On the sixth day of the democracy protests in Hong Kong, in both the Central District and Mong Kok on Kowloon, a new and violent force engaged in the clash between the authorities and the student demonstrators. Despite the peaceful nature of the protest, even when the police used tear gas against the students, there seemed to be reluctance on both sides to enter into pitched and violent battles.
However, on the sixth day of the protests a violent group of anti-Occupy protestors joined the conflict and engaged in trashing student tents and hurling obscenities and projectiles against the students. On that Friday in Mong Kok they beat the students and destroyed their banners and posters and chanted "go home". Water bottles and other missiles were thrown. Abandoned buses that had stood at the site since activists occupied it were boarded and driven off to loud cheers. For a long period the police were unable, or unwilling, to separate the two sides. Female activists were sexually abused and foreign journalists attacked. This was repeated in Causeway Bay.
This sudden outbreak of unprovoked violence was universally attributed to the efforts of the Chinese Triads, acting in support of the government in Beijing, trying to frighten away the students from their protest. The linkage between the Triads, Chinese organised crime organisations and the various governments in Beijing, has a long history, much of it unknown to the general population and to foreign observers.
These Chinese criminals aren't private-sector entrepreneurs seeking to earn a quick, if dishonest, buck. They are part of ancient and well-organised criminal groups with a fierce internal discipline. There are several Chinese organised criminal gangs. The most ancient and well-established are the Triads. Their origins stretch back to the fight against the Qing Dynasty in the 1760s when the Han Chinese fought against the reigning Manchus. They developed a set of rituals and practices to preserve their anonymity and to bind each member to the society; a lot like the Freemasons.
They set up a triangle of power that reflected the Heavens, the Earth, and Man. Things were explained as variations on the triangular theme. However, power was vertical as in a pyramid; "the Shan Chu (Mountain Master) was the overall leader responsible for making the final decision on all matters. The Fu Shan Chu (Deputy Mountain Master), when appointed, was the deputy leader and directly assisted the leader. The Heung Chu (Incense Master) was responsible for all ceremonies of initiation and promotion. The Sin Fung (Vanguard) was responsible for recruitment, and organising and assisting in ceremonies. The Hung Kwan (Red Pole) was the 'fighter' rank of the society. The Pak Tsz Sin (White Paper Fan) was responsible for the general administration of the society. The Cho Hai (Straw Sandal) was the liaison officer for the society. The '49 Chai' was the ordinary member usually recruited to follow a particular office-bearer."[i]
Triads also use numeric codes to distinguish between ranks and positions within the gang. For example, "426" refers to "fighter" while "49" denotes a rank-and-file member. "489" refers to the "mountain master" while 438 is used for the "deputy mountain master", 415 for "white paper fan" and 432 for the "straw sandal". "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 "traitor".[ii]
These triads (as well as local city-wide gangs) flourished across China. However, they were not immune from the conflicts and struggles that changed China's political structure and they were often in conflict with one or more of the warlords who dominated Chinese history and controlled important regions.
The influence of the Chinese military in the economic affairs of China has been extensive for the last three thousand years. They have always dominated the agricultural sector and, after the death of Mao Tse Tung, they have been the dominant force in Chinese industry and politics. There has been a long tradition of warlords in China especially from 1916 to the late 1930s, when the country was divided among military cliques, a division that continued until the fall of the Nationalist government in the mainland China regions of Sichuan, Shanxi, Qinghai, Ningxia, Guangdong, Guangxi, Gansu, Yunnan, and Xinjiang. In this period a warlord maintained his own troops loyal to him, dominated and controlled the agriculture and mining in his area or region, and acted as the de-facto political power in that region. To maintain themselves they often fought with their neighbouring warlords and against any attempt by the Emperor or central government to control them. Some of the most notable warlord wars, post-1928, including the Central Plains War, involved nearly a million soldiers. The central government was weak and relied on the power and support of these fractious warlords. The central government provided a national civil service and a national administrative regime but was uniformly weak.
