Many observers still regard Triads as a Chinese phenomenon. They certainly originated from China but migrated to various Chinese protectorates and territories for reasons we shall explain in this article.
Similar to the Japanese Yakuza, the early groups that would later become Triads were formed during the Qing dynasty under Manchu rule so we can date the precursors back several hundred years. The founding of The Heaven and Earth Society by Han Chinese in the 1760s with the express purpose of overthrowing the dynasty was probably the starting point for what we regard as the Triads. The organisation split into three groups as it spread in influence around the Chinese mainland, using a triangle as a symbol.
When the influence of these various organisations had reached Hong Kong and had come to the attention of the British there, it was they who first used the term Triads, referring to the symbols used by the groups.
As they gradually turned from a revolutionary group into a criminal organisation, one of the early money making schemes was counterfeiting. At first it was money and items such as books but over the years many other items have been copied and now the practice continues with watches, software, DVDs and the like. As with the Yakuza also, an elaborate initiation ritual is observed – it involves drinking the wine and blood of a sacrificed animal, passing between crossed swords and reciting oaths.
Back to the history though and the communist takeover of mainland China in 1949 preceded a massive crackdown on organised crime. Seeing their future evaporating before their eyes, the Triads headed down to Hong Kong (and later Macau and Taiwan) to continue their operations. In the 1950s, local police estimated there were up to 300,000 Triad members in Hong Kong alone.
So now the Triads had become a British problem. During this period nine different sub-groups had been identified, each controlling an area of Hong Kong. The groups were Chuen, Shing, Sun Yee On, Wo Hop To, Wo Shing Wo, Rung, Tung, 14K and Luen.
Part Two follows….