Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Triads and the Tongs

The Triads and the Tongs

"Triads had existed in China for centuries and were the most misunderstood, most complex, and most dangerous criminal organizations to infect the modern world. Chinese Triads made the Sicilian Mafia look amateurish."

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Subject of a thousand Hong Kong Films and a recurrent trope in Western Yellow Peril stories, the Triads started life as a Ming-restorationist Secret Society during the 1760s. There was a precedent for this sort of thing working, given the Red Turban society and rebellion which fractured the Yuan Empire and allowed the Ming to conquer China in the late 14th century, though said society's original intent had actually been to restore the Song Empire.
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Accordingly the Triads were associated with the colour red and the name 'Hong' because it was part of the first Ming Emperor's reign name (Hongwu, lit. 'superlative martial accomplishment) and the name of one of the society's founders. From the beginning they created an official mythology which claimed that had actually been created during the Ming-Qing wars of the 17th century, after the burning of the southern Shaolin temple, by five survivors of the battle. Some even claimed that one of them was Jee Sin, who was the master of the 5 Elders of Southern Chinese kung fu.

After contributing to the fall of the Qing Empire in the 1911 revolution, without resurrecting the Ming (as had been their original intention), the Triads now found themselves without a purpose and there was a split between the Mainland and overseas branches. The Mainland group is what we now commonly refer to as the Triads, while the overseas group became known as the Hongmen. The mainland Triads now turned to crime as they were unable to reenter normal society. After the Communist takeover, many Triad members moved to Hong Kong and Taiwan to escape new measures against organized crime. Hong Kong's Triad problems peaked in the 1970s, helped by police corruption.
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Chinese Triad Film: 

The Hongmen is divided into 180 branches, and is arguably a Freemason-like organization, with an emphasis on patriotism, given the circumstances of its origin. Distinguished politicians such as Sun Yat Sen and Chiang Kai Shek were senior members. It shares traditions with the Triads, since they were one and the same not that far back. They are illegal in Hong Kong due to their relationship with the Triads, but are legal in Taiwan as a secret society. Not surprising, since President Chiang Kai Shek was a member. They exist in China as a political party, and hold the single non-communist ministerial seat. It has branches in other overseas Chinese communities, where it is referred to as Chinese Freemasonry. Its membership is rapidly aging with the change in the times.

Another group are the Tongs, modelled on the Triads, which arose in the US in response to the need for support organizations for new immigrant Chinese, as well as taking charge of protecting their members from violence from other groups. Some Tongs are fully legitimate organizations. Others, not so much. Many Triad members would join Tongs on reaching America, causing some Tongs to be strongly influenced by the Triads.
Chinese secret societies are guaranteed to exist anywhere in the world with a significant Chinese immigrant population, from Australia to L.A.
The secret societies used to be governed by strict codes of conduct and an inflexible hierarchical system, but that system has broken down in recent years, leading to behavior that many older members would consider unethical. The traditional secret societies have 36 Oaths which basically say, "don't screw over your sworn brothers, or you will get chopped up with lots of blades." (This phrase is repeated many, many times during the oaths, just to remind you). Doesn't mention anything about the morality of killing innocents. The oaths are sealed with the drinking of blood mixed with wine, and the oath-takers enter into a sworn brotherhood with the rest of the members of their organization. No problems with having more sworn brothers from elsewhere, though.
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As mentioned earlier, the traditional punishment is death by a hundred cuts, or getting ambushed and hacked up which is easier and quicker. Hong Kong triads especially love their cleavers, given the difficulty of obtaining guns in Hong Kong. A machete is fine too. Overseas groups may use guns, automatic weapons and explosives, if they don't find them dishonorable. Some martial arts, especially some of the Southern Shaolin styles tend to have a reputation as being used by the Triads, especially due to their common origin myth in the Southern Shaolin temple.
The patron god of the Triads is none other than Guan Yu (of both literary and video game note). He is also the patron god of the police... and a patron god for business. Basically, Guan Yu is the god for any high risk endeavour where you want trustworthy 'brothers' watching your back.Image result for guan yu tattoo
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It should be noted that 'Chinese Mafia' is both an oversimplification and misconception of Triads and Tongs, as neither have that much presence in China itself but are meant mostly for other countries are associated with state sponsored links as spies  . Triads have some influence in certain regions of China, but operate most extensively outside of mainland China, as Mao's regime dismantled traditional secret societies during the Cultural Revolution, and the Tongs are largely a western phenomenon. Within the actual People's Republic of China there are criminal outfits called Black Societieswhich wield significant but subtle political power and clout with local law enforcement, and Dark Forces, which are less organized, less powerful gangs. Essentially, Triads are ethnically Chinese criminal societies abroad.