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How Shaolin monks created one of the most influential criminal organizations in the world, what triads have to do with maths and who rules underground casinos in Hong Kong.
The origin of the triads
There are several versions of the origin of the triads. One of them, the most artistic one, says that the first triad was founded by a Shaolin monk in the middle of the XVII century in order to dethrone a foreign ruling dynasty and restore Chinese dynasty of Ming.
According to a legend, when during the rule of Kangxi Emperor (1662-1722) a rebellion happened in one of the Chinese provinces the Emperor asked Shaolin monks for help and they stifled this rebellion. At first Kangxi generously awarded his aid but later began to fear that at one moment the monks will rebel themselves. So he ordered to destroy Shaolin monastery. Only 5 monks survived when soldiers burnt down the monastery. They created a secret community the main target of which was to dethrone the current Manchurian dynasty out of vengeance. The society was called "Tuandihui" (天地會, «Heaven and Earth Society»). It later led to "Sanhehui" (三合會, «Three Harmonies Society»). "Sanhehui" used an equilateral triangle as its symbol which embodied a traditional Chinese culture concept of Heaven, Earth and Man being linked. Usually, the character "hun" or "han" or the image of swords was written in the middle of it. Later British colonial administration started to use the term "triad" because of this symbol.
According to another common version, triad takes its origin from so called "Bailianjiao" ("White Lotus Society"). White Lotus Society was a secret Buddhism-Taoism organization which made its aim to dethrone foreign Yuan dynasty and to sit Chinese Ming dynasty on the throne. Later during the rule of Ming dynasty the members of the cult were the instigators of anti-governmental rebellions.
At the beginning of the XVII century many members of White Lotus began active piracy near Hong Kong, the beloved pirate place. Active anti-governmental activities (robbery of military and clerk ships) attracted other secret organizations and cults of China, so a lot of cults joined White Lotus soon and later founded the already mentioned "Sanhehui" which was the direct ancestor of modern triad.
The aim of Chinese secret societies in the XVIII-XIX centuries was the dethroning of Manchurian Qing Dynasty. Thus triads lost its traditional meaning when Qing ceased to exist in 1911. After that a lot of secret societies turned into criminal gangs (although some triads were gangs even before the XX century), others turned into martial arts associations, some served as a base for the establishment of trade unions. Thus at the beginning of the XX century not all the triads were leading criminal lives. Up until now, according to the official data, only 10% of all the triad members are "active", i.e. directly involved in criminal activities. However, according to the "Organized and Serious Crime Ordinance" enacted in1994, all triad members regardless of their activity are criminals and can be sent to prison.
Now the biggest triads are based in Hong Kong. They came there from continental China. The triads of Shanghai, Bangkok and Macau are also widely known. In modern Hong Kong there are about 50 different triads with about 160,000 members. The most influential are "14K", "Shui Fong", "Wo Shing Wo" and "Dai Huen Jai".
Unlike Italian Mafia or Japanese yakuza, there is no strict hierarchy and regulation of actions in triads. Nevertheless, triads have historically established structure. It's rather simple, but the interesting point is that different ranks are noted by determined digit rows that are linked to the Chinese "Book of Changes". So, the head of the clan, who is also called "Mountain Master" or "Dragon Head" is 489; the sum of the digits is 21, which in its turn is understood as 3 ("creation") multiplied by 7 ("death") – "resurrection". 438 is "Deputy" of the Leader. The sum of the digits gives us 15 – a number that, according to Chinese tradition, brings luck. Other important posts in triads are: "Straw Sandal" (432; one version implies he is a messenger between different parts of a triad; another implies he is responsible for contacts with other triads), "White Paper Fan" (415; one responsible for finance and education of newcomers). Number 49 is another name for "Monks" – ordinary members. 4 multiplied by 9 is 36 – that is the number of oaths to be given upon entering the gang. The oaths are listed at the end of this article.
Secret signs and symbols
Triad members can communicate with each other using body language. Most of their secret gestures haven't been revealed yet. As an example we can list the gestures that refer to some ranks in a triad.
"Phoenix head, dragon tail" – another gesture for "leader"
Person who committed a serious crime in the name of triad
Chinese triads have developed a tattoo culture like some other criminal structures, e.g. yakuza. The tattoos of the members can be made in the form of a picture or a Chinese character and usually have an additional meaning. Snake, for example, means wisdom, turtles – longevity. The most common tattoos among triad members are images of dragon and phoenix. Dragon is an embodiment of the dark "Yang" energy, while phoenix is a symbol of the light "Yin". Chinese criminal clans associate dragon with luck and power. Apart from traditional symbolical pictures different triads use their own symbols, the meanings of most of which still remain a riddle. Police, however, have managed to find out that some groups of pictures are marked by determined sacred digits. For example, Group 36 exists, taking its name from the number of oaths given by a newbie when he enters the "society". This number correlates with the number of parts of the sky, as it was thought in China when first triads were created. It's also known about Group 24 – this one is after the number of stories about the "filial respect", which are explained to the newcomers.
