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This paper discusses attempts to suppress organised crime and the effects of socio-cultural and political change upon Hong Kong triad societies. Beginning as mutual-aid groups that monopolised unskilled labor markets, triad societies extended their activities to illicit markets and protection in partial response to attempts by the colonial authorities to suppress them. Anti-corruption efforts have contributed to a decrease in public tolerance of triads and greater confidence in police. The scale and form of triad societies have changed because of efforts by law enforcement to better define, intercept, prosecute and confiscate criminal proceeds. Following market reforms, rapid economic development in the People's Republic of China Pearl River Delta region offered attractive illicit opportunities that shifted many triad-related activities away from Hong Kong.
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Security Challenges, Vol. 5, No. 4 (Summer 2009), pp. 1-38. - 1 -
The Transformation of Triad
‘Dark Societies’ in Hong Kong:
The Impact of Law Enforcement,
Socio-Economic and Political Change
Roderic Broadhurst and Lee King Wa
Late colonial and post-colonial attempts to suppress triad societies have occurred in the context
of modernisation and socio-economic and political change in Hong Kong. Anti-corruption
efforts, improved enforcement, a focus on illicit entrepreneurs and tainted wealth have
contributed to a decrease in public tolerance of triads and greater confidence in police. The
scale, form, visibility and activities of triad societies have also changed with recent declines in
triad-related lethal violence and membership activity. Following market reforms, rapid economic
development in the People’s Republic of China, notably in the Shenzhen Special Economic
Zone, offered attractive illicit opportunities that encouraged triad-related commercial vice
enterprises away from Hong Kong.1
This paper discusses the impact of government countermeasures and socio-
economic and political change upon triad societies in Hong Kong (HK).2 The
apparent ‘decline’ of triad societies since 1997 recalls similar periodic claims
by the colonial government.3 We argue that triad society has been
transformed as a result of proactive law enforcement that had its genesis in
the 1970’s anti-corruption reforms, changing social values and the evolution
of illicit markets. The substantial changes in the political economy of HK
(from a manufacturing to a financial services market and from colonial to
1 The authors gratefully acknowledge their profound debt to the late Peter Ip Pau-Fuk, and anti-
triad officers of the Hong Kong Police (HKP) who generously gave their time and expertise. We
thank the Australian Crime Commission for providing background on aspects of the illicit drug
trade. The assistance of Dr Phillip Beh (Department of Pathology, Queen Mary Hospital,
University of Hong Kong) for his advice on recent trends in homicide in HK was greatly
appreciated. We also thank Peter Grabosky, James Jacobs, Thierry Bouhours, K. C. Wong,
Lena Zhong, John McFarlane, Peter Hunt, David Levin, Julie Ayling, Alistair Milroy, and T. Wing
Lo for their helpful comments on earlier drafts.
2 Hong Kong Island was ceded to Britain by the Treaty of Nanking in 1842 and later Kowloon
and the New Territories by a 100-year lease that fell due in 1997. The 1984 Sino–British
agreement set in motion the resumption of sovereignty over all Hong Kong under the ‘one
country two systems’ policy that ensured the continuation of HK’s existing common law legal
system and free trade economy.
3 Officials from the HK Security Bureau and HKP assert that triad criminal activities have
declined since the People’s Republic of China (PRC) resumed its sovereignty over HK in 1997:
e.g. ‘During the decade of transformation after hand-over triad society have difficulty to survive’
(trans.), Ming Pao, 13 April 2007; see, HKSAR, Hong Kong Year Book 1997–2006 (Hong Kong:
HK Government Printer, 1997-2006), Chapter ‘Public Order’.
Roderic Broadhurst and Lee King Wa
- 2 - Security Challenges
neo-colonial rule) and the rapid economic development of China have
served to modernise, ‘gentrify’4 and transform the organisation of triad-
related groups.5 Aims have become more corporatised6 and boundaries
moved beyond traditional predatory street crime, extortion and drug dealing
predicated on brand violence to diverse ‘grey’7 business activities that also
include trafficking (anything profitable), vice, copyright, Internet and financial
service crimes such as money laundering and fraud. Another effect has
been to shift some triad-related criminal activities, such as commercial vice
or illicit drugs from HK to the mainland8 where risks may be minimised due to
corruption of judicial, municipal and police officials.9 The shift in the relative
visibility and apparent scope of the triads in HK may thus be a form of
organisational transformation and displacement10 stimulated by the absence
of capable guardianship in adjacent cities such as Shenzhen Special
Economic Zone (SEZ) and elsewhere in Guangdong and China.11
Triad societies are not exclusively criminal organisations but are multi-
faceted brotherhoods in the form of loose cartels bound by social as well as
economic ties.12 Nor are HK criminal groups and networks exclusively triad-
4 Former HKP officer Steve Vickers cited in B. Crawford and N. Gentle, ‘The enemy within’,
South China Morning Post, 11 November, 2007, p 11; see also B. Crawford, ‘Corruption, triads
on rise in Macau: analyst’, South China Morning Post, 31 October, 2007.
5 H. E. Alderich and M. Reuf, Organizations Evolving (London: Sage 2006), pp. 132-55.
6Personal communication Australian Crime Commission (ACC), 7 July 2009; Y. K. Chu, The
Triads as Business (London: Routledge, 2000); Y. K. Chu, ‘Hong Kong Triads After 1997’,
Trends in Organized Crime, vol. 8 (2005), pp 5-12; K. L. Chin, Heijin: Organised Crime,
Business and Politics in Taiwan (New York: M.E. Sharpe, 2003), pp 63ff.
7 ‘Grey’ business in this context means an enterprise the mixes licit with illicit commerce: see V.
Ruggerio, Crime and Markets: Essays in Anti-Criminology (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
2000); and E. R. Kleemans and H.G. Van de Bunt, “Organised crime, occupations and
opportunity’, Global Crime, vol. 9 (2008), pp. 185-97.
8 Chu, ‘Hong Kong Triads After 1997’, K. A. J. Laidler, D. Hodson and H. Traver, ‘The Hong
Kong Drug Market: A Report for the UNICRI on the UNDCP Study on Illicit Drug Markets’,
Centre For Criminology, University of Hong Kong, 2000, <> [Accessed
July 24, 2009], pp. 26-7.
9 T. Gong, ‘Dependent Judiciary and Unaccountable Judges: Judicial Corruption in
Contemporary China’, The China Review, vol. 4, no. 2 (2004), pp. 33-54; S. Shieh, ‘The Rise of
Collective Corruption in China: The Xiamen Smuggling Case’, Journal of Contemporary China,
vol. 14, no. 4 (2005), pp. 67-91; K. L. Chin and R. Godson, ‘Organized Crime and the Political–
Criminal Nexus in China’, Trends in Organized Crime, vol. 9, no. 3 (2006), pp. 5-42; A
Wedeman, ‘Anticorruption Campaigns and the Intensification of Corruption in China’, Journal of
Contemporary China, vol. 14, no. 41 (2006), pp. 93-107.
10 Similar changes by Japanese ‘Boryokudan’ (gangsters) are noted in P. Hill, ‘The Changing
Face of the Yakuza’, Global Crime, vol. 6 (2004), pp. 97-116.
11 Vagg applied a political-economy approach to account for rapid increases in smuggling
between HK and Guangdong in the late 1980s and early 1990s stimulated by the disparity in
wealth. He noted that increased joint cross-border enforcement led to crime displacement: see
J. Vagg, ‘The Borders of Crime: Hong Kong Cross-Border Criminal Activity’, British Journal of
Criminology, vol. 32, no. 3 (1992), pp. 310-28.
12 L. Paoli, ‘The Paradoxes of Organized Crime’, Crime, Law and Social Change, vol. 37 (2002),
pp. 51-97; Chu, The Triads as Business.
The Transformation of Triad ‘Dark Societies’ in Hong Kong
Volume 5, Number 4 (Summer 2009) - 3 -
related.13 Triad societies are in this sense similar to the Sicilian mafia and
also share a pre-modern existence. At times triads, like the American mafia,
have been considered to be an ‘alien conspiracy’14 as each wave of new
immigrants took over the crime vacuum left by earlier immigrants who had
gained a foothold in the upper strata of society. Repeated waves of Chinese
immigrants entered HK with every mainland cataclysm: civil war, famine,
revolution, and market socialism. They belonged to distinct dialect groups or
clans and formed self–help groups that continued criminal activities or
resorted to illicit enterprises. For example, the Shanghai ‘green’ gangs after
1937 and 1949 attempted to establish a presence in HK.
The term ‘triad’15 is neither Cantonese nor Mandarin but rather the English
word used to describe ‘dark societies’ and has become synonymous with
Chinese organised crime in general. Yet, as has been the case for a long
time, from a policing perspective:
Triads in Hong Kong represent organized crime. They are unlawful criminal
societies involved in the systematic development, through the use of
criminal intimidation, of criminal monopolies … Triads are suspected of
being closely linked with syndicated corruption and are currently associated
with much of Hong Kong’s violent crime … to create or maintain criminal
Definitional imprecision occurs with respect to de-limiting or describing
Chinese organised crime and triads. In part this reflects the conceptual
difficulty inherent in the definition of ‘organised crime’,17 the blurring of the
role of Chinese secret societies,18 and the problems of distinguishing
13 This point has been stressed by HK officials—as far back as the mid 1980s. For example a
Senior Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions stated “Contrary to common misconception,
triad societies in Hong Kong are a collection of loose knit groups or gangs rather than a unified
all-encompassing criminal organisation … not to be seen in terms of a simplistic model of a
monolithic gangster style organisation”, see I. McWalters, ‘The Link Between Organised Crime
and Corruption: A Hong Kong Perspective’, 9th International Anti-Corruption Conference,
November 2005, <
imcwalters.html> [Accessed 19 May 2009].
14 D. Bell, ‘Crime as an American Way of Life’, The Antioch Review, vol. 13 (1953), pp. 131-54.
The utility of the ‘alien conspiracy’ approach has been challenged: see J. Landesco, Organized
Crime in Chicago (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1929).
15 Triad is the English translation of ‘Sam Ho Wui’ or literally the three united associations. The
triangular banners based on the three characters representing, heaven, earth and man.
16 Police Commissioner B. Selvin, 1973-1974 Annual Report of the Royal Hong Kong Police:
cited in H. J. Lethbridge, Hard Graft in Hong Kong: Scandal, Corruption and the ICAC (Hong
Kong: Oxford University Press, 1985), p. 132.
17 M. Levi, ‘The Organization of Serious Crimes’, in M. Maguire, R. Morgan and R. Reiner (eds.),
Oxford Handbook of Criminology (3rd edn) (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002);
18 For example, the religious or messianic elements of ritual, initiation and blood covenant that
provided triads with an exclusive identity see B. J. ter Haar, Ritual and Mythology of the Chinese
Triads: Creating an Identity (Leiden: Brill, 2000).
