The Rise of Chinese Triad Societies
Chinese Triads are found in most places where there is an establishment of Chinese migrants. Their presence and activities are most prominent in regions with large population of Chinese ethnic groups, namely, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, United Kingdom, United States and Canada. The Triads in each country are mostly localized and therefore independent. Further, the Triad within each country is usually composed of a number of “lineages”. Each “lineage” is an independent organization that claims sovereignty over a territory in which it operates its rackets.
Their existence and role in the modern world is analogous to the Italian Mafia and the Japanese Yakuza. However, unlike the Mafia and Yakuza that came into existence at different areas and for different purposes, the Triad begun from a single root and was formed by a single resolve – to protect the common people.
The Chinese Triads are collectively known as the “Dark Society” or “Black Society”, implicating the illegitimate nature of their activities. Nonetheless, this label and its insinuation essentially hint at the Triad’s noble origin in the distant past, as political rebellion to the tyrannical suppression of the Qing Dynasty in China.
The Triad emerged during the Qing Dynasty in the mid 18th century, when China was ruled by Manchurian.* The Hans Chinese, which was the majority of the population in China considered the Manchurian to be uncultured, violent, tyrannical and inhumane in their methods of governance. Consequently, the Han aristocrats surreptitiously conspired a rebellion force to overthrow the Qing Dynasty (ruled by Manchurian) and to reinstate a Han government. A large number of elites including legendary martial artists were recruited to join this mission. This secret rebellion became known as “Heaven and Earth Society”.
Following years of severe persecution under the Manchu’s ruling, many Han commoners voluntarily joined the secret rebellion despite the risk that it was punishable by death. The immense effort of the Manchurians to crush this secret organisation had only made its influence spread quicker throughout China.
As the number of members grew, the members organised themselves into localised units or “associations”. One of these groups was called the “Triad” (“San He Hui”, loosely translated as ‘Association of the United Three’), which employed the triangle symbol as their insignia.
In the next article, we will continue to follow the crusade of the Chinese Triad, their passage abroad, their settlement and development outside of China.
*Readers should note that the distinction between the different ethnic groups in China is now obsolete. For many centuries prior to the Chinese Revolution, the different ethnic groups spoke different languages, wore different costumes, abided by different culture and had different social structure. The majority of the Chinese population, even today, are descendants of the Han, also called “Han Chinese”. Its name derived from the Han Dynasty (206 to 220 B.C.E.). The other ethnic groups are considered minority, and they indeed are from a statistical point of view, considering that collectively, they have never constituted more than 10% of the total population in China.
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