads are the asian
equivalent of the Italian Mafia; however, they are greater in numbers and
are more powerful, controlling much of the world heroin drug trade.
History of the Triads
Before their criminal
enterprising, the Triads actually began as a resistance movement to
the Manchu emperors. The Manchu were from a country north of China (Manchuria) and
were seen as foreign rulers, who took China's northern capital (Peking) by force, and
established their dynasty in 1674.
In the thirteen
year of rule of the second Manchu emperor (Kiang Hsi), a monastery of
fighting monks ("Siu Lam") were recruited by the emperor to defeat a rebellion in Fukien.
These monasteries received some imperial power as a reward. Due to court jealousies,
these Fukien Buddhist monks were then themselves seen as a threat, and an army was sent to
Eighteen monks escaped, and of those eighteen, five of them each founded their own secret
society, dedicated to overthrowing the Manchu (also known as the Ching) Dynasty,
and restoring the previous Chinese Ming dynasty, which was seen as a golden age for China.
Their motto became "Crush the Ch'ing, establish the Ming".
The family name of
the Ming emperors was "Hung", and their colour was red, so both Hung
and red are associated with Chinese secret societies. The societies called themselves
the "Hung Mun." Secret codes were developed, to frustrate the emperor's spies. However,
this secrecy, and the martial arts training, eventually led to the associations being used for
criminal purposes, instead of political ones. During this period many Hung Mun were seen
as protectors of the people against a repressive and sometimes vicious regime of the emperor.
societies played roles in several rebellions against the Manchus, notably the
White Lotus Society rebellion in Szechuan, Hupeh and Shansi in the mid-1790's; the "Cudgels"
uprising in Kwangsi province, 1847 to 1850; and Hung Hsiu Chuan's Kwangsi-based rebellion
1851-1865. Hung called himself Christ's brother, and rebellion (called T'ai Ping) was
crushed with the aid of the Western powers. The Boxer Rebellion in Peking in 1896-1900,
involved the White Lotus Society, as well as other triads called the "Big Swords" and
the "Red Fists." Sun Yat Sen, the founder of Republican China, was allied with the Hsing
Chung triad society, in his 1906 rebellion. Meanwhile, the Western powers and Japan
virtually raped China, enforcing opium drug sales by war, stealing gold and heritage
antiques, and demanding huge recompensation for any affront.
The Manchus (the Ch'ing) were overthrown in 1911, but there were no Mings left to restore.
Sun Yat Sen's successor
was warlord Yuan Shik Kai, who worked with the triads in corruption.
The Nationalist government set up in 1927 in Nanking was headed by a known killer and
criminal member of the Shang Hai Green Gang, Chiang Kai Shek. The triads took over the
government of southern China, and fought the Communists, later under Mao Tse Tung, for
total control. The Western powers used this "Green Tang" organized crime group to suppress
any labour unrest, and to kill off communists.
When the Japanese
invaded most major Chinese cities in World War Two, the Triads offered
to work for them instead. In Hong Kong, the Triads ran criminal enterprises for the Japanese,
The Japanese united the gangs under an association called the "Hing Ah Kee Kwan" (Asia
Flourishing Organization). The gangsters were used to help police the residents of Hong Kong,
and to suppress any anti-Japanese activity. The gangs were paid through a Japanese front
company, called Lee Yuen Company.
War Two, the target of the West and the Triads became Communists again,
and Chiang Kai Shek's nationalist government campaigned to increase Triad membership. In
Southern China, this campaign was under Nationalist army lieutenant general, Kot Siu Wong,
who had his headquarters at number 14, Po Wah Road, Canton. This is where the name of the
"14 K" triad is thought to have originated. It was estimated that in 1947, there were
300,000 Triad members in Hong Kong alone.
By 1949, when Mao
Tse Tung's communists emerged as the victors, Triad nationalists
were dispersed in Hong Kong, Macao, Thailand, San Francisco, Vancouver, and Perth Australia.