Roderic Broadhurst and Lee King Wa
- 4 - Security Challenges
criminal groups by their morphology.19 Thrasher’s remarkable insights
remain relevant:20
Although organized crime must not be visualized as a vast edifice of hard
and fast structures, there is a surprising amount of organization of a kind in
the criminal community. There is a certain division of labor manifesting itself
in the specialized persons and specialized groups performing different but
related functions. There are, furthermore, alliances and federations of
persons and groups, although no relationship can be fixed and lasting as in
the organization of legitimate business.21
This paper addresses contemporary forms of triad-related crime in HK and
we follow the Hong Kong Police (HKP) practice of referring to crime groups
as ‘triad’ when self-nominated or when individuals associated with a crime
group refer to themselves as a triad—including persons who may only be
associates or may not be initiated if such rituals occur. The ‘Big Circle Boys’
(Dai Huen Jia), for example, although initially formed from among mainland
migrants to HK in the 1970s are referred to as either a criminal group or
triad. Despite the absence of local background some Big Circle Boys were
also ‘members’ of HK triads.22 The term ‘triad’ or in colloquial Cantonese
‘dark society’ is usually reserved for traditional HK crime groups or gangs
who could be authenticated by triad experts of the HKP and recognised as
such by the HK courts.23 The authenticity of a criminal group’s triad
connection or otherwise is usually opaque as is the extent of criminal activity
among known triads. In jurisdictions such as HK, Macau, and Taiwan, triad
association allows access to brand reputation and social capital so that a
degree of overlap and ambiguity between triad society, illicit business and
‘organised crime’ is inherent.24 However, because HK and other Chinese
19 Levi, ‘The Organization of Serious Crimes’; P. C. Duyne and T. Vander Beken, ‘The
Incantations of the EU Organized Crime Policy Making’, Crime, Law and Social Change, vol. 51
(2009), pp. 261-81. Triads in HK and Macau are usually depicted as the only dominate forms of
organised crime that retain a ‘definable structure’: see for example, Parliament of Australia,
Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Crime Commission: Inquiry into the legislative
arrangements to outlaw serious and organised crime groups (Canberra: Senate Printing Unit,
August 2009), pp. 78-9.
20 K. F. Yu, The Structure and Subculture of Triad Societies in Hong Kong, M.Phil. (Hong Kong:
City University of Hong Kong, July 1998). Yu drew on interviews with fifty prisoners drawn from
three major triads: ‘Sun Yee On’, ‘14K’ and ‘Wo Shing Wo’ who described the degraded
organisation and ritual. He classified them according to Thrasher’s notions of unity and
cohesiveness noting that ‘Sun Yee On’ were more organised than the others.
21 Further, “[O]ne of the outstanding characteristics of the criminal community is what might be
called its fluidity … there is no hard and fast structure of a permanent character” (p. 285), F. M.
Thrasher, The Gang: A Study of 1,313 Gangs in Chicago (Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 1927) [1963 edition edited by J. F. Short], pp. 285-6.
22 A. Chung, ‘The Big Circle Boys: Revisiting the Case of the Flaming Eagles’, Global Crime, vol.
9, no.4 (2008), pp. 306-31.
23 Ninety-three HKP officers are currently designated ‘triad experts’ with the addition of 23
officers graduating from a recent course: ‘Welcome boost for Triad Expert Cadre’, Offbeat, issue
887 (14 January-10 February 2009).
24 Chin, Heijin: Organised Crime, Business and Politics in Taiwan; T. W. Lo, ‘Beyond Social
Capital: A Case of Triad Financial Crime in Hong Kong and China’, working paper, City
University of Hong Kong, July 2009.
The Transformation of Triad ‘Dark Societies’ in Hong Kong
Volume 5, Number 4 (Summer 2009) - 5 -
secret societies had a traditional patriotic role, political connections and
ritualistic elements, the distinction between contemporary ‘dark society’
organised crime and triads is historically important.25
It has long been recognised that crime groups are constituted by informal but
complex interpersonal networks.26 These networks may be engaged in a
variety of illicit and licit activities providing mutual advantage27 often
functional to the host social system without always having recourse to a
formal command structure or business model.28 Rather they are highly
reflexive to market conditions and often respond to law enforcement by
limiting group size,29 decentralising and creating enduring forms of ‘flexible
order’.30 In this sense organised crime is another form of capitalist activity
where ‘grey’ entrepreneurs are the key players who may resort to engaging
strong-arm tactics to minimise competition in the provision of illegal goods
and services,31 but the social capital (trust) required for a successful and
resilient criminal enterprise may be enhanced by political influence,32 as well
as fraternal, ethnic or clan loyalties.33
25 See F. Wakeman, Policing Shanghai 1927-1937 (Berkley: University of California Press,
1995); B. E. Martin, 'Eating Bitterness: Du Yuesheng and Guomindang Politics in Shanghai,
1945-49', East Asian History, vol. 29 (June 2005), pp. 129-52; ter Haar, Ritual and Mythology of
the Chinese Triads.
26 J. S. McIllwain, ‘Organized Crime: A Social Network Approach’, Crime, Law and Social
Change, vol. 32 (1999), pp 301-32; Australian Crime Commission, ‘Submission: Inquiry into the
future impact of serious and organised crime on Australian society’, 2007,
submission_impact_of_serious%20_organised_crime.pdf> [Accessed 3 June 2009], p. 6.
27 F. Varese, ‘The Camorra closely observed’, Global Crime, vol. 10 (2009), pp. 262-6.
28 See, for example, Landesco, Organized Crime in Chicago; J. Albini, The American Mafia:
Genesis of a Legend (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1971); P. Reuter and J. B.
Rubinstein, ‘Fact, Fancy, and Organized Crime’, The Public Interest, no. 53 (1978), pp. 45-67;
D. C. Smith, ‘Paragons, Pariahs, and Pirates: A Spectrum-Based Theory of Enterprise’, Crime
and Delinquency, vol. 26 (1980), pp. 358-86; P. Reuter, Disorganized Crime: The Economics of
the Visible Hand (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1983); M. D. Lyman and G. W. Potter, Organized
Crime (2nd edn) (New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 2000).
29 P. Tremblay, M. Bouchard, and S. Petit, “The size and influence of a criminal organization: a
criminal achievement perspective’, Global Crime, vol. 10 (2009), pp. 24-40.
30 C. Morselli, Inside Criminal Networks (New York: Springer, 2009), pp.10-11.
31 P. Williams and R. Godson, ‘Anticipating Organised and Transnational Crime’, Crime, Law
and Social Change, vol. 37 (2002), pp. 311-55; A. Edwards and P. Gill. ‘Crime as enterprise?
The case of “transnational organised crime”’, Crime, Law & Social Change, vol. 37 (2002), pp.
32 T. W. Lo, ‘The Political-Criminal Nexus: The Hong Kong Experience’, Trends in Organized
Crime (Spring 1999), pp 60-80; P. Reuter, ‘The Decline of the American Mafia’, Public Interest,
vol. 120 (Summer 1995), pp 89-99; Chin, Heijin: Organised Crime, Business and Politics in
Taiwan, T. W. Lo, ‘Beyond Social Capital’.
33 Landesco, Organized Crime in Chicago; Thrasher, The Gang; McIllwain, ‘Organized Crime’;
and Paoli, ‘The Paradoxes of Organized Crime’; D. Hobbs, ‘The Firm: Organisational Logic and
Criminal Culture on a Shifting Terrain’, British Journal of Criminology, vol. 41 (2001), pp 549-60.
Differences in ethnic or network interpretations of organised crime are dependent on the focus:
whether it is about ‘who’ was involved or ‘what’ activities or illicit businesses were conducted.
Roderic Broadhurst and Lee King Wa
- 6 - Security Challenges
Triads and Globalisation
Triads have been regarded by some authorities as participating in a
worldwide crime network that uses connections among overseas Chinese to
undertake transnational crime such as drug and human trafficking.34 Fears35
that HK triads would re-establish abroad en masse with the return of
Chinese sovereignty in 1997 appear not to have materialised despite
alarmist predictions.36 However, significant triad-related capital and capacity
where thought to have reached among others Toronto, Vancouver, Sydney
and Los Angeles that enabled such groups to hedge risk and transfer
resources.37 Market reforms initially in Shenzhen SEZ in the 1980s and later
elsewhere in China provided more attractive opportunities and lower costs
for criminal enterprise.38
Chin and Zhang39 have argued that triads have been in decline among the
Chinese diaspora and are sceptical about the existence of triad global
networks.40 They argue, in the case of human trafficking, this is because of
a ‘structural deficiency’ that arises from a strong common culture and
tradition that provides discipline in a local context but also limits their
capacity to develop strong transnational networks. They recently noted the
growth of Chinese crime groups in both local and transnational illicit
See A. Woodiwiss, ‘Double Cross: States, Corporations, and the Global Reach of Organized
Crime’, International Criminal Justice Review, vol. 17 (2007), pp. 45-51.
34 B. Lintner, Blood Brothers: The Criminal Underworld of Asia (New York: Palgrave Macmillan,
2003); M. Booth, The Dragon Syndicates: The Global Phenomenon of the Triads (New York:
Carroll and Graf, 1999).
35 Similar fears about the Italian mafia were expressed following the ‘Schengen’ agreement that
provided unrestricted travel between the European signatories; see van Duyne and Vander
Beken, ‘The Incantations of the EU Organized Crime Policy Making’, p. 269.
36 For example J. Dombrink and H. L. Song, ‘Hong Kong after 1997: Transnational Organized
Crime in a Shrinking World’, Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, vol. 12 (1996), pp. 329-
39. The contrary position was offered in an Australian assessment: see Parliament of the
Commonwealth of Australia, ‘Asian Organized Crime in Australia: A Discussion Paper by the
Parliamentary Joint Committee on the National Crime Authority’, February 1995,
< docs/ncaaoc2.html> [Accessed 11 May 2009].
37 Personal communication, Australian Crime Commission (ACC), 7 July 2009.
38 C. S. Wren, ‘China Attracts Hong Kong’s Money, and Gangsters’, New York Times, 31 March
1983, p. A2; Carl Goldstein, ‘China: Two Faces of Reform’, Far Eastern Economic Review, vol.
