ON FRONTPAGE: Chinese organized crime organizations and their history, including everything about the criminal group the Triad. Here you find everything you need to know about organized crime including information that some Triad gangsters tried, and succeeded to become communist politicians in the newly created Republic of China.

The Chinese Triad (triangle of heaven, earth, and man) groups first appeared in China in the late seventeenth century. These groups were formed in an attempt to overthrow the Quig (Ch’ing) government that had been created by Manchu invaders. It wasn’t until 1912 that the Quig regime finally collapsed.
Some Triad leaders and members attempted to place themselves in the newly created Republic of China government.
A large portion of those NOT assimilated into the new government reestablished themselves within their Triad associations in order to maintain some type of authority within their own associations. The secretive Triad organizations, which were originally civic minded and devoted to religious camaraderie, were slowly but surely deteriorating into what is known as organized crime factions. This took place once the leadership of the Triads were consumed by self-serving individuals who were able to impose their own standards of conduct on the organization for personal stature and gain).

Triad societies involvement in criminal activities increased tenfold during the first half of the twentieth century as many Chinese citizens became uneasy with the various officials struggling to control the government. Several influential organizations recruited Triad members and sanctioned strong-arm methods and violent tactics to ensure that the average person in society followed the organizations rules. The Triads were then authorized by these associations to set up and control prostitution, gambling, and opium houses. As the Triads enforcer status for the powerful political associations increased, there was a decrease in their patriotic interests and a decline in the ability of their leaders to control illegal activities of the membership. In 1949, the Red Army defeated Chiang Kai-Shek’s Kuomintang Party, leading to a mass migration of Kuomintang supporters to Taiwan and Hong Kong. It wasn’t long after the defeat of Chiang Kai-Shek’s army that the Chinese Communist Party started harassing and executing Triad members, with the result that Triad groups were quickly reformed in Hong Kong, even infiltrating the ranks of the Hong Kong police department. In fact, an investigation into officers assigned to the Hong Kong Police Department’s Triad Society Division disclosed that most of its members also held active Triad membership. Hong Kong Connection Triad societies have been active in Hong Kong since the seventeenth century but the Hong Kong groups participation in criminal activities started a lot sooner. Hong Kong was transferred to British control in 1842 and three years later the Triads were involved in unlawful operations.

This forced the British government in Hong Kong to enact an Ordinance for the Suppression of Triads (the Societies Ordinances), which banned citizens from becoming members of Triad groups or partaking in any Triad activities. These laws helped to control the actions of Triads by moving most of their operations out of public view until the early twentieth century when Triad groups started to reestablish themselves as organizations to provide protection for territories chosen by peddlers. Triads, once again, started to flourish in Hong Kong, but not without conflict. A major part of the problem revolved around confrontations over the territorial rights of the vendor-Triad members. In an effort to settle these conflicts the Triad organizations held a joint meeting to form one association to supervise the activities and settle the disputes. During this conference all of the attendees voted to use the word Wo (peace) prior to the symbolic name of each Triad (e.g., Wo Sun Ye On). Ultimately, these Wo groups evolved into some of the most powerful and disreputable chapters of the Hong Kong Triads.

The major factors behind the increased growth and success of the Hong Kong Triad groups were:

The ability of members to infiltrate, recruit, and then take control over labor unions.
Triad cooperation with the Japanese military government during World War II.
The Triads embellished their control over illegal activities by supporting the Japanese officials, who in turn, destroyed cooperating Triad members’ prior criminal histories and permitted the Triad informers and enforcers to control gambling, prostitution, and opium operations in Hong Kong. Once the war ended, the Hong Kong Triads continued their rapid growth.


Triads (The Formation of Secret Societies in China);
Belief: Hung—Heaven, Earth, and Man.
Seventeenth Century
Patriotic, Brotherhood, Security, Secrecy, “One for all and all for one”
Eighteenth Century
Formation of Overseas Triads
Nineteenth Century
Tongs formed in North American King Sor, Kung Kuam or Hui, Protection for Chinese workers and new immigrants to America.
Tong values almost carbon copy of Triads.
Twentieth Century
Street gangs formed and used as enforcers by Triads and Tongs. No values, strictly part of criminal enterprise.

Righteousness, and secrecy.
A segment of the Hong Kong Triads membership had already sacrificed their nationalism when they joined forces with the Japanese during World War II. After the war other members also relinquished all the other values of these secret societies by becoming involved in criminal activities. All of these factors plus the ending of membership registration led to the further criminalization of what were now fractious criminal organizations (Source: Chin, 1990). As the prior figures indicate, the structure of Triad societies may be slightly different, but most organizations are arranged in the same basic manner. Numbers play an important role and are used as signs of identification related to Triad history. When the number four (4) is used as the first number in a specific numerical figure it signifies the ancient Chinese belief that earth is surrounded by four great seas.

