A triad is one of many branches of Chinese transnational organized crime organizations based in the PRC, 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.
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:
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
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. In recent years, some tongs have reformed to eliminate their criminal elements and have become civic-minded organizations.
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.