156, no. 14 (8 April 1993), p. 15; I. Dobinson, ‘Pinning a Tail on the Dragon: The Chinese and
the International Heroin Trade’, Crime and Delinquency, vol. 39, no. 3 (1993), pp. 373-84;
Commonwealth of Australia, ‘Asian Organized Crime in Australia: A Discussion Paper by the
Parliamentary Joint Committee on the National Crime Authority; Laidler, Hodson and Traver,
The Hong Kong Drug Market: A Report for the UNICRI; Williams and Godson, ‘Anticipating
organised and transnational crime’.
39 K. L. Chin and S. Zhang, ‘The Declining Significance of Triad Societies in Transnational Illegal
Activities: A Structural Deficiency Perspective’, The British Journal of Criminology, vol. 43
(2003), pp. 469-88; see also Chu, The Triads as Business.
40 Specifically in relation to the drug trade see K. L. Chin, The Golden Triangle: Inside Southeast
Asia’s Drug Trade (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2009), pp. 230-4.
The Transformation of Triad ‘Dark Societies’ in Hong Kong
Volume 5, Number 4 (Summer 2009) - 7 -
activity.41 Investigations continue to show examples of such networks
operating over time and associated with triads.42 Xia,43 referring more
broadly to Chinese criminal networks, has suggested significant internal
growth and the return of the triads especially in Guangdong and other
coastal provinces, while Lintner44 has suggested transplantation of the
Given HK’s role as a transport and financial centre it remains a significant
hub for transnational crime. However, there is no evidence of an
international triad organisation. Triads control the street-level drug trade in
HK, but wholesale drug trafficking appears to be in the hands of individuals
or small groups of entrepreneurs.46
Although triad-related homicides, assaults and membership offences known
to HKP have decreased, there is limited evidence to draw conclusions about
the scale and trend of overseas activities. However, significant development
of organised crime, sometimes with the aid of triad connections, has
nevertheless occurred in China and has manifested as capture of local
authorities at county level.47 An example of the scale of such ‘capture’ was
the Xiamen smuggling case; however, criminal groups played a marginal
role.48 A local business venture’s (Yuanhua Group) vast smuggling
41 S. X. Zhang and K. L. Chin, ‘Snakeheads, Mules, and Protective Umbrellas: A Review of
Current Research on Chinese Organized Crime’, Crime, Law and Social Change, vol. 50
(2008), pp. 177-95. Zhang and Chin’s work on drug and human smuggling found little evidence
of traditional organised crime or triad societies but rather the involvement of individual Chinese
who relied on traditional networks based on village, clan and ethnicity.
42 Dutch police identified a Cantonese immigrant group that was involved in the importation of
precursor chemicals for the manufacture of illicit drugs had close ties with HK triads: S.
Huisman, ‘Investigating Chinese Crime Entrepreneurs’, Policing, vol. 2, no. 1 (2008), pp. 1-7.
See also E. G. Curtis, S. L. Elan, R. A. Hudson and N. A. Kollars, ‘Transnational Activities of
Chinese Crime Organizations’, Trends in Organized Crime, vol. 7, no 3 (2002), pp. 19-59; W. H.
Myers III, ‘The Emerging Threat of Transnational Organized Crime from the East’, Crime, Law
and Social Change, vol. 24, no. 3 (1995), pp. 181-222.
43 M. Xia, ‘Assessing and Explaining the Resurgence of China’s Criminal Underworld’, Global
Crime, vol. 7, no. 2 (2006), pp. 151-75; M. Xia, ‘Organizational Formations of Organized Crime
in China: Perspectives from the State, Markets, and Networks’, Journal of Contemporary China,
vol. 17, no. 54 (2008), pp. 1-23; see also A. Chen, ‘Secret Societies and Organized Crime in
Contemporary China’, Modern Asian Studies, vol. 39, no. 1 (2005), pp. 77-107.
44 B. Lintner, ‘Chinese Organized Crime’, Global Crime, vol. 6, no. 1 (2004), pp. 84-96.
45 H. Wang, X. Zhou and T. Jiang, ‘Penetration into Guangdong by Triads from Hong Kong,
Macau and Taiwan and its Prevention and Crackdown Countermeasures’, China Criminal
Police, vol. 15, no. 3 (2003), pp. 63-71; X. Zhou, ‘Triad Societies in Guangdong (I)’, Journal of
Political Science and Law, vol. 16, no. 3 (1999), pp. 20-30 (in Chinese).
46 J.O. Finckenauer and K.L. Chin, Asian Transnational Organized Crime (Washington: National
Institute of Justice, 2007), pp. 8-9; the authors report HKP sources.
47 By 1992 every district of Shenzhen had fallen to secret society activities (mostly from HK but
also Japan, Taiwan and Macau) and by 1995 all the prefecture cities in Guangdong had been
infiltrated by overseas secret societies; see Zhou, ‘Triad Societies in Guangdong (I)’.
48 Triad links (14K), however, are implicated in the arrest of Huang Guang-yu (chair of China’s
largest retailer, ‘Gome Electrical Appliances’), for bribery, money laundering, and share price
manipulation. High ranking ministry of public security and anti-corruption officials have been
Roderic Broadhurst and Lee King Wa
- 8 - Security Challenges
operation through Xiamen ports was investigated by the Chinese Communist
Party (CCP) Central Commission for Discipline Inspection and was
estimated to have cost the state revenue of $US3.6 billion in lost import
duties (between 1994-1999) and involved as many as 200 corrupt officials
including provincial, bureau and departmental heads.49 The scale and scope
of some of these criminal activities have presented Chinese Public Security
and People’s Court officials with immense challenges,50 heightened
concerns about the influence of foreign criminals and hastened the need to
foster mutual assistance with foreign police services.51
We offer a brief overview of HK triad-related ‘dark’ societies and theories
about the role of lethal violence in organised crime. The nexus between
triads and organised crime is made partly visible by extreme violence. Our
analysis of triad-related homicide cases are drawn from the HK Homicide
Monitoring Database (HKHMD52) and described by Lee, Broadhurst and
Beh,53 Lee54 and Lee, Broadhurst and Beh55 for the period 1989-1998 and
preliminary data derived from the updated HKHMD 1989-2005. We discuss
the impact of periodic suppression, new countermeasures and the likely
detained; X.W. Wang, ‘Power, sex and money: the recipe for corruption’ South China Morning
Post, 4 May, 2009, p. 5.
49 S. Li, ‘The Centre’s Scrutiny Elasticity and the Local’s Response: The Anti-smuggling
Campaign in Xiamen, 1991-2001’, in R. G. Broadhurst (ed.), Crime and its Control in the
People’s Republic of China: Proceedings of the University of Hong Kong Annual Symposia
2000-2002 (Hong Kong: Centre for Criminology, The University of Hong Kong, 2004), pp 164-
85; and S. Shieh, 'The Rise of Collective Corruption in China: The Xiamen Smuggling Case';
Chin and Godson, ‘Organized Crime and the Political–Criminal Nexus in China’.
50 Over a million ‘black society’ members were estimated to be active in 2000 in China; see S.
Cai, ‘Anti-Corruption should be done before Anti-Secret Societies’, China News Weekly, 23
September 2000, pp. 21-2; C.Y. Choi, ‘Triad invasion growing, says Guangdong court’, South
China Morning Post, 5 September, 2007, p. 1, cited Guangdong People’s Higher Court
spokesman Chen Cao who referred to the ‘obvious infiltration of overseas groups’. The
‘Heavenly Way’ (in Cantonese Tian Lin Hui) perhaps related to the well known Taiwanese
‘Celestial Alliance’ (Tien Dao Mun in Mandarin) was identified as the main triad by the court.
51 S. Liao, J. Luo and W. Wen, ‘Anti-Triad Society Activities Should Be Strengthened and
Deepened’, China Criminal Police, vol. 11, no. 3 (1999), pp. 27-32; X. Zhou and X. Liu, ‘Review
of the 2001 Guangdong Crackdown on Organized Crime—Seminar’, Public Security Research,
vol. 2 (2002), pp. 77-83; Y. Xie and Y. Wang, ‘Research on Organized Crime: Ten-Year Review,
Evaluation and Prospect’, Journal of Crime Research, vol. 3 (2005), pp. 19-35 (all in Chinese).
52 R. Broadhurst, ‘The Hong Kong Homicide Monitoring Data Base’, 1st Annual Conference of
the Hong Kong Sociology Association, The University of Hong Kong, 12 December 1999,
< crime/publications.htm> [Accessed 9 May 2009].
53 K. W. Lee, R. Broadhurst and S. L. Beh, ‘Triad Related Homicide in Hong Kong 1989–1998: A
Preliminary Description’, in Broadhurst (ed.), Crime and its Control in the People’s Republic of
China, pp. 263-87.
54 K. W. Lee, ‘Triad-related Homicide 1989–1998’, PhD thesis, Hong Kong, University of Hong
Kong, 2005.
55 K. W. Lee, R. G. Broadhurst and S. L. Beh, ‘Triad–Related Homicides in Hong Kong’,
Forensic Science International, vol. 162 (2006), pp. 183-90; data for homicide generally and
triad-related murder in HK has been extended to 1989–2005 and work is currently in
preparation, however, some summary data is available up to 2005.
The Transformation of Triad ‘Dark Societies’ in Hong Kong
Volume 5, Number 4 (Summer 2009) - 9 -
factors in the probable displacement and transplantation of triad-related
commercial vice and other activity to the rich incentives of southern China.
We conclude by commenting on developments in ‘organised crime’ in China
generally, especially Shenzhen, and the interdependence of cross-border
countermeasures in suppressing triad or ‘dark society’ activities.
Triad Society in Hong Kong
There are various historical accounts of the emergence of triads in British HK
that have often created a self-serving mythology about them.56 The
commonly cited version was that the progenitor triad also known as Hung
Mun,57 or the Heaven and Earth Association, originated with the Manchu
Ching (Qing) Dynasty (mid 17th century) as a secret group loyal to the ousted
Ming Emperor. The objective of the secret society was to overthrow the
Ching and restore the indigenous Ming (Han) Dynasty.58 Gradually the Hung
or triads devolved from nascent political associations into criminal groups
following the rapid economic growth of HK as a port for the valuable China
(Indian and Persian) opium trade. The Hung Mun was among a number of
mutual self-help organisations among the disenfranchised immigrant
Chinese labourers and assisted in resolving everyday disputes, provided
loans and met welfare needs that were ignored by their alien colonial rulers.
The violent subculture of triads in part originated in the vigorous market
competition in the 19th and early 20th centuries over waterfront labour.59 The
Hung Mun was seen as a threat to both Chinese imperial and later British
colonial order,60 and suppression by colonial authorities forced elements of
these mutual aid societies underground.61 The criminalisation of the
56 K. Bolton, C. Hutton and P. K. Ip, ‘The Speech–Act Offence: Claiming and Professing
Membership of a Triad Society in Hong Kong’, Language and Communication, vol. 16, no. 3
(1996), pp. 263-90. As yet no definitive historical account of the Hong Kong triads has been
written. Although Morgan’s account of the triad is frequently cited his sources were limited: W.