Old Chinatown.

Now about Tongs.

Chinese immigrants started arriving in the United States shortly after the discovery of gold in California in the late 1840s.
Most of the early Chinese settlers were from the southern coastal areas of China. These new arrivals on U.S. soil learned the meaning of discrimination very quickly and found themselves being considered as outcasts because of their ethnic backgrounds. It wasn’t long before small Chinatowns started to build up at almost every gold rush location. Soon family and local associations were set up according to the province in China where the majority of the residents were born. Ultimately, these fraternal organizations were combined and designated as Tongs. The history of Chinese Tongs goes back to the mid-nineteenth century. Tongs—a term used to describe meeting halls—were originally formed to protect Chinese businesses and new immigrants against the alien and hostile American communities. As time passed some Tongs were formed to serve new members of Chinese communities to locate relatives or friends and to assist immigrants in locating a place to stay and live. The majority of Tongs are national organizations whose members are legitimate people involved in assisting community businesses, ethnic societies, and politics. A smaller percentage of Tong members use these organizations to benefit themselves and other members of organized crime groups. Although Tongs were conceived on the North American continent, there is little doubt that the Chinese Triads had a hand in creating these associations. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has gone as far as to state that a major portion of all of the crimes in Chinatowns throughout the United States can be traced back to higher ranking Tong offi cials. In fact, both the FBI San Francisco and New York offices have linked murder, extortion, gambling, drug trafficking, and prostitution to the local Chinatown Tongs. Research indicates that one Low Yet, a Triad member and a leader of the Taiping rebellion, was the founder of Tongs in San Francisco. Yet formed the Chee Kong Tong which had over 1,000 members in 1887. This Tong was modeled after a Triad Yet had been a member of in Hong Kong (Source: FBI, 1996).

Chinese older weapons used by gangsters.

The administrative structure of Tongs is very similar to that of La Cosa Nostra. The Godfather type of rank in the Mafi a would also be a highly influential position in the Tongs but one that is shared by a group of members who are perceived as “the elders.” The lower ranks of the Tong structure contains the largest proportion of members all of whom fall into the rank of soldier worker. As far as membership in the Tongs is concerned, there are no restrictions on the number or background of newly recruited members. This has led to the rapid growth of membership in the Tongs within a short period of time. Tongs have embraced the same basic type of socialization process as the Triads. Initiation rites are mandatory for all new members, as are the reciting of oaths of loyalty, nationalism, and brotherhood. Like the Triads, the Tongs maintain a highly covert operation that restricts the identification of the leadership. This leaves a majority of the membership without any knowledge of the daily activities within the Tong. One problem facing the Tongs is that the politics within the Tong are usually fragmented because of the number of various factions in each association. An elected Tong leader in many cases can be considered nothing more than a puppet who is controlled by many factions instead of a strong leader elected by the majority. The Tong associations (presently 100 in New York City), are also part of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association which is highly influential within the political circles of Chinatowns throughout the United States (Source: U.S. Department of Justice 1988). There are several major Tong associations in the United States. According to the FBI the top three Tongs are: On Leone, Hip Sinq, and Hop Sinq (1996).

American West Coast Gangs

Chinese street gangs started developing in San Francisco during the 1950s. The Chinese gangs were formed and structured in the same manner as other ethnic youth gangs. A street gang known as the Beigs was one of the first street gangs formed by American-born Chinese. This gang’s area of criminal expertise was burglary and its members could be easily identified by the “Beatle” type of outfi ts they wore. The Wah Ching (Youth of China) was the first immigrant gang and was formed to prevent assaults on foreign born Chinese immigrants by American born Chinese. U.S. immigration laws were modified, leading to an increase in the number of immigrants arriving from mainland China. The Wah Ching took advantage of the changes in U.S. immigration laws to become a more powerful gang by recruiting many of the younger immigrants. The power of this gang was soon recognized by members of the Chinese community who hired gang members to run errands and provide strong-arm protection for gambling operations. The Hop Sing Tong saw the advantages of being associated with a street gang, brought the Wah Ching under their control by creating a youth branch within the organization. A short time later, the Suey Sing Tong created a youth gang known as the Young Suey Sing or the Tom Tom Street gang. Conflict between the Wah Ching and the Young Suey Sing led to many street confrontations. One group, the Yau Lai (Yo Le) or Joe Fong Boys was formed in 1969 by discontented members of the Wah Ching gang. Many of these dissatisfied Wah Ching members left the gang because of restrictive controls placed on the gang members by the Hop Sing Tong.

