The Singapore LGBT encyclopaedia Wiki

This wiki's URL has been migrated to the primary domain.Read more here


The Singapore LGBT encyclopaedia Wiki

A triad is one of many branches of Chinese transnational organized crime syndicates based in China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and also in countries with significant Chinese populations, such as the United States, Canada, Vietnam, Korea, Japan, Singapore, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Netherlands, France, Spain, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

The starting point for understanding Chinese triads is to make a clear distinction between Hong Kong triad and mainland Chinese criminal organizations.[1] In ancient China, Triad is one of three major secret societies in mainland China.[2] It also created branches in Macau, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Chinese communities overseas.[3] After the establishment of the People's Republic of China, all secret societies were completely destroyed in mainland China through a series of campaigns organized by Chairman Mao. Although post-Mao China has witnessed the resurgence of organized crime groups, they are not triad societies; the proper term for these criminal organizations is 'mainland Chinese criminal organizations', which consist of two major types of organization: dark forces (loosely organized groups) and black societies (more mature criminal organizations). Two features that distinguish a black society from a dark force are (1) the ability of achieving illegal control over local markets, and (2) the obtainment of police protection.[4] In short, Hong Kong triad refers to traditional criminal organizations operating in or originating from Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and southeast Asian countries (areas), while organized crime groups in mainland China are better called 'mainland Chinese criminal groups'.

Chu's Triads as business (2001)[5] presents a thorough examination of the rise of Hong Kong triad and the role of triad societies in legal, illegal and international markets. Wang's The Chinese Mafia (2017)[6] studies the origin of Chinese secret societies in ancient China, explores the rise of organized crime in post-Mao China, and investigates the ways in which local gangs offer quasi law enforcement and private protection to local governments, corporations and individuals. The Chinese mafia also explores how local gangs form mutually benefical networks with police officers and how the formation of the political-criminal nexus enables local gangs to control illegal markets and sell protection to legitimate entities.


According to the Oxford English Dictionary, 'triad' is a translation of the Chinese term 'San Ho Hui', or Triple Union Society, referring to the union of Heaven, Earth, and Man.[7]

Another theory assumes that the term "Triad" was coined by British authorities in colonial Hong Kong, as a reference to the triads' use of triangular imagery.Template:Weasel inline[8] While never proven, it has been speculated that triad organizations either took after,Template:According to whom or were originally part of revolutionary movements such as the White Lotus Society,[9] the Taiping Rebellion, the Boxer Rebellion, and the Heaven and Earth Society.

Despite the generic use of the term "Triads" being associated with all Chinese criminal organizations, this is a mistake. Triad groups are geographically, ethnically, culturally and structurally unique. "Triads" refers to traditional organized crime groups originating from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.[10] Criminal organizations operating in or originating from mainland China are named as 'mainland Chinese criminal groups' or 'black societies'.[11] Moreover, after years of harsh repression, only some parts of Triad groups are involved with illegal activities, using their connections to make profit instead of dirty money. Also, Triads in Hong Kong are getting less involved with regular crime and becoming more associated with White Collar crimes, and traditional initiation ceremonies rarely take place anymore to avoid authorities' attention.[12]



Triad, Chinese based criminal organization, secret association or club, was a branch from one of the Chinese formal secret societies called Hong Society. For some reasons, the Hung society was separated to many smaller divisions and one of them called Triads and Ching Gang were also regressed to a criminal organization. Following the foundation of the People's Republic of China in 1949, Chinese secret societies in mainland China were completely suppressed through campaigns ordered by Mao Zedong. So most Chinese Secret Societies, including Triads and some of the remaining parts of Ching Gang, relocated to British controlled Hong Kong, Taiwan, Southeast Asia and other overseas countries, especially the US. They competed with Tongs and other Chinese Secret Societies born out of China. Gradually, Chinese Secret Societies were rebels without a cause or a income they turned to drugs and extortion to fill their coffers.[13]

18th century[]

Main article: Heaven and Earth Society

In the 1760s, the Heaven and Earth Society (天地會), a fraternal organization, was founded, and as the society's influence spread throughout China, it branched into several smaller groups with different names, one of which was Three Harmonies Society (三合會). These societies adopted the triangle as their emblem, usually accompanied by decorative images of swords or portraits of Guan Yu. Their aim was to overthrow the Qing Dynasty and restore the Ming Dynasty.Template:Citation needed

19th century[]

In Hong Kong as a colony of the Crown, there was a strong intolerance for secret societies. While being unaware of their previous issues the British considered Triads a criminal threat. Triads were charged and imprisoned in Hong Kong which was under British law at that time.