P. Morgan, Triad Societies in Hong Kong (Hong Kong: Government Printer, 1960).
57 The Hung Mun may also be referred to as the Tiandihui (Tien Tei Wei) and a fuller discussion
of the origins of these secret societies can be found in D. Ownby and M. S. Heidhues (eds),
Secret Societies Reconsidered: Perspectives on the Social History of Modern South China and
Southeast Asia (Armonk, New York: ME Sharpe, 1993). A summary of the traditional conduct
prescriptions can be found in J. Arsovska and M. Craig, ‘Violence in Ethnic-Based Organised
Crime Groups: An Examination of the Albanian Kanun and the Code of the Chinese Triads’,
Global Crime, vol. 7, no. 2 (2006), pp. 214-46.
58 W. Stanton, The Triad Society or Heaven and Earth Association (Hong Kong: Kelly & Walsh,
1900); W. P. Morgan, Triad Societies in Hong Kong.
59 Ibid., pp. 60-3; I. Lim, Secret Societies in Singapore (Singapore: Singapore History Museum,
60 J. Mei, ‘China’s Social Transition and Organized Crime: A Sociological Interpretation’, in
Broadhurst (ed.), Crime and its Control in the People’s Republic of China, pp 204-13. Triads
were considered threats due in part to their support for republican agitators and a fear that they
may provide the organisational basis for resistance to colonial rule.
61 Stanton, The Triad Society; M. S. Gaylord and H. Traver, ‘Colonial Policing and the Demise of
British Rule in Hong Kong’, International Journal of the Sociology of Law, vol. 23 (1995), pp. 23-
43; Lim, Secret Societies in Singapore.
Roderic Broadhurst and Lee King Wa
- 10 - Security Challenges
activities of the Hung Mun societies led to their transformation to Hak She
Wui62 or the ‘dark’ or ‘black society’,63 whose members often competed for a
monopoly over illicit activities or a particular district and involved themselves
in protection, mercenary violence, predatory crime and rebellion.64
Some triads have been able to exploit their association with patriotic activity
to both disguise and justify the pursuit of illicit profits. This association was
illustrated by the Minister of Public Security, People’s Republic of China
(PRC) Tao Siju in 1992 who, as part of a ‘united front’ strategy, lauded the
patriotic work of some triads and welcomed them to set up business in
China—comments that coincided with investments in mainland China
planned by Sun Yee On triad.65 China adopted a ‘united front’ approach in
the lead up to the resumption of Chinese sovereignty to engage the ‘patriotic’
triads so as to ensure HK’s prosperity and stability, curtail penetration by
Taiwanese organised crime (e.g. ‘United Bamboo’, ‘Four Seas’66) who might
connect with anti-Beijing liberal groups, counter pro-democratic triad
influence over local elections and avoid the triad-related violence that had
damaged Macau’s reputation.67
A triad world-view may once have justified criminal acts and violence by
identifying with jiang hu, which allows a life outside normal social customs
and obligations.68 Rituals such as the thirty-six oaths of loyalty and secrecy
62 The authors prefer the translation of Hak as ‘dark’ in this context.
63 In Mandarin usually rendered as Hei She Hui (underground society) or bang hui (gangster
society) and traditionally referred to as the Hong [‘red’ in Cantonese but also ‘vast’ and usually
rendered in English as triad] and Qing bang [green gang] secret societies. The green gang was
usually associated with serving the Qing state and therefore seldom accepted by the Hong: see
Wakeman, Policing Shanghai 1927-1937, p. 27; see also Pan Ling, Old Shanghai: Gangsters in
Paradise (Singapore: Heinemann Asia, 1984) pp 17-33. The green gang was formed by the
numerous boatmen of the Grand Canal who had become unemployed by the advent of steam-
64 C. Crisswell and M. Watson, The Royal Hong Kong Police,1841-1945 (Hong Kong:
Macmillan, 1982) pp 147-58; see generally, D. Murray, ‘Migration, Protection, and Racketeering:
The Spread of the Tiandihui within China’, in Ownby and Heidhues (eds), Secret Societies
Reconsidered; D. Ownby, ‘Introduction: Secret societies reconsidered’, in Ownby and Heidhues
(eds.), Secret Societies Reconsidered;F. Wakeman, Policing Shanghai 1927–1937, pp. 25-39.
65 See T. W. Lo, ‘Law and Order’, in Y. S. Cheng and C. K. Kwong (eds), The Other Hong Kong
Report 1992 (Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 1992), p. 141; Mei, ‘China’s Social
Transition and Organized Crime: A Sociological Interpretation’, p. 213: fifty-four of the seventy-
two martyrs in Huanghugang (in Canton) cemetery were triads associated with Sun Yet-sun’s
campaign against the Qing.
66 These are relatively new groups formed in the late 1950s among the disaffected scions of
Nationalist military officers who had fled the mainland in 1949. They rapidly adopted a business
approach less territorial than the distinctive native Taiwanese crime groups: see Chin, Heijin:
Organised Crime, Business and Politics in Taiwan, pp. 33-42.
67 T. W. Lo, ‘Beyond Social Capital: A Case of Triad Financial Crime in Hong Kong and China’.
See T. M. Liu, Hong Kong Triad Societies: Before and After 1997 (Hong Kong: Net e-Publishing,
2001), pp. 114-5.
68 K. L. Chin, Chinese Subculture and Criminality: Non-traditional Crime Groups in America
(New York: Greenwood Press, 1990, pp 142-143; Pan Ling, Old Shanghai: Gangsters in
Paradise, pp 19-20. The jiang hu (literally ‘river-lake’) concept implies a different way of life and
The Transformation of Triad ‘Dark Societies’ in Hong Kong
Volume 5, Number 4 (Summer 2009) - 11 -
derived from the mythology of the patriotic societies often formed the code
that guided a triad member’s behaviour. Entry into a triad subculture
involved sworn brotherhood that secured members’ loyalty by creating a
fictive family devoid of class distinctions, favouritism, or hatred among
brothers.69 The traditional code of the triad authorised violence in the pursuit
of revenge and/or honour for violation of that code and legitimated violence
in the conduct of illicit business.70 Many of the traditional rituals performed at
initiation and promotion have become perfunctory and adapted to minimise
risk to the triad society while traditional values, such as the exclusion of
women or foreigners71 and the strict use of forms of triad punishments have
weakened.72 Xia and Ip have also noted that elements of traditional triad
culture have been recovered from popular triad films by contemporary
criminals, most notably by mainland gangs.73
With the demise of the fictive Hung family due to regulatory impacts, as well
as shifts in aims, boundaries, activities, and resources, (for example,
mergers or disbandment74), organisational forms have also been
transformed to become less hierarchical and visible.75 Looser and more risk
aversive command structures and corporate style relationships have been
observed by triad experts, and these were often contrasted with the
presumed hierarchical command form of the American mafia.76 The
an older morality outside of respectable society but in colloquial parlance has lost any special
association with triad culture. See also W. S. Chan, ‘Study on Becoming a Triad: A Naturalistic
Study on Secret Society Recruitment in Hong Kong’, Master’s thesis, Hong Kong, University of
Hong Kong, 1979; Chen, ‘Secret Societies and Organized Crime in Contemporary China’.
69 L. F. Mak, The Sociology of Secret Societies: A Study of Chinese Secret Societies in
Singapore and Peninsular Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1981); Lintner,
‘Chinese Organized Crime’; Chin, Chinese Subculture and Criminality; K. L. Chin, Chinatown
Gangs: Extortion, Enterprise, and Ethnicity (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996); Chu,
The Triads as Business.
70 Arsovska and Craig, ‘Violence in Ethnic-Based Organised Crime Groups’.
71 Women are, however, rarely members but many girls are involved in youth gang activities
associated with triads. South Asian ethnic groups are known to be members especially in
Kowloon West and northern New Territories where such ethnic groups are a significant sub-
population: Personal communication HKP, 27 July 2009.
72 Bolton, Hutton and Ip, ‘The Speech–Act Offence’; T. W. Yue, ‘Reading the Signs: Recognising
Triad Punishment’, in R. G. Broadhurst (ed.), Bridging the Gap: A Global Alliance Perspective
on Transnational Organised Crime (Hong Kong: Hong Kong Police Force, 2002), pp. 265-8.
Initiations also took place in Shenzhen as in the case of several Sun Yee On arrested during a
‘promotion’ ceremony. X. Zhou, K. Li and F. Yuan, ‘Triad Societies in Guangdong (II)’, Journal of
Political Sciences and Law, vol. 18, no. 2 (2001), pp. 12-17 (in Chinese).
73 M. Xia, ‘Organizational Formations of Organised Crime in China’; P. F. Ip, ‘Organized Crime
in Hong Kong’.
74 Aldrich and Reuf, Organizations Evolving, p 143. The aims of the ‘old’ triads that fostered
mutual assistance and supported political movements gave way to new aims of illicit profit and
activities that realised gain from protection, vice and smuggling.
75 Yu, The Structure and Subculture of Triad Societies in Hong Kong.
76 P. F. Ip, ‘Organized Crime in Hong Kong’, Proceedings of Symposium on Organized Crime in
the 21st Century, Centre for Criminology, University of Hong Kong, 1999,
<> [Accessed 18 February 2008].
Roderic Broadhurst and Lee King Wa
- 12 - Security Challenges
importance of guan xi’ (interpersonal reciprocity) in establishing trustworthy
networks has been noted77 but is a general trait among Chinese and not
particular to triad societies.78 This mode of exchange based on personal
obligation is structured by patron-client relationships among triads where the
dai lo (big brother) is the central focal point of the ‘cell’ in (networked)
personal relationships.79 In a largely immigrant society, such as Hong Kong
was throughout the last century, the triad once represented a vital form of
social capital in lieu of the family and clan.80 Triad membership offered
protection for otherwise vulnerable individuals exposed to unemployment
and social exclusion.81 Such changes have led some to argue that although
‘old’ triads may have transformed into the ‘dark societies’ of the ‘Chinese
underworld’, their history and social capital made them influential role
models for later groups.82
Despite lurid media depictions and periodic alarm over their influence, triad
involvement in recorded crime in HK has remained static at around three to
four per cent of all police-recorded crime for the past twenty years. In 2006
triad-related crime represented three percent of all reported crime (2359 of
81,225) but in the context of an overall decline in recorded crime.83 In 2006
most recorded triad-related crime were ‘unlawful society’ or triad
membership offences (806 cases or 33.6 percent), wounding and serious
assault (616 cases or 25.1 percent), serious narcotics offences (78 cases or
3.3 percent) and blackmail/extortion (226 cases or 9.4 percent).84
In HK, triad society has long been regarded as “simply a criminal conspiracy
that has been given statutory recognition” (see R v Sit Yat-keung 198585). In
77 Williams and Godson, ‘Anticipating Organised and Transnational Crime’; Chung, ‘The Big
Circle Boys: Revisiting the Case of the Flaming Eagles’; McIllwain, ‘Organized Crime: A Social
Network Approach’; Meyers III, ‘The Emerging Threat of Transnational Organized Crime from
the East’.