During the early 1970s both the Wah Ching and the Joe Fong Boys started to expand their criminal activities by targeting people in the Asian community as victims of their crimes. As the membership of the Wah Ching and Joe Fong Boys multiplied there was also an increase in the number of violent conflicts between the two groups over territorial rights. This was especially evident between 1973 and 1977 when twenty-seven people were killed in gang related incidents. On one occasion five people were killed and eleven seriously injured (not one a gang member) during a vicious attack by members of the Joe Fong Boys. The San Francisco area probably has the largest amount of Chinese gang activity on the West Coast. The Hop Sing Boys, the Kit Jars, the Asian Invasion, and the Local Motion are some of the Chinese gangs that operate criminal enterprises in the Bay area. Wah Ching is considered the largest street gang in California with about 600 to 700 active members of which 200 can be considered tenacious. The Wah Ching gang formed an alliance with the Sun Yee On Triad in 1987 (Source: FBI, 1996). The Los Angeles branch of the Wah Ching was formed in 1965 by Wah Ching members from San Francisco. Wah Ching was formed in Los Angeles to stop the constant harassment of newly immigrated Chinese youths by Mexican gangs . Despite the formation of the Chinese gangs, conflicts did not cease and have continued right up until the present.

Chinese criminal gangsters executed.

Above photo: The Mekong river gang was EXECUTED after a joint police operation between China and Thailand.

One specific area outside of Los Angeles, Monterey Park, has seen its Chinese population double between the late 1970s and the early 1980s, partly by Taiwanese police arrests of covert individuals in the late 1970s and early 1980s, forcing many immigrants with criminal connections to seek asylum in the United States. Many of the transgressors brought with them the experience to set up two new gangs, the Four Seas and the United Bamboo. The Four Seas gang originally appeared in Taiwan in 1955 only to dissipate within a few years. A short time later the Four Seas was resurrected under new leadership that fortified the gangs economic status by opening and controlling houses of prostitution and gambling casinos. Membership in the Four Seas increased as legal and illegal Taiwanese gang members reached the United States and was soon expanding its criminal enterprise to include legal as well as illegal ventures. The United Bamboo was dispersed by the Taiwanese police in 1958 only to reemerge in the 1960s as a dominant street gang. During the 1980s, United Bamboo expanded its operations into the entertainment business. The gang mentioned above also increased its membership and listed seventeen additional new branches for a combined total of twenty-five chapters. Although total membership in the United States is unknown, it is estimated that the United Bamboo in Taiwan has over 10,000 members. The gang gained nation wide attention in 1984 when some of their leaders were involved in the murder of Henry Lui, a formidable Chinese writer. Lui wrote a biography that made derogatory statements about the then Taiwanese president and was preparing a manuscript related to the unethical practices of Taiwanese politicians. Media reports indicate that two United Bamboo leaders, Chen Chi-li and Swei Yi Fund, and the chief of Taiwan’s Military Intelligence Bureau, Vice Admiral Wong Shi-Lin, met in 1984 and discussed punishing Lui for what they considered “Traitorous Acts.” Originally, the Los Angeles United Bamboo was to take some action against Lui but was unable to carry out this mission. Vice Admiral Wong then had Chen and Swei trained to fulfi ll the contract on Lui. Upon Chen’s arrival in the United States, he was joined by United Bamboo’s West Coast enforcer Wu Tun. Another member from Taipei, Tung Kwei-Sen, soon joined Chen and Wu to partake in this conspiracy. A short time after Tung’s arrival, Wu and Tung entered Lui’s house and murdered him.

Chinese criminals arrested.

Besides being involved in the most notorious murder of a Chinese American writer, the United Bamboo are also heavily involved in heroin importing, extortion, and gun running. East Coast Gangs Prior to the immigration law changes in 1965, the only active Chinese street gang in New York City were the Continentals. This gang was formed in 1961 to protect Chinese students from attacks on them by other ethnic groups. The Continentals were made up of American-born Chinese youths who did not get involved in street crimes or were associated with any of the Chinatown Tongs. Then in 1964, the On Leong Tong formed the On Leong Youth Club. It wasn’t long before this group became known as the White Eagles gang. This gang was made up of foreign-born Chinese youths and they were deployed throughout Chinatown to prevent any type of discriminate activities by outsiders against Chinese businessmen and residents. Another gang known as Chung Yee appeared on the streets of Chinatown. Like its antecedent, On Leong, the membership of the Chung Yee was made up of new arrivals from mainland China. This gang operated in the same fashion as the On Leong, protecting the rights of Chinatown citizens and business-people. Chinese street gangs continued to increase and gangs like the Quen Ying, Liang Shan, the Flying Dragons, and the Black Eagles started appearing on the streets of Chinatown. The early history of these gangs indicates that they were all martial arts clubs used to prevent visitors from harassing local businessmen and residents.