During the 1800s, many such societies were seen as legitimate ways of helping immigrants from China settle into a new country. Secret societies were officially banned by the British government in Singapore during the 1890s and slowly reduced in number by successive colonial governors and leaders over time. Tracing the origins of Singapore gangs, the opium trade, prostitution and brothels were also banned. Immigrants were encouraged to seek help from a local kongsi instead of turning to secret societies, which also contributed to their decline. After World War II, these societies saw a resurgence as gangsters took advantage of the uncertainty and growing anti-British sentiment. Certain Chinese communities, such as some "new villages" of Kuala Lumpur and Bukit Ho Swee in Singapore became notorious for gang violence.

20th century[]

When the Chinese Communist Party came to power in 1949 in mainland China, law enforcement became stricter and tough governmental crackdown on criminal organizations forced the triads to migrate to Hong Kong, then a British colony. It was estimated that in the 1950s, there were about 300,000 triad members in Hong Kong. Academics at the University of Hong Kong say that most triad societies were established between 1914 and 1939, and that there were once more than 300 in the territory. Since then the number of such groups has consolidated to around 50, of which 14 are still regularly in the eye of police. There were nine main triads operating in Hong Kong and they had divided the land according to their ethnic groups and geographical locations, with each triad in charge of a region. The nine triads were Wo Hop To, Wo Shing Wo, Rung, Tung, Chuen, Shing, Sun Yee On, 14K and Luen. Each of them had their own headquarters, sub-societies and public fronts. After the 1956 riots, the Hong Kong government introduced stricter law enforcement and the triads became less active.

Criminal activities[]

Triads currently engage in a variety of crimes from fraud, extortion and money laundering to trafficking and prostitution. They also are involved in smuggling and counterfeiting goods such as music, video, and software as well as more tangible goods such as clothes, watches, and money.[14]

Drug trafficking[]

Since the 19th century, when the first opium bans started to rise, Chinese criminal gangs have been involved in worldwide illegal drug trade. During the 60s and 70s many triads converted from opium into heroin, which was produced from opium plants in the Golden Triangle and made into heroin in China, and then trafficked to North America and Europe. Nowadays the most important triads active in the international heroin trade are the 14K and the Tai Huen Chai. Recently, the triads have started to smuggle chemicals from Chinese factories to North America, for the production of methamphetamine, and to Europe for the production of ecstasy.


Triads have been engaging in counterfeiting since the 1880s. Between the 1960s and 1970s, triads were involved in counterfeiting currency, often of the Hong Kong 50-cent piece. In the same decade, the gangs were also involved in copying books, usually expensive ones, and selling them in the black market. With the advent of new technology and the improvement of the average person's standard of living, triads have progressed to producing counterfeit goods such as watches, film VCDs / DVDs and designer apparel such as clothing and handbags.[15] Since the 1970s, triad turf control was weakened and some triads shifted their revenue streams to underground as well as legitimate businesses.[16]

Health care fraud[]

In 2012 in Japan, four triad members were found conducting operations regarding health care fraud and arrested.[17]

Structure and composition[]

File:Triad structure.svg

Traditional triad organizational structure.

Triads use numeric codes to distinguish between ranks and positions within the gang; the numbers are inspired by Chinese numerology based on the I Ching.[18] "489" refers to the "Mountain" or "Dragon" Master (or 'Dragon Head'), while 438 is used for the "Deputy Mountain Master", a "432" indicates "Grass Slipper" rank[19] and the Mountain Master's proxy, "Incense Master", who oversees inductions into the Triad, and "Vanguard", who assists the Incense Master. "426" refers to a "military commander", also known as a "Red Pole", overseeing defensive and offensive operations, while "49" denotes the position of "soldier" or rank-and-file member. The "White Paper Fan" (415) provides financial and business advice, and the "Straw Sandal" (432) functions as a liaison between different units.[20][21] "25" refers to an undercover law enforcement agent or spy from another triad, and has become popularly used in Hong Kong as a slang for "snitch", i.e. informant. "Blue Lanterns" are uninitiated members, equivalent to Mafia associates and, as such, do not have a number designation.