78 See generally X. T. Fei, From the Soil: The Foundations of Chinese Society (University of
Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992) (translated G. Hamilton and W. Zheng).
79 H. B. Milward and J. Raab, ‘Dark Networks as Organizational Problems: Elements of a
Theory’, International Public Management, vol. 9, no. 3 (2006), pp. 333-60.
80 R. E. Mitchell, Velvet Colonialism’s Legacy to Hong Kong 1967 and 1997, Hong Kong Institute
of Asia-Pacific Studies, Occasional Paper No. 76 (Shatin Hong Kong: Chinese University of
Hong Kong, March 1998).
81 Chu, The Triads as Business.
82 Arsovska and Craig, ‘Violence in Ethnic-Based Organised Crime Groups’; Yu, The Structure
and Subculture of Triad Societies in Hong Kong.
83 R. G. Broadhurst, K. W. Lee and C. Y. Chan, ‘Crime trends in Hong Kong’, in T. W. Lo and W.
H. Chu (eds), Crime and Criminal Justice in Hong Kong (Devon: Willan, 2008), pp. 45-68.
84 In 2007 the number of triad-related cased continued to decline (2259 cases or 2.8 percent of
all crimes in 2007) but a 5.7 percent increase in triad-related reports was recorded for 2008, see
<> [Accessed 11 May
2009]. For a summary of recent trends see: HKSAR Fight Crime Committee Annual Reports
2003-2007, <> [Accessed 9 March and 11 May 2009].
85 See R v Sit Yat-keung, HK Magistracy Appeal no. 783, 1986: in this case and others,
problems arising from admissions to police and what constitutes expertise about triad culture
The Transformation of Triad ‘Dark Societies’ in Hong Kong
Volume 5, Number 4 (Summer 2009) - 13 -
1947 a “honeycomb” of “50 organisations with a Triad background” that
“were well organised and operating openly when the Colony was liberated”
was recorded.86 There were about 50 known triad societies reportedly
operating in the 1980s of which 15 to 20 commonly came to the attention of
the police due to their criminal activities.87 The number of groups is currently
not reported. Sources close to the HKP have continued to suggest around
50 groups are active.88 The largest triad groups are the Sun Yee On,Wo
Shing Wo,14K (Tak, Ngai and Hau ‘factions’), and Wo Hop To but other
active groups include Shui Fong and Luen Ying She.89 Given lethal violence
is a defining characteristic of organised crime then these triads were among
the twenty-one triad ‘societies’ including their associated factions identified
as being involved (either as victims, offenders or both) in the homicides
described for the period 1989–1998.90 Some triads or their factions operate
only within a particular district and others disperse after a short time. The
number of triad members had been estimated in the late 1980s to be as high
as 300,000 but estimates are unreliable and the number currently active is
unknown.91 Recently the involvement of non-Chinese actors (mostly of
South Asian origin) in triad-related criminal activity has been noted and this
also includes fatal conflicts.92 The regional and district units of the HKP
(exclusively provided by police specialists) have been raised. See also H. Litton, ‘So-called
“Triad Experts”’, Hong Kong Law Journal, vol. 16 (1986), pp. 3-7; Bolton, Hutton and Ip, ‘The
Speech–Act Offence’.
86 They had “waxed fat as Japanese informers or in the flourishing vice monopoly then in their
hands”, Annual Report on the HK Police Force 1946-47, (Hong Kong: Yee Lee Company),
Appendix Z, p. 24.
87 P. F. Ip, ‘Organized Crime in Hong Kong’; Hong Kong Fight Crime Committee, A Discussion
Document on Options for Changes in the Law and in the Administration of the Law to Counter
the Triad Problem (Hong Kong: Fight Crime Committee Secretariat, 1986).
88 K. Sinclair and N. Ng K. C., Asia's Finest Marches On: Policing Hong Kong from 1841 into the
21st Century: An Illustrated Account of the Hong Kong Police (Hong Kong: Kevin Sinclair
Associate Ltd, 1997), pp. 104, 107; Chu, ‘Hong Kong Triads after 1997’, p. 5.
89 Ibid.
90 The following triad societies were identified in the homicides described: Wo Hop To, Wo On
Lok, Wo Shing Wo, Wo Shing Yee, Wu Nam (a faction associated with Wo Shing Wo and Wo
Shing Yee), Wo Lee Wu, Tung Luen She, Tung Sun Wu, Fuk Yee Hing, Luen Lok To, Luen
Ying She, Sun Yee On, Woo Kwan Lak, 14K and 14K factions: ‘Baai Lo’; ‘Hau’, ‘Tak’, ‘Yee’,
‘Mui’, ‘Hi Lo’; and ‘Dai Huen’ (‘Big Circle’); see Lee, Broadhurst and Beh, ‘Triad related
homicides in Hong Kong’.
91 This estimate is cited by Dombrink and Song drawing on a 1989 unpublished paper provided
by a HKP officer and the same figure was cited in relation to estimates in the 1950s: see Sinclair
and Ng, Asia's Finest Marches On, p. 104; Dombrink and Song, ‘Hong Kong after 1997:
Transnational Organized Crime in a Shrinking World’. Some estimates range between 35,000–
80,000 triad members and include youth gangs who claim associate membership via a ‘big
brother’. This contrasts with about 10,000 ‘gangsters’ estimated by the Taiwanese National
Security Bureau in 1997: cited in Chin, Heijin: Organized Crime, Business and Politics in
Taiwan, p. 21. No estimate of the numbers of triad members is currently ventured by HK
authorities: Personal communication, OCTB, March 2007 and April 2008.
92 Chu, ‘Hong Kong Triads after 1997’, p. 10 especially in respect to Wo Shing Wo; see also
preliminary analysis of the HK HMDB 1989-2005—author’s data—data for 2005 incomplete; see
note 39.
Roderic Broadhurst and Lee King Wa
- 14 - Security Challenges
Organised Crime and Triad Bureau (OCTB) conduct routine patrols, raids
and covert surveillance operations93 against suspect groups and enterprises.
The OCTB also undertakes community awareness projects, especially in
schools and with youth groups to counteract the mythology and recruitment
activities of triads.94
Two elements of the triad problem—territorial-based street or youth gangs,
and entrepreneurs or ‘racketeers’—have been identified, the former often
hired by the latter to staff or protect corporate-like illicit enterprises and
projects.95 Similarly Chin found that US Chinese Tong members provided
opportunities to Chinese youth gangs by hiring the latter in support of vice
activities.96 These elements are loosely connected and both reinforce their
authority by means of threats in argot or signs associated with triads,
implying they are backed by triad societies.97 Many triad-related offences, in
particular violent offences, are committed by young members of street-level
triads. Most young offenders come from disadvantaged areas but their triad
role and activities provide a living.98 They often have only associate status in
the society to which they claim affiliation but provide the necessary
manpower and occupy the lower stratum of the triad social hierarchy. Adult
triads recruited from these neighbourhoods later became success models for
aspiring members of these triad-related youth gangs.99
Typical triad-related offences in HK include blackmail, extortion, price fixing
and protection rackets involving local shops, small businesses, restaurants,
hawkers, construction sites, recycling, unofficial taxi stands,100 car valet
services, columbaria,101 wholesale and retail markets and places of public
entertainment such as bars, brothels, billiard halls, mahjong gaming, karaoke
and nightclubs. At various times, triads have monopolised the control of
93For example, see Y. Tsui, ‘Officer Infiltrates Triads in 2-year Undercover Operation that Nets
25’, South China Morning Post, 12 April 2009, p. 2.
94 M. H. Lo, ‘Treating the Cancer: Effective Enforcement Strategy’, in Broadhurst (ed.), Bridging
the Gap, pp. 253-7.
95 Fight Crime Committee, A Discussion Document on Options for Changes in the Law and in
the Administration of the Law to Counter the Triad Problem; Chu, ‘Hong Kong Triads After
1997’; for example see P. Michael, ‘Huge Triad Sweep Fails to Snare Big Bosses; Operation
Nets 1,500 Gang Suspects or Associates but not the ‘Dragonheads’, South China Morning Post,
10 September 2004, p. 3.
96 Chin, Chinese Subculture and Criminality.
97 Fight Crime Committee, A Discussion Document on Options for Changes in the Law and in
the Administration of the Law to Counter the Triad Problem.
98 T. W. Lo, Gang Dynamics (Hong Kong: Caritas Outreaching Service, 1984); for example, see
C. Lo, ’27, Most Teens, Held in Triad Blitz’, South China Morning Post, 20 January 2009, p. 1.
99 Fight Crime Committee, A Discussion Document on Options for Changes in the Law and in
the Administration of the Law to Counter the Triad Problem; Lo, Gang Dynamics; T. W. Lo, The
Map of Triad Juvenile Gangs in Hong Kong (Hong Kong: Youth Studies Net, City University of
Hong Kong, 2002).
100 C. Lo, ‘Police pose as cabbies to capture protection-racket suspects; 12 are arrested in
crackdown on triad intimidation at unofficial taxi stands’, South China Morning Post, 3
September 2004, p. 3.
101 Places for the storage of funeral urns.
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Volume 5, Number 4 (Summer 2009) - 15 -
home decoration companies, elements of the film industry, waste disposal,
and non-franchised public transport routes.102 Triads allegedly controlled the
solicitors’ clerk commission system that allocated work to barristers in HK103
and have been implicated in share manipulation scams as in the China
Prosperity Holding case of 1999.104 Triads often engage in street-level
narcotic trafficking, or operate illegal casino, football gambling and loan-
sharking and these activities extend to Macau,105 Shenzhen and Guangdong
Province.106 Prostitution, counterfeit products, pornography, and cigarette
and fuel smuggling are also important sources of street-level illicit profit for
triad societies.
