A myth says that China’s Triads started with a group of Buddhist monks that were martial arts experts who went to the assistance of a Qing Emperor to defeat an enemy.
Later, after defeating this enemy, the emperor decided to get rid of these monks since he saw them as a future threat.
After the assassination of hundreds of monks, a handful survived and started the secret societies known as the “Heaven and Earth Association”.
However, the myth of the Buddhist monks is only a legend. The truth is that the Triads (organized crime in China) didn’t start from such a noble cause.
FBI Unit Chief Kingman Wong says that Chinese organized crime members identify themselves with these ancient heroes in order to glamorize their criminal activities.
According to scholars, the true story of the Triads starts during the 1700s in Fujian province along China’s southeast coast facing Taiwan.
Dian Murray, a historian at the University of Notre Dame, says that Fujian province was China’s Wild West. For protection, young men banded together in mutual aid societies. Soon, these societies turned to crime.
The “Heaven and Earth Association” took for its emblem an equilateral triangle, which explains why these gangs are called the Triads in the West.
There was no central figure or mob boss that controlled the Triad gangs, which were similar to America’s street gangs of today.
Then in 1787, the Qing Emperor discovered the existence of these gangs and declared war.
However, to survive, the Triads in Fujian province spread to every corner of the Qing Empire, to Southeast Asia and America’s China towns where they sold drugs and dealt in prostitution and gambling.
In time, one gang, known as the Green Gang, controlled the opium trade and Shanghai in the early 1900s. The Green Gang was involved in every criminal activity.
The History Channel produced a documentary on Organized Crime in China. (click the previous link to see the entire video—about an hour)
Continued in Part 3 on May 8, 2014 or return to Part 1
Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.
His latest novel is the multiple-award winning Running with the Enemy.
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Its interesting that the Triads give themselves this glamorized past. Many secret societies the world over seem to like to invent ancient mysterious mythologies… the Western occult sort in particular. That may be a topic for another blog though.
I’ve read about Fujian organized crime and thought it was a recent phenomenon, didn’t realize it did have this history.