[The remnants of Chiang Kai Shek's KMT (Kuomintang) South China army was forced
into the Burmese highlands, where they became pivotal to smuggling drugs to the West, via
Thailand, under Khun Sa]. The Communists suppressed triads on the mainland, executing and
imprisoning many. Mao's Prime Minister, Chou En Lai, banned cultivation and use of opium in
In 1956 there was a major riot in Kowloon, which was exploited by triads from
Emergency (Detection Orders) Regulations were passed by the colonial government,
and 10,000 suspected mobsters were arrested. Triads went into a semi- dormant period. But
the cultural revolution in mainland China was one of several factors which caused massive
emigration and social problems, including a resurgence of Triad criminal activity, much
of it centering around Hong Kong, but extending to several continents.
DAVID BLACK ET AL., Triad Takeover: A Terrifying Account of the Spread of Triad Crime
in the West ch. 12 (1991).
Triads in the U.S.
With the first wave of
Chinese immigrants in the 1800s, many Chinatowns sprung up
throughout the west and east coast and in various mining towns throughout the west. These
Chinatowns acted as Chinese communities, with everything from shops to restaurants.
Eventually, these chinatowns developed various Merchant Associations, which acted as
local "political parties" for the community, hosting various cultural/social town events
for the community. However, with the establishment of the Chinese Exclusion Act, many of these
"benevolent" merchant associations soon began to focus their attention on providing
vices to the Chinese population, including gambling, prostitution, and Opium. With the issuance
of the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Chinese miners were prohibited from bringing over their wives.
This effectively created a "bachelor" society within the Chinese American community,
with many Chinese turning to the vices the Merchant Associations [Tongs] provided. Eventually,
the Merchant Associations soon began to rival each other for control of the vices. The
two most powerful merchant associations were the Hip Sing Tong and the On Leong Tong.
As expected, this
ultimately lead to the Merchant Associations [Tongs] going to all out war
with each other, with what has become effectively known in history as the TONG WARS.
Fights broke out in almost every major Chinatown across the U.S from the mid-1800s to even
up to the 1970s. In fact, it is from these Tong Wars that various Chinatowns obtained their
reputation as being neighborhoods full of violence, opium, and just general hedonism.
The foot soldiers were called boohowdoy, which is Cantonese for hatchetboy, because
they would always use a hatchet or cleaver as their weapon of choice.
competition between the Tongs began to dissipate and the all-out-wars ceased.
Many of the tongs, however, retained their criminal ways, and even today continue to
engage in extortation, murder, gambling, prostitution, smuggling illegal Chinese
immigrants into the U.S., and of course, supplying heroin, aka China White,from the Golden
One of the structural
characteristics that makes Chinese organized crime different from
other forms is the relationship between some of the street gangs and certain adult
organizations. The Merchants Associations are called Tongs and are often affiliated with
asian street gangs as their muscle. For example, in New York, the street gang, Fuk Ching, is
affiliated with the Fukien American Association, a Merchant Association. The Fukien
American Association – as with other tongs and their relationships with gangs – provide the
Fuk Ching with a physical place to gather and hang out. They allow the gang to operate on their
(the tong’s) territory, thus legitimizing them with the community. They also provide
criminal opportunities (such as protecting gambling operations), as well as supplying
money and guns.
gangs, like the Fuk Ching, have an ah kung (grandfather) or shuk foo
(uncle) who is their tong leader. The top gang position is the dai dai lo (big big brother).
Communication between the tong and the gang occurs principally between these two
individuals. Below the dai dai lo in descending order are the dai lo(s) or big brothers, the
yee lo/saam lo (clique leaders), and at the bottom the ma jai or little horses. There are a
variety of norms and rules that govern the gangs. These include respecting the ah kung,
beating up members of other gangs on your turf, following the orders of the dai lo, and
not betraying the gang. Rules violators are punished, sometimes severely, such as through
physical assault and killing.
JAMES O. FINCKENAEUR, Chinese Transnational Organized Crime: The Fuk Ching
Today, the Triads are the
most powerful criminal syndicate in the world, controlling much
of the world's drug trade and branching off in every major city. With the passing over
of Hong Kong back to mainland China, more and more Triads flee Hong Kong every year,
seeking their fortune in such profitable areas as the U.S.