Figure 1 shows the per capita decline since the 1970s in reports of triad
membership offences as defined by the Societies Ordinance (discussed
below).107 This decline in arrests was preceded by a concerted effort from
1958-1961 to suppress triads and led to several thousand (7780) arrests and
several hundred deportations for society offences. This first major post-war
anti-triad campaign occurred partly because of triad criminal involvement in
serious riots between Nationalist and Communists sympathisers in October
1956 (related to ‘double 10’ celebrations108) that had periodically threatened
serious public order, and stretched the policing resources of the colonial
government.109 Arrests for Societies Ordinance offences increased from less
than 100 in 1955/56 to peak at 3521110 in 1959/60 before declining to 110 in
102 P. N. S. Lee, ‘The Causes and Effects of Police Corruption: A Case for Political
Modernization’, in R. P. L. Lee (ed.), Corruption and its Control in Hong Kong (Shatin: Chinese
University Press, 1981), pp. 105-30; Fight Crime Committee, A Discussion Document on
Options for Changes in the Law and in the Administration of the Law to Counter the Triad
103 T. W. Lo, Corruption and Politics in Hong Kong and China (Buckingham: Open University
Press, 1993), pp. 121-6; see also H. Litton, ‘The Carrian Trial: Cause for Concern’, Hong Kong
Law Journal, vol. 18, no. 1 (1986), pp. 5-10.
104 T. W. Lo, ‘Beyond social capital’, shows the role of Sun Yee On in the China Prosperity
Holding case and its principal Heung Wah Shing.
105 V. M. Leong, ‘The “Bate–Ficha” Business and Triads in Macau Casinos’, in Broadhurst (ed.),
Crime and its Control in the People’s Republic of China, pp. 241-53; S. H. Lo, ‘Casino Politics,
Organized Crime and the Post-Colonial State in Macao’, Journal of Contemporary China, vol. 14
(2005), pp. 207-24.
106 L. Y. Zhong, Communities, Crime and Social Capital in Contemporary China (Devon, UK:
Willan, 2008), Chapter 7; Xia, ‘Assessing and explaining the resurgence of China’s Criminal
Underworld’; Choi, ‘Triad invasion growing’; Wang, Zhou and Jiang, ‘Penetration into
Guangdong by Triads from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan’.
107 Chapter 151, Societies Ordinance, HKSAR, 1950 (originally 28 of 1949).
108 Double-Ten refers to the 10th day of the 10th month the foundation date of the Guomingdong.
109 Morgan, Triad Societies in Hong Kong; N. J. Miners, The Government and Politics of Hong
Kong (Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1986), Chapter 1; Lethbridge, Hard Graft in Hong
Kong, p. 72; H. Traver, ‘Controlling Triads and Organized Crime in Hong Kong’, Hong Kong
Journal, no. 14 (April 2009), pp. 1-9.
110 A further 32 cases of acting for a triad are noted in the Annual Report of the Commissioner
for Police 1959-60, Government Printer, HK.
Roderic Broadhurst and Lee King Wa
- 16 - Security Challenges
1967/1968.111 HKP methods of counting triad-related offences varied over
the period and are not entirely comparable until the late 1960s. For
example, in the immediate post-war period deportation of suspected triads
was common and arrests for triad membership were usually associated with
other criminality. Reports or arrests for unlawful assembly and acting for a
triad were sometimes included or counted separately and reporting periods
shifted from fiscal to calendar year.112
In 1958 the establishment of the specialist and intelligence focused Triad
Society Bureau113 within the HKP had a significant impact but was soon
challenged by growing evidence of systemic corruption within the HKP linked
to triads.114 A widespread lack of confidence in the police capacity to deal
with corruption and concerns about public disorder engendered by triads
lead to the creation in 1974 of a specialist agency outside the HKP to
investigate bribery and corruption: the Independent Commission Against
Corruption (ICAC).115
During the initial phase of the second anti-triad campaign following the
establishment of the ICAC, over 14,000 arrests (14,269) for membership
offences alone were recorded from 1974 to 1977. By 1978 the Royal Hong
Kong Police (RHKP) could assert that, “Triad societies exist largely in name
only, having degenerated from strictly controlled, politically motivated
organisations into loose-knit gangs of criminals that merely usurp the names
of triad societies of the past”.116 The apparent fragmentation of the triads
was not permanent and by the 1980s a reassessment was underway, in part
111 Lethbridge, Hard Graft in Hong Kong: pp. 71-3; Traver, ‘Controlling Triads and Organized
Crime in Hong Kong’, p. 3; In the period 1948-1951 police noted the impact of the collapse of
the Nationalist government with the arrival of “formidable formations” of the northern and
Shanghai ‘Green Pang’ triads and reinforcements of ‘Red Pang’ triads from Canton; see Hong
Kong Annual Report by the Commissioner of Police for the year ended the 31st March, 1950,
Government Printer, HK, p. 21.
112 See variously: Annual Report on Hong Kong Police Force, 1946-1947 (Appendix Z); Report
of the Commissioner of Police For the Year 1948-49; Hong Kong Annual Report by the
Commissioner of Police for the year ended the 31st March, 1950; Annual Departmental Report
by the Commissioner of Police for the Financial Year 1950-1; and thereafter Annual Reports of
the Commissioner of Police, Government Printer, HK.
113 The Triad Society Bureau was reformed in 1978 to address serious triad crime and was
incorporated into the new Organized Crime Bureau in 1979. In 1983 the Triad Society Division
was disbanded and the Organized and Serious Crime Group was established and later in 1991
reformed as the Organized Crime and Triad Bureau. There was speculation that the unit was
disbanded due to the efforts of a senior officer who may have been triad-related.
114 T. S. Cheung and C. C. Lau, ‘A Profile of Syndicate Corruption in the Police’, in Lee (ed.),
Corruption and its Control in Hong Kong, pp. 199-221; Lethbridge, Hard Graft in Hong Kong; A.
Wu, ‘Hong Kong’s Fight Against Corruption Has Lessons for Others’, Hong Kong Journal, no. 2
(April 2006), <> [Accessed 9 May 2009].
115 Wu, Ibid.; Traver, ‘Controlling Triads and Organized Crime in Hong Kong’.
116 Annual Report of the Commissioner of Police 1978 cited in Traver, ‘Controlling Triads and
Organized Crime in Hong Kong’, p .4 and repeating claims made by previous Commissioners—
see Annual Report of the Commissioner of Police 1965-1966, Government Printer, HK.
The Transformation of Triad ‘Dark Societies’ in Hong Kong
Volume 5, Number 4 (Summer 2009) - 17 -
forced by US concerns over HK’s role in the growth of the illicit drug trade.117
The ‘triad menace’ was once again ‘defeated’ by the HKP but similar
declarations in the early 1950s, mid-1960s and again in the early 1980s
proved premature as triads re-surfaced after the dispersal of dedicated
police resources.
Figure 1: Trend in reports of Society Ordinance (‘unlawful society’) offences
(Rate per 100,000 population 1968–2008)
Source: RHKP Annual Reports 1968-1997 and HKP Police Review 1998-2008
Average annual arrests of alleged triad members have fallen steadily from
the peak of 2745 in 1972-1976, to 1651 arrests in 1977-1981, 1337 in 1991-
1995 down to an average of 780 arrests in 2000-2008. The age of offenders
arrested for these offences has also increased over time suggesting the
attraction of dark societies may be fading for new generations: about 56
percent were under 21 years of age in 2008 compared to 72 percent in
1989.118 Recorded crime of course may not accurately reflect changes in
crime but rather measures police activity and the relative visibility of triads:
117 Dobinson, ‘Pinning a Tail on the Dragon’; Chin, The Golden Triangle, pp. 118-9.
118 HK Police Review 2008, <
reviews.htm> [Accessed 7 September 2009]. In 1959 only 8 percent of those arrested for triad
offences were under 21 and 59 percent were older than 31 years of age, again suggesting the
transformation of triads to dark societies.
1974 ICAC
1971 Prevention of
Bribery Ordinance
Roderic Broadhurst and Lee King Wa
- 18 - Security Challenges
nevertheless arrests for membership offences are now less than a third of
the peak period post ICAC and subsequently continue to decline after the
introduction of the Organised and Serious Crime Ordinance (OSCO) in 1994
(see below).
The role of violence, especially lethal violence, is a key feature of criminal
groups and its use offers one of the few windows into the nature of triads
and the ‘control and command’ functions of such groups. Cressey’s
(1969)119 controversial portrayal of the mafia as a criminal organisation that
monopolised racketeering through the centralisation of power (via measured
use of violence and corruption to neutralise law enforcement) re-stimulated
interest in the morphology of organised crime.120 Others recognised that
interdependent networks of criminal groups, flexible structure, fluid
relationships between licit and illicit business enterprises, and the wider
political–economic system reflected the complexity of organised and
disorganised crime.121 McIllwain for example, argued for a social network
approach that ‘transcends’ and connects the dominant paradigms (i.e.
organisational, patron-client and enterprise theories) that are offered to
explain organised crime.122 Network theory partly overcomes the problem of
assuming ‘enterprise’ crime is centralised and that crime groups must be
organised accordingly. Triads tend to operate as franchise-like
arrangements with members acting independently of the affiliation, although
owing dues.123
The form of command and organisation in a crime group and the
relationships with other crime groups bears on the effectiveness of control
over the use of violence. Crime enterprises it might be assumed will seek to
119 D. R. Cressey, Theft of the Nation: The Structure and Operations of Organized Crime in
America (New York: Harper and Row, 1969).
120 The 1985 New York ‘Commission’ case brought under the 1970 Racketeer Influenced and
Corrupt Organizations Act showed that the five Mafia crime families based in New York enjoyed
continuity and cooperated together in loose confederacy to minimise competition (and violence)
and enhance stability and profits from their illicit enterprises: see J. B. Jacobs, C. Freil and R.
Radick, Gotham Unbound (New York: New York University Press, 1999); S. Raab, Five
Families (London: Robson, 2005).
121 F. J. Ianni and R. E. Ianni, A Family Business: Kinship and Social Control in Organized
Crime (New York: New American Library, 1973); Reuter and Rubinstein, ‘Fact, Fancy, and
Organized Crime’; Smith, ‘Paragons, Pariahs, and Pirates: A Spectrum–Based Theory of
Enterprise’; Reuter, ‘The Decline of the American Mafia’. Illicit drug markets are essentially
‘disorganised’ in the sense that most players have little influence over price and face constant
122 McIllwain, ‘Organized Crime: A Social Network Approach’ draws on J. Albanese, ‘Models of
Organized Crime’, R.J. Kelley, K.L. Chin and R. Schatzberg (eds.), Handbook of Organised
crime in the United States (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1994), pp 77-90; see also Morselli, Inside
Criminal Networks.
123 Chu, The Triads as Business, Ip, ‘Organized Crime in Hong Kong’; J. McKenna, ‘Organised
Crime in Hong Kong’, Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, vol. 12, no. 4 (1996), pp. 316-
28. For further discussion especially the limitations of the enterprise approach and the broader
social functions of mafia-like organised crime see Paoli, ‘The Paradoxes of Organized Crime’.