The early 1970s saw an increase in the amount of violence being used by Chinese gangs. The two elements that caused an elevation of the amount of disorder by Chinese gangs were the increase in the availability of weapons and the confl ict between the growing number of street gangs coupled with the “restlessness” of the new immigrant youths whose violent behavior threatened all of the residents of Chinatown. During this period, the youth gangs started extorting money and food from local business establishments through the use of fear and strong-arm tactics and then extended their criminal activities, including by robbing local gambling dens. The Tongs, seeing their businesses being extorted and robbed, hired the gang members to perform private security as the Tong’s enforcers and protectors. This led to some of the gangs becoming part of the Tong Family (White Eagles and On Leong Tong and Flying Dragons and Hip Sing Tong). The problem with the Chinese street gangs was that by 1974 some of the gangs were completely out of control. The White Eagles gang members, hired by the On Leong Tong to protect On Leong members and businesses, were openly robbing, extorting, and humiliating the Tong members on Chinatown streets. The On Leong Tong started to disassociate itself from the White Eagles by stopping all monetary payments and weapons to the gang and prompting the Ghost Shadows street gang to replace the White Eagles as the On Leong Tong’s street gang.

Above image: The Red Dragon Association is the largest Triad in all of Hong Kong area.

After a short struggle the Ghost Shadows took charge of just about all of the most profi table locations in Chinatown while the White Eagles removed themselves from the On Leong’s portion of Chinatown. A realignment of all the territories within Chinatown was completed a short time after the removal of the White Eagles and all the gangs seemingly content about territorial adjustments, went back to their criminal ventures. The hostilities between the gangs continued as did an increase in street violence. The year 1976 turned out to be Chinatown’s most violent year as internal and external gang hostilities increased sharply. Most of the gangs criminal activities expanded to include the use of coercion, which was so intimidating the majority of Chinatown’s businessmen feared for their lives. During this time, there were several gunfights between the Flying Dragons and the Ghost Shadows, resulting in the killing of one Ghost Shadow and one innocent restaurant customer, and the wounding of one Flying Dragon and five innocent bystanders. During the gang warfare between the territorial Chinatown gangs the presence of Wah Ching gang members in the Chinatown vicinity increased drastically. Local gang leaders reticent of the Wah Ching’s propinquity set up a meeting of gang leaders to announce the termination of the gang warfare and that gang members would be seeking employment. The first indication after this announcement was that the gangs were working together to prevent a turf invasion by outside groups but purported gang unity and promises of peace was not to last long. Within a month a dispute over turf rights broke out between the Ghost Shadows and the Black Eagles gangs. It resulted in the wounding of Black Eagle Leader Paul Ma and four other

Above image: Victims of Chinese organized crime factions.


Black Eagle associates.

A short time later a Ghost Shadow member was shot and killed and this was followed in a week by the killing of a Black Eagle gang members. Prior to 1976 the majority of confrontations were between opposing gangs over the rights to certain areas in Chinatown. During 1976 problems within different gangs surfaced and struggles ensued over control and money causing increased internal conflict within several of the major New York City gangs. The intra-gang hostilities continued as did the gangs’ ability to increase their turf holdings. This became apparent when the owners of a midtown Manhattan Chinese restaurant were murdered for refusing to pay extortion money to the Black Eagles gang. Another indication of how far out of control gang violence had become was the attempted murder of Man Bun Lee. Lee, the former president of the Chinatown Community Business Association, gained media attention by requesting that additional police enforcement units be assigned to remove the gangs from Chinatown. This resulted in Lee being stabbed five times. Lee survived this assault and his assailant was arrested and convicted of this crime. But both of these incidents sent a message to the Chinese community not to cross the gangs because they controlled the streets. Another factor related to Chinatown street gangs was the fact that it did not matter who or how many gang members were arrested and/or convicted by law enforcement authorities. This has been evident since the mid-1970s when the police started taking action against the Chinese gangs. No matter what the police have done the gangs have continued to participate in their chosen crime ventures without any serious interruptions from either federal or local law enforcement. Since the early 1980s several new street gangs have appeared in the Chinatown area. The Fuk Ching, the White Tigers (which were a result of intra-gang warfare), the Tune On, the Green Dragons, and the Born to Kill are the names of some of the new gangs.

The criminal activities of some of these gangs has expanded the gang operations to all five boroughs of New York City. In most cases these new gangs have attempted to avoid conflict with the original older ones. This has been done by not impinging on the older groups territories, instead, the new gangs have taken control of turf outside of Chinatown and, in some cases, outside of Manhattan.

One thing that does seem apparent is that these new gangs are more violent than their predecessor ! [See the above photo]

End of article.
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