Triads still preserve most of their traditions and rituals. However, Hong Kong police sees it more as unorganized criminal units, and their members as small gangsters. Here is a part of an interview with a Hong Kong's policeman: "Modern member of a triad is usually a small gangster who covers himself by a sinister mystery of an ancient name. There's no centralized control among triads and there's only small interaction between gangs who call themselves "triads".
How do you get into a triad
According to the rules in order to become a member of a "brotherhood" first of all one have to be recommended by one of the old members of the triad, secondly, one should go through a trial period during which he will also be committing crimes together with rightful members of a triad, and thirdly, one must participate in a special initiation ceremony. Before the ceremony a "recruit" must learn 36 oaths that we have mentioned earlier, 21 item of the triad's code of honor, and 10 punishments that are due to the breaking of the triad's rules. Apart from that, a newcomer has to master lots of hidden signs, words and gestures, and there are plenty of them – triad members can recognize each other by table arrangement or a manner of holding chopsticks. According to the information of an undercover police officer, traditional initiation ceremony consists of 18 steps:
1. "Recruit's" left shoulder percussion
2. Tossing an amulet-stick
3. Covering with yellow gauze blanket
4. Going through the ring of Heaven and Earth
5. Going through a fire pit
6. Going through 2 wooden bridges
7. Eating 5 seasonal fruits
8. Drinking water from 3 rivers
9. Breaking a cup
10. Cutting chicken's head off
11. Pricking the middle finger of your left palm
12. Drinking wine from "Red flower"
13. Praying in front of the altar 8 times
14. Old and new members bow to each other
15. Washing the "recruit's" face
16. Teaching the "recruit" secret gestures
17. Bowing to the triad members of higher standing
18. Giving a "lucky" coin
Main activities of triads
During the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong drug consuming and spreading was legalized. As Hong Kong administration was actively popularizing opium, this drug particularly was easily found in the city shops. However, after the Japanese rule ceased to exist, in 1946 British administration banned drug dealing. As a result, opium trade went "underground". In 1949 continental China started to be fully controlled by the Communist Party, so large criminal organizations had to migrate to Hong Kong from there. They brought a cheaper heroin with them and it instantly became the most popular drug on the island.
Until 1974 drug dealing had been relatively "open" in Hong Kong as it was under protection of corrupted policemen. However, the establishment of a committee to fight corruption put and end to this and now, according to a Hong Kong policeman, all big deals are carried out like this: drug dealer gets the order, brings the "product" to the arranged place, after that he meets the client, gets the money and tells him the whereabouts of the "product". Actually, despite the strict law, it's not that hard to get drugs in Hong Kong: you just have to go to the area surrounding famous Chungking Mansions. There a lot of Indians and people from Near East who will gladly offer you "something special" for a reasonable price.
Gambling business also had to go "underground" after the creation of the anti-corruption committee. Currently triads handle the organization of two kinds of gambling in Hong Kong: underground casinos and illegal bookmakers. A policeman notes about underground casinos: "Most of the triad members are "players" themselves, that's why they are familiar with a lot of other "players". When a new casino opens, the "owners" tell their acquaintances about it and they tell theirs. It is impossible for and ordinary man to get there. Casino is administrated not by certain triads, but by the members of different gangs who organize a joint business. There are no people stupid enough to open a casino on their own".
Triads also control prostitution on the island. There are many facilities that provide sex-services in Hong Kong. Among them are massage shops, escort, "one-hour" hotels, etc. They are actively promoted by those same low-lifes in Chungking Mansions. You can get yourself a companion for an evening in some night clubs. However, brothels in the European meaning of the word are not common in Hong Kong. Most of local brothels are flat, where girls that provide definite services live, and triads are responsible for the safety of their "businesses".
Illegal people immigration
Illegal transportation of Chinese all over the world is often considered to be Hong Kong triads' business. Of course, Hong Kong syndicates do manage the transportation of people, but such business isn't always carried out by the triad member orders. Mainly, Hong Kong triads carry out the transportation by air. However the key players in this field are New York gangs with Asian roots and Taiwanese Mafia.
Oaths said upon entering the triad
Gleb Papyshev and Alexandra Urman