The Transformation of Triad ‘Dark Societies’ in Hong Kong
Volume 5, Number 4 (Summer 2009) - 19 -
apply violence in rational and measured ways for instrumental or profit
inducing reasons; while ‘brotherhoods’ may also use violence to settle
emotive matters of honour and status; and networks may encourage a
diverse range of violence perhaps of a hybrid (motive) nature but centred on
contract violation.124
Gambetta (1993)125 argued that Sicilian Mafiosi were not primarily
entrepreneurs involved in dealing with or producing illegal goods but in
licensing and selling protection to the provider of illicit services or goods.
Protection was a tradable commodity that played a role in economic
exchange by ensuring that an illicit or licit business deal was undertaken in
the absence of legal enforcement. Violence was not only employed for the
enforcement of illicit contracts/deals or discipline but also for competition
among Mafia protectors to gain the essential reputation required to supply
credible protection. Criminal associations that specialised in the distribution
of illicit goods and services were more durable than those based on violence
and that (irrationally) sought to monopolise illicit markets: the latter ultimately
disrupted the markets and shortened their own existence.126
HK triad societies were financed primarily by franchising their brand of
violence to street-level triad-related gangs to help provide protection services
to either legitimate or illegitimate businesses.127 The acquisition of illicit
markets thus relied on the reputation of the triad ‘brand’, and a readiness to
publicise the violence—violence was essential to enforce contracts and
discipline and to eliminate competitors.128 Consequently violence, especially
between competing street triad-related gangs over protection of vice and
other illicit services, centered on matters of honour and reciprocity,
competition over territory or markets, enforcement of illicit contracts and
internal discipline.
However, crime groups are more than profit-pursuing enterprises; they also
fulfil social functions as part of a larger social system.129 The sub-cultural or
non-economic aspects of crime groups, such as secrecy, loyalty and
brotherhood, and ‘righteousness’, are equally critical to long-term success
124 Lee, Broadhurst and Beh, ‘Triad–Related Homicides in Hong Kong’; Lee, ‘Triad-related
Homicide 1989–1998’.
125 D Gambetta, The Sicilian Mafia: The Business of Private Protection (Cambridge, Mass.:
Harvard University Press, 1993). Gambetta’s essentialist approach has been criticised by Paoli
as ignoring the “polyvalence of mafia groups”, Paoli, ‘The Paradoxes of Organized Crime’, p. 72;
see also P. Arlacchi, Mafia Business: The Mafia and the Spirit of Capitalism (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1986).
126 A. A. Block, East Side–West Side: Organizing Crime in New York 1930–1950 (New
Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction, 1983).
127 Chu, The Triads as Business; McKenna, ‘Organised Crime in Hong Kong’.
128 Chu, The Triads as Business; Yue, ‘Reading the Signs: Recognising Triad Punishment’;
Paoli, ‘The Paradoxes of Organized Crime’; Lee, Broadhurst and Beh, ‘Triad–Related
Homicides in Hong Kong’.
129 A. K. Cohen, ‘Concept of Criminal Organisation’, British Journal of Criminology, vol. 17, no. 2
(1977), pp. 97-111.
Roderic Broadhurst and Lee King Wa
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and are the foundations of the discipline of the triad society.130 The
complexity of the connections between triads and crime can be simplified by
demystifying the cultural aspects that have tended to obscure their functional
nature. Mak,131 in a seminal study of Malaysian Chinese secret societies,
noted that they were both cooperative and competitive groups functionally
interdependent (‘symbiotic’) on other groups and institutions in the larger
society. This underworld was characterised by competitive relationships that
arose from conflicts over traditional inter-group grievances, ideological
differences, and monopolisation. The inadequacy of legal norms in colonial
society was the basis for the protective role—the ‘strong arm’ that ensured
the persistence of criminal secret societies as quasi shadow states.132
Lee133 drew on Mak134 to describe the nexus between triad societies and
their associated youth ‘gangs’ and crime networks. A dynamic form of
symbiosis between triad groups, criminal entrepreneurs and delinquent
businesses, officials and professionals was associated with triad-related
lethal violence. The mutual-aid orientation of triad societies also engendered
a competitive nature that served to link other criminal groups. Triad societies
served a protective role (although this could slip to extortion and develop into
criminal enterprise) in the command structure of criminal and, in some
cases, non-criminal enterprises.
In order to gain control over illicit opportunities, counter threats from other
criminal groups or law enforcement, or to expand and develop the common
interest, triad societies evolved simple command or corporate-like
structures.135 The leaders or specialists that hold power in the developing
corporate structure of triad societies detached from the ordinary unskilled
members and offered their services in illicit markets. The symbiotic
participation of triad societies in organised crime was thus facilitated by such
individuals. They played a strategic role in both the underworld and the
larger society, forming the essential networks that aided illicit business.136
Mak called them ‘double-role players’ who were the most experienced triads
with the skills, connections and abilities to contribute effectively to the
particular organised crime activity. Profitable roles such as the ‘strong arm’
130 Paoli, ‘The Paradoxes of Organized Crime’.
131 Mak, The Sociology of Secret Societies.
132 Hawley’s ecological theory of community integrated by Mak with Hobsbawm’s analysis of
banditry and business and the concept of anomie is retained here as a metaphor of the dynamic
symbiosis among competing but sometimes cooperating triads: homeostasis would be rare. See
A. H. Hawley, Human Ecology: A Theory of Community Structure (New York: Ronald Press,
1950); E. J. Hobsbawm, Primitive Rebels: Studies in Archaic Forms of Social Movement in the
19th and 20th Centuries (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1959).
133 Lee, ‘Triad-related Homicide 1989–1998’.
134 Mak, The Sociology of Secret Societies.
135 Ibid.
136 See for a similar network perspective Milward and Raab, ‘Dark Networks as Organizational
Problems: Elements of a Theory’.
The Transformation of Triad ‘Dark Societies’ in Hong Kong
Volume 5, Number 4 (Summer 2009) - 21 -
in a protection market become the stable commodity offered by the triads but
other skills such as those of the financier or negotiator were also valued.
The complex nexus between organised crime and triad societies may be
partially revealed by examining the nature of lethal violence associated with
triad membership and organised crime. The production and provision of
illegal goods and services are supported by different roles played by illegal
entrepreneurs, triad specialists, delinquent professionals, corrupt police and
other officials. Illegal entrepreneurs invest and exploit illicit markets and are
connected to the customers of these markets by the ‘protection’ provided by
triads. Triads that compete over occupational and geographical territory also
develop a simple command structure with leaders as the principal specialists
who can mobilise their members for internal tasks or those required by illegal
entrepreneurs. Given the activities created by street-level triads and their
engagement with other triad actors in illicit/licit business, patterns of violence
emerge that are somewhat predictable.137
The activities of triads often expose them to contests over status or territory.
While violence is common-place in such contests, lethality is seldom
intended. Limited access to firearms also reduced the risk of fatalities.
Excessive power, territorial or honour contests are disruptive to the market of
organised crime and attract unwanted attention by the police and the press.
These events may also deter customers from seeking the illicit services
provided. Although some triad-related homicides appear ‘reckless’
(especially between young affiliates), such events contribute to reputation
but are significantly less frequent than ever before.138 Only triads with a
reputation in protection can occupy an enforcement niche in organised
A disproportionate amount of violent crime has been associated with triads
but lethal violence appears in decline and in the general context of a
significant fall in homicide rates since the early 1990s. Figure 2 describes
summary trends in the proportion of triad-related homicides compared to
domestic and intimate related homicides. In 1997 about a quarter of
homicide victims were triad-related but were less than one in twenty of all
homicides in 2001 and no cases were identified in 2004. Although the
homicide rate in HK is relatively low, the proportion of homicides involving
triads has been high: 12 percent of homicide events (n=95) in the ten-year
period (1989-1998), accounting for 13 percent of all homicide victims
137 B. Paciotti, ‘Homicide in Seattle’s Chinatown, 1900-1940: Evaluating the Influence of Social
Organizations’, Homicide Studies, vol. 9 (2005), pp. 229-55.
138 The long term average rate of homicide was 1.28 per 100,000 between 1989-2003 at
approximately 80 cases per annum but the rate ranged from 2.4 (n=102) in 1990 to 0.64 (n=45)
per 100,000 in 2000).
Roderic Broadhurst and Lee King Wa
- 22 - Security Challenges
(n=124) involving 504 known offenders.139 As, to be expected, most cases
involved conflicts between groups and thus a single victim/multiple offenders
pattern140 was the most common, although cases of multiple victims and
offenders also occurred and a few involved assassination-like murders
where the number of offenders was unknown. In the later period 1999-2005,
the proportion of triad-related murders averaged less than half of that in the
period 1989-1998 (4.9 percent of all homicide cases). The risk of a triad
member becoming a homicide victim, although low, was estimated to be
approximately 13 times greater than that of a non-triad member.141
Figure 2: Trends in the proportion of triad-related homicide victimisation in HK 1989-2005
Source: HKHMDB 1989-2005142
Since 2005 homicides overall have remained low and triad-related homicides
are infrequent;143 however, to date a few cases have been reported in 2009
139 Lee, Broadhurst and Beh, ‘Triad Related Homicide in Hong Kong 1989-1998: A Preliminary
140 As few as 8.3 percent of cases were attributed to a lone offender: Ibid., p. 272.
141 Ibid., p. 267, n. 15.
142 S. L. Beh, R. G. Broadhurst, C. Y. Chan, and K. W. Lee, ‘Lethal Violence in Hong Kong:
Trends and Characteristics’, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine and the Centre for Criminology,
University of Hong Kong, unpublished report, December 2006. Note if events rather than victims
are counted—the two arson cases in 1990 and 1997 would flatten the trend line to a
consistently lower pattern for triad-related homicides (see note 118).
143 As few as 18 homicide cases were recorded in 2007, 35 in 2006, 34 in 2005 and 36 in 2008
(HKP Annual Report, 2007); see also ‘Overall Law and Order Situation Remains Stable’,
Offbeat, Issue 888 (11-24 February 2009). In 2008, no case of triad-related homicide was
identified by the HKP among the 34 recorded to the end of October 2008; P. So, ‘Rise in Murder
Rate Played Down’, South China Morning Post, 21 November 2008, p. 3.
The Transformation of Triad ‘Dark Societies’ in Hong Kong
Volume 5, Number 4 (Summer 2009) - 23 -
in respect to street-level drug dealing and protection in a district wholesale
fruit market.144
In order to illustrate how homicide might be used to understand the
significance and role of triad related violence we draw on detailed case
descriptions of triad-related homicide in HK over the period 1989–1998.