Rituals and codes of conduct[]


Similar to the Italian Mafia or the Japanese yakuza, Triad members tend to be subject to initiation ceremonies.[22] A typical ceremony takes place at an altar dedicated to Guan Yu, with incense and an animal sacrifice, usually a chicken, pig or goat. After drinking a mixture of wine and blood of the animal or the candidate, the member will pass beneath an arch of swords while reciting the triad's oaths. The paper on which the oaths are written will be burnt on the altar to confirm the member's obligation to perform his duties to the gods. Three fingers on the left hand will be raised as a binding gesture.[23]

36 Oaths[]

The Triad initiate is required to adhere to "the 36 oaths."[24]


Current clans[]

Triads based in Hong Kong[]

These are the triad organizations with the most power, money and influence, also worldwide. There are almost fifty triads based in Hong Kong. The following are the most powerful:

  • 14K
  • Sun Yee On
  • Tai Huen Chai
  • Wo Shing Wo
  • Shui Fong
  • Wo Hop To
  • Luen Group

Triads based elsewhere[]

Because of immigration many criminal organizations were founded in Taiwan, Republic of China as well as Chinese communities internationally:

  • Bamboo Union, Taiwan
  • Four Seas Gang, Taiwan
  • Tien Tao Meng, Taiwan
  • Sung Lien Gang, Taiwan
  • Lo Fu-chu, Taiwan
  • Sio Sam Ong, Malaysia
  • Ang Soon Tong, Singapore
  • Wah Kee, Singapore
  • Salakau, Singapore
  • Ghee Hin Kongsi, Singapore
  • Ping On, Boston
  • Wah Ching, San Francisco
  • Black Dragons, Los Angeles
  • Flying Dragons, New York City
  • Ah Kong, Amsterdam
  • Black Jade, Texas


Template:See also Tongs are similar to triads except that they originated among early immigrant Chinatown communities independently, rather than as extensions of modern triads. The word literally means "social club," and tongs are not specifically underground organizations. The first tongs formed in the second half of the 19th century among the more marginalized members of early immigrant Chinese American communities for mutual support and protection from nativists. These tongs modeled themselves on triads, but they were established without clear political motives, yet they become involved in criminal activities such as extortion, illegal gambling, drug trafficking, human trafficking, murder and prostitution.[25][26] In recent years, some tongs have reformed to eliminate their criminal elements and have become civic-minded organizations.Template:Citation needed


Template:See also

Triad activities were also present in Chinese communities around Southeast Asia. When Malaysia and Singapore, which have the region's largest population of ethnic Chinese, first became Crown Colonies, secret societies and triads were much more common and controlled the local communities similar to the way the Sicilian Mafia did through extortion of "protection money" and illegal money lending. Many conducted blood rituals such as drinking one another's blood as a sign of brotherhood, while others engaged in running opium dens and brothels.

Remnants of these former gangs and societies still exist. Due to the efforts of the government in both countries to reduce crime, such societies have largely faded away from the public eye, especially in Singapore.

Triads were also common in Vietnamese cities with large Chinese (in particular Cantonese and Teochew) communities. Especially during Vietnam's French colonial period, many businesses and wealthy residents in Saigon (especially in the Chinatown district) and Haiphong were under the tutelage and control of various protection racket gangs. Failure to provide such payments often result in various reprisals from the triad, ranging from assault, kidnapping for ransom, destruction of property, robbery and even murder of the client or a family member.

However, with the arrival of Vietnamese independence in 1945 (in the North) and 1955 (in the South), organized crime activity, including protection rackets, was drastically reduced as both the Northern and Southern governments purged criminal activity in their halves of the country. President Ngô Đình Diệm in the South ordered the military to eliminate, disarm, and imprison organized crime groups in the Saigon-Gia Định-Biên Hòa- Vũng Tàu region and in cities like Mỹ Tho and Cần Thơ in the Mekong Delta. Diem also banned brothels, massage parlours, casinos and gambling houses, opium dens, bars, drug houses and nightclubs (which are all establishments triads frequented). In the North under Ho Chi Minh, law enforcement was even stricter with stringent control and monitoring in the activities of its citizens. The Northern communist government purged and imprisoned organized criminals, including triads, in the Haiphong and Hanoi areas, along with shutting down businesses which it viewed as "capitalist", "Western" or "decadent" while collectivizing and nationalizing all other private businesses and properties.