The triads functioned well under Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang (KMT) and supported Chiang in his battle with the Chinese communists after 1945. Indeed, it was Chiang's alliance with Shanghai's notorious Green Gang that helped finance the KMT. The Green Gang controlled organised crime in Shanghai and, under Du Yuesheng, specialised in opium (which was supported by local warlords), gambling, and prostitution. Shanghai was the vice capital of the world at that time. "The Green Gang was often hired to break up union meetings and labour strikes, and was also involved in the Chinese Civil War. Carrying the name of the Society for Common Progress, it was responsible for the White Terror massacre of approximately 5,000 pro-Communist strikers in the City of Shanghai in April 1927, which was ordered by Nationalist leader General Chiang Kai-Shek, who granted Du Yuesheng the rank of General in the Nationalist army as a reward for conducting the massacre."[iii]
When the KMT was driven south by the communists, many fled to Taiwan. Others were trapped in South China. Among them was the 997th Brigade of the KMT, which settled in northern Burma. There they promoted the production of opium and began its export to the rest of the world, including the use of US aircraft sent in to deliver supplies to the 997th and with nothing to take back. This became a thriving business. Throughout the 1960s, 1970s, and into the 1980s, notable warlords with fuzzy motivations arose in the Shan State. It was often unclear whether they were ethno-nationalists or communists, drug lords, cronies of Rangoon, or a combination of these.
The most predominant such drug warlords were General Li of the KMT (commanding groups in Burma from Thailand), Li Hsing Ho of the Rangoon-supported "home guard," also known as the Ka Kwe Ye (KKY), Kyi Myint (Zhang Zhiming) of the CBP, and the infamous Khun Sa of the Shan United Army (SUA).[iv] The refining of this morphine base was undertaken by the Union Corse (the Corsican Mafia) operating in French Indo-China as 'anti-communist' allies of the French Colonial Government up until Dien Bien Phu. When the French and the Corsicans were driven out of Indo-China the drug business reverted to the triads and gangs who had stayed loyal to the KMT and who had taken up residence in Taiwan, along with local nationalist Burmese and Vietnamese.
For a long time the drug business was dominated by the Taiwanese gangs (United Bamboo, Four Seas, Hung Mun, Hip Shing, Hop Shing, On Leong, Three Mountains, Tsung Tsin, Ying Ong, Suey Sing). However, by 1954 power had passed from Taiwan to the relocated Triads on Hong Kong (including the KMT drug trade). This was largely because the KMT Government in Taipei was becoming increasingly concerned with the rise of Communist China and its attempts to impose a "One China" policy, especially in the UN.
In the mid-1950s the triads established themselves permanently in Hong Kong. There were several smaller triad organisations but they were overshadowed by the big four groups: the Chiu-Chow/Hoklo Group (including subgroups Sun Yee On, Fuk Yee Hing, King Yee, Yee Kwan and Tai Ho Choi); the 14-K Group (including subgroups Hau, Tak, Ngai, Yee, 14K Tai, Huen, Baai Lo Wo and Lee Kwan); the House of Wo (including subgroups Wo Shing Wo, Wo Hop To, Wo On Lok, Wo Shing Tong, Wo Yee Tong, Wo Shing Yee; and the Luen Group (including subgroups Luen Ying Sh'e, Luen Lok Tong, Luen Fei Ying, Luen To Ying).[v]
These four groups, and two of the larger Tongs from Taiwan, spread across the globe. They became involved in illegal immigration in North America and Europe; drugs and prostitution in Europe and Africa; and shylocking and extortion from overseas Chinese everywhere. Most importantly, as Red China began to expand its influence and operations around the globe, the Chinese triads were ready, willing, and able to assist. They had ways of bringing people in to work on Chinese installations like railroads or ports. They could access cheap gold and cheap resources. That made them very attractive to the Chinese military companies who were spreading their wings across Africa's resources. The triads began a symbiotic relationship with the military companies in Africa.
This also made the triads valuable to the two major Chinese intelligence centres. There are several intelligence agencies in China. The official, government-run intelligence agency is the Ministry of State Security (MSS) 'Guojia Anquan Bu' [Guoanbu]. The ability of the triads to extort money and extract information from the local communities made their efforts very valuable to the Guanbu, as did their ability to use "snake heads" to send Chinese workers around the globe, often deeply indebted to the Triads and willing to assist them in their work. However, the main thrust of Chinese intelligence is contained within the structure of the General Staff of the People's Liberation Army (PLA). The intelligence agencies inside the Army are directly tied to the military-industrial corporations. These corporations are the economic backbone of China's overseas investments domestically and around the globe.
After Mao's death in 1976, the new leadership encouraged the military plants to begin exploring civilian uses for their products and to engage in the broader liberalizing economy. The most nimble managers were free to exploit new markets for their goods. During the early 1980s, the PLA's share of the national budget declined, spurring it to look to other sources for cash, especially hard currency. The higher organizational levels of the PLA created trading companies like China Xinxing, China Poly, and China Songhai to take advantage of the opening of China's economy to the international market.