International activities[]

Triads are also active in other regions with significant overseas Chinese populations: Macau, Taiwan, Hong Kong Triads and countries such as the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Brazil, Peru and Argentina. They are often involved in helping immigrants enter countries illegally. Shanty & Mishra (2007) estimate that annual profits from narcotics is $200 billion; revenues from human trafficking into Europe and the United States are believed to amount to $3.5 billion per year.[27]

Triad countermeasures[]

Law enforcement means[]

Hong Kong

The Organized Crime and Triad Bureau (OCTB) is a division within the Hong Kong Police Force that is responsible for triad countermeasures. The OCTB and Criminal Intelligence Bureau work together with the Narcotics Bureau and Commercial Crime Bureau to process data and information collected by their operation units to counter triad leaders. Other departments involved in countering triad activities include Customs and Excise Department, Immigration Department and ICAC. They cooperate with the police to impede triads' expansions and other organized gangs.[28] Police actions regularly target organised crime, including raids on entertaining establishments under control of triads, and the placing of operatives deep undercover[16] – this was the central theme to the Infernal Affairs trilogy.


The Guns and Gangs Unit of the Toronto Police Service is a specialized command detective unit that is responsible for handling triads. Formerly the Asian Gang Unit of the Metro Toronto Police was responsible for dealing with triad related matters, but a larger unit was created to deal with the broader array of ethnic gangs in the city.

At the national (and in some cases provincial) level, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police's Organized Crime Branch is responsible for investigating all gang related activities including triads. The Canada Border Services Agency Organized Crime units works with the RCMP to detain and remove non-Canadian triad members.

Asian organized gangs are found in many cities, primarily in Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, and Edmonton.

The Organized Crime and Law Enforcement Act was created to deal with organized crime and gives a tool for police forces in Canada to handle organized criminal activities. This Act enhances the general role of the Criminal Code (with amendments to deal with organized crime) in dealing with triad criminal activities. Asian organized crime groups were ranked the fourth most organized crime problems in Canada next to Outlaw motorcycle clubs, Aboriginal crime groups, and Indo Canadian crime groups.

As of 2011, it was estimated that criminal gangs associated with triads controlled 90% of the heroin trade in Vancouver.[29] Due to its geographic as well as demographic characteristics, Vancouver is the point of entry into North America for much of the heroin produced in Southeast Asia, much of the trade being controlled by international organized crime groups associated with the triads. From 2006 to 2014 both Asians (Southeast Asians/East Asians) and South Asians constituted for 21% of gang deaths in British Columbia only behind Caucasians who represented 46.3% of gang deaths.[30][31]

Legislative measures[]

Primary laws in addressing the triad problem are the Societies Ordinance and the Organized & Serious Crimes Ordinance. The former was enacted in 1949 to outlaw triads in Hong Kong. It stipulates that any person convicted of professing or claiming to be an office bearer or managing or assisting in the management of a triad can be fined up to HK$1 million and a prison term of up to 15 years.[16]

Since the 1970s, the power of triads has further diminished due to the establishment of the Independent Commission Against Corruption in 1974. The agency targeted brazen corruption within police ranks linked with triads.[16] Being a member of a triad is already an offence punishable by fines ranging from HK$100,000 to HK$250,000 and three to seven years imprisonment under an ordinance enacted in Hong Kong in 1994,[16] and aims to provide the police with special investigative powers, to provide heavier penalties for organized crime activities and to authorize the courts to confiscate the proceeds of such crimes.

Notable members[]

See also[]

Template:Portal Template:Div col

  • List of Chinese criminal organizations
  • List of criminal enterprises, gangs and syndicates
  • Organized crime
  • Organised crime in Hong Kong
  • Triads in the United Kingdom
  • Secret societies in Singapore
  • Tongs
  • Chongqing gang trials
  • Hong Kong action cinema
    • Gun fu
    • Heroic bloodshed
  • Sicilian Mafia
  • Snakeheads (Chinese Human Smuggling Groups)
  • Tiandihui
  • Russian mafia
  • Yakuza
  • Sio Sam Ong
  • Wan Kuok-koi
  • Criminal tattoos
  • Social problems in Chinatown

Template:Div col end


  1. Wang, Peng. "The Increasing Threat of Chinese Organised Crime: National, Regional and International Perspectives." The RUSI Journal 158.4 (2013): 6-18.
  2. Wang, Peng (2017). The Chinese Mafia: Organized Crime, Corruption, and Extra-Legal Protection. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  3. Chu, Y. K. (2002). The triads as business. Routledge.
  4. Wang, P. (2013). The rise of the Red Mafia in China: a case study of organized crime and corruption in Chongqing. Trends in Organized crime, 16(1), 49-73.
  5. Chu, Y. K. (2002). The triads as business. Routledge.
  6. Wang, Peng (2017). The Chinese Mafia: Organized Crime, Corruption, and Extra-Legal Protection. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  7. Template:Cite web
  8. Gertz, for the Washington Times. British authorities in colonial Hong Kong dubbed the groups triads because of the triangular imagery.
  9. Triad Societiespage 4
  10. Chu, Y. K. (2002). The triads as business. Routledge. ISBN 9780415757249
  11. Wang, Peng (2017). The Chinese Mafia: Organized Crime, Corruption, and Extra-Legal Protection. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780198758402
  12. Template:Cite journal
  13. “Gangland- Deadly Triangle.” Online video clip, YouTube. YouTube, 2008. Web. 21 Apr. 2016
  14. Gertz, for the Washington Times. "Like other organized crime groups, triads [...] are engaged in a range of illegal activities such as bank and credit card fraud, currency counterfeiting, money laundering, extortion, human trafficking and prostitution." Triads rarely fight other ethnic mob groups, fighting mainly among themselves or against other triads. However triads were involved in some territorial disputes with the Irish mob, Jewish mafia and others.
  15. M. Booth, 'The Dragon Syndicates; The Global Phenomenon of the Triads', Doubleday-Great Britain 1999, pp 386-400.
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 16.4 Wong, Natalie (21 January 2011) "Dragons smell blood again". The Standard
  18. Stephen L. Mallory, Understanding Organized Crime (Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2007), page 137
  19. YouTube
  20. Stephen L. Mallory, Understanding Organized Crime (Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2007), pages 137-138
  21. Secret Societies, page 167
  22. Gertz, for the Washington Times. "Like other organized crime groups, triads have elaborate initiation ceremonies similar to those of the Italian mafia [...]"
  23. Template:Cite web
  24. Template:Cite book
  26. Andrew Sekeres III, Institutionalization of the Chinese Tongs in Chicago's Chinatown (accessed June 26, 2011)
  27. Shanty, Frank; Mishra, Patit Paban Organized crime: from trafficking to terrorism, pg 138, Volume 2. ISBN 1576073378 ABC-CLIO (September 24, 2007)
  28. Hong Kong - The Facts: Police
  32. Google Books
  35. "Guns and poses: inside the drug lords' deadly world," The Sydney Morning Herald (August 30, 2010). Retrieved 10 June 2013.


Books (Triad societies)
  • Template:Cite book
  • Booth, Martin. The Dragon Syndicates: The Global Phenomenon of the Triads
  • Template:Cite book
  • Template:Cite book
  • Template:Citation
  • Chu, Y. K. (2002). The triads as business. Routledge.
Books (Black socieites or criminal organizations in mainland China)
  • Wang, Peng (2017). The Chinese Mafia: Organized Crime, Corruption, and Extra-Legal Protection. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780198758402
Government publication
  • Template:Citation


  • “Gangland- Deadly Triangle.” Online video clip, YouTube. YouTube, 2008. Web. 21 Apr. 2016.

Further reading[]

  • Lintner, Bertil. Blood Brothers: The Criminal Underworld of Asia. Allen & Unwin.
Journal Papers
  • Lo, T. Wing. "Beyond social capital: Triad organized crime in Hong Kong and China." British Journal of Criminology 50.5 (2010): 851-872.
  • Wang, Peng. "The Increasing Threat of Chinese Organised Crime: national, regional and international perspectives", The RUSI Journal Vol. 158, No.4, (2013),pp. 6–18.
  • Skarbek, D., & Wang, P. (2015). Criminal rituals. Global Crime, 16(4), 288-305

External links[]

Template:Commons category Template:Wikisourcelang