These cases show that the largest number of lethal events (49.5 percent)
occurred between competing lower-rank triads often involved in street-level
crime. These fatal events were diverse, sometimes combining honour-like
contests with long or short-term disputes over territory. Lethal violence
between competing illicit entrepreneurs occurred in a fifth of the fatal cases
(21.1 percent). The ‘discipline’ of customers of illicit goods and services also
comprised a significant proportion of fatalities (16.8 percent), some
associated with unpaid debts.145 Internal punishment of a triad was less
common (13.8 percent) but occurred equally in the context of the street-level
group or the network-like syndicate. Overall the use of firearms was
relatively rare (9.7 percent or 12 victims146) and lethality restrained when
compared to other crime groups, such as the “armed businessmen” of the
Camorra.147 Access to firearms in HK is strictly controlled and limited to the
disciplined services.148
Countermeasures, Social Change and Triad Societies
Since 1845 HK colonial governments have attempted to eradicate triads by
outlawing membership and attendance of meetings of unlawful societies.150
Concern about the role of Chinese secret societies continued throughout the
early colonial period with frequent amendments to the law often prompted by
the turmoil created by the weakening Qing imperial state and civil war that
followed the formation of the republic. Amendments in 1911, for example,
required all societies to be registered or exempted by the Commissioner of
144 C. Lo, ‘Police Brace for Triad Revenge Strikes after Twin Attacks’, South China Morning
Post, 24 July 2009, p. 3; M. Wong and B. Crawford, ‘Triad's Murder may Be Linked to Turf War’,
South China Morning Post, 6 August 2009, p. 1.
145 The proportion of ‘customer’ deaths is amplified by the multiple fatalities of unintended
victims arising from the arson of a nightclub and mahjong parlour that occurred during the study
period. Cases of this type accounts for the especially high number of triad-related deaths that
occurred in 1990 and 1997 (see Figure 2).
146 Lee, Broadhurst and Beh, ‘Triad related homicides in Hong Kong’, p. 4.
147 R. Saviano, ‘Reply’, Global Crime, vol. 10 (2009), pp. 276-9, p. 277.
148 Firearms and Ammunition Ordinance (Cap. 238, Laws of Hong Kong).
149 Several versions of the Societies Ordinance have been in force since 1845, including
changes in 1887, 1911, 1920, 1964 and 1997. The 1964 amendment recognised the
breakdown in the traditional triad structures and the need to widen the scope to include imitators
and proto-triad groups that appropriated triad nomenclature to instil fear (Traver, ‘Controlling
Triads and Organized Crime in Hong Kong’; Bolton, Hutton and Ip, ‘The Speech–Act Offence:
Claiming and Professing Membership of a Triad Society in Hong Kong’, citing the HK Police
Commissioner’s Report for 1965/1966).
150 Societies Ordinance (No 8 of 1887).
Roderic Broadhurst and Lee King Wa
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Police (the Registrar of Societies) and defined ‘society’ very broadly—an
unregistered society was thus unlawful. Amendments in 1920 specifically
made it unlawful for any society to “excite tumult or disorder in China or
excite persons to crime in China”.151 After triad-incited riots and the
rapacious conduct of triads during the Japanese occupation of 1941–1945,
the early anti-triad legislation was further modified and the Societies
Ordinance enacted in 1949 to prohibit triad society. The Societies
Ordinance (s. 18) defined an ‘unlawful society’ as:
a triad society, whether or not such society is a registered society or an
exempted society and whether or not such society is a local society; or a
society in respect of which, or in respect of whose branch, an order made
under section 8 is in force152 every society which uses any triad ritual or
which adopts or makes use of any triad title or nomenclature shall be
deemed to be a triad society.153
The offence of membership or acting as a member of a triad (s 20(2)154) has
been deliberately “caste wide…to enable triad type activities to be stamped
out” (HKSAR v Chan Yuet Ching 2008155). The prosecution need not prove
that a person was a society member but rather acted “in a manner which
emulated the actions of a member of a triad”.156 The HK courts have been
consistent in recognising the inherent difficulties in establishing formal
membership and readily admit the evidence of police officers who undertake
the dangerous work of infiltrating triads.
Initially, the primary role of the colonial police was to protect British interests
by ensuring a stable environment for trade in an inherently unstable milieu
exemplified by the disastrous Tai-ping rebellion of the 1850s and the civil
151 Societies Ordinance (No 47 of 1911) and Societies Ordinance (Chapter 8 of 1920).
152 Section 8 (1) more broadly authorises that “The Societies Officer may recommend to the
Secretary for Security to make an order prohibiting the operation or continued operation of the
society or the branch (a) if he reasonably believes that the prohibition of the operation or
continued operation of a society or a branch is necessary in the interests of national security or
public safety, public order or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others; (b) or if the
society or the branch is a political body that has a connection with a foreign political organisation
or a political organisation of Taiwan”. The final part of section 8 reflects HK’s change of
sovereignty and concerns about limiting the role of foreign actors (amendments retrospectively
made in 1999 for effect from 1 July 1997).
153 Section 19 prohibits anyone being or professing to be an office-bearer or managing such
societies and s. 20 precludes any triad membership, attending a triad meeting or providing
assistance of any kind. The maximum penalty is a fine of HK$100,000 and imprisonment for
three years.
154 Section 20 (2) reads “Any person who is or acts as a member of a triad society or professes
or claims to be a member of a triad society or attends a meeting of a triad society or who pays
money or gives any aid to or for the purposes of a triad society or is found in possession of any
books, accounts, writings, lists of members, seals, banners or insignia, of or relating to any triad
society or to any branch of a triad society whether or not such society is established in Hong
Kong, shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction on indictment”, Societies
Ordinance Cap 151.
155 HKSAR v Chan Yuet Ching, Magistracy Appeal No 313 of 2008.
156 Ibid.
The Transformation of Triad ‘Dark Societies’ in Hong Kong
Volume 5, Number 4 (Summer 2009) - 25 -
war in the 1940s. Managing the public order consequences of the political
and social instability in China was thus partly addressed by the Societies
Ordinance and, according to Traver, encouraged a tradition of viewing triads
as a domestic problem amenable to a local policing solution.157 However, in
the post-war period the legitimacy of colonial government was also premised
on the promise of good governance, and efforts were directed at ensuring a
corruption-free government, especially among its most visible service—the
Suppression of corruption and bribery among police had been a significant
priority of the first post-war Commissioner of Police D. W. MacIntosh158 and
his successors, in particular Commissioner Charles Sutcliffe (1969), but
despite genuine efforts by the HKP Anti-Corruption Office to manage anti-
corruption (in accordance with the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance 1971159)
a series of scandals involving corrupt officers led to political intervention and
the establishment of an independent agency (i.e. ICAC).160 Following the
Sino–British agreement (1984) on the return of HK to China, further efforts
were made to improve and legitimise governance in the colony, for instance
through the localisation of the police, the rapid promotion of Chinese officers
and similar changes in other public services. Attempts to recast the colonial
gendarmerie into a service-style policing agency were largely successful
although the effectiveness of community policing approaches were limited in
curtailing triad activity.161 These reforms greatly enhanced the legitimacy of
the HKP and it now enjoys one of the highest approval ratings of any police
service surveyed by the United Nations International Crime Victim Survey
With the establishment of the ICAC in 1974, and its enabling ordinance, a
significant outcome was to sever the symbiotic link between the police and
157 Traver, ‘Controlling Triads and Organized Crime in Hong Kong’.
158 Commissioner D. W. MacIntosh referred to the widespread prevalence of corruption: “Lack of
assistance from the public gravely hampers suppression of this evil in which certain elements of
the public play so large and guilty a part as accomplices and active instigators. These, who
would seek to corrupt the public servant to ease circumvention of the law, are amongst Society's
worst and most despicable enemies, yet the degree of tolerance accorded them by the
community which they endanger is astonishing”, Annual Report of the Commissioner of Police
1950-1951, Government Printer, HK, at para. 133.
159 A specialised Anti-Corruption Bureau had been set up in 1952 to enforce the 1948
Prevention of Corruption Ordinance (Chapter 215) but not an entirely independent body of the
ilk of the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau established in Singapore about the same time
and a model for the ICAC.
160 Lethbridge, Hard Graft in Hong Kong, provides a comprehensive account of the events
surrounding the establishment of the ICAC and the cause celebre case of Chief Superintendent
Godbar who was able to flee HK while under investigation by the ICAC for corruption.
161 R. W. K. Lau. ‘Community Policing in Hong Kong: Transplanting a Questionable Model’,
Criminal Justice, vol. 4. (2004), pp. 61-80.
162 J. M. Van Dijk, J. N. van Kesteren and P. Smit, Criminal Victimisation in International
Perspective: Key Findings from the 2004–2005 ICVS and EU ICS (The Hague: Boom Legal
Publishers, 2008).
Roderic Broadhurst and Lee King Wa
- 26 - Security Challenges
triads.163 The ICAC was zealous in enforcement despite a proto-mutiny of
many police in response to its special powers that led to a controversial
‘partial amnesty’ being granted for minor corruption that had taken place
prior to November 1977.164 Along with powers to compel witnesses and to
examine unexplained wealth that placed the burden of establishing the bona
fides of the income on the defendant, the anti-corruption agency became a
model for anti-corruption reforms.165
However, the breakdown of the systemic corruption in the HKP initially led to
a crime wave in the mid 1970s and also peak arrests for triad-related
offences. The symbiosis between police and triads, Lethbridge argued, was
strengthened in the critical 1967 Maoist riots when the triads become ‘allies’
of the police and subsequently criminal enterprise and police corruption
increased.166 Thereafter the increase in crime was also accounted for by
Traver: ‘To the extent that the business of organised crime is business, it
was in the interests of both organised crime and the police that order be
maintained. Peace breeds profits’.167 In addition, the existence of triads
could also justify increases in resources and police powers—so amplification
of the threat of the triads remained a resource.168 In such a symbiotic stage,
the legitimate political and economic sectors become dependent upon the
once parasitic crime network. Organised crime and corruption was no longer
only a law enforcement problem (at least at the senior level), but an acute
problem of public policy.169
The colonial government’s reliance on the Societies Ordinance to suppress
triads was premised upon the persistence of hierarchical command
structures described by Morgan in the 1950s and an under-estimation of the
extent of the corruption problem. Morgan’s informants were for the most part
displaced Nationalist triads whose involvement in illicit markets established
163 P. N. S. Lee, ‘The Causes and Effects of Police Corruption: A Case for Political
Modernization’, in Lee (ed.) Corruption and its Control in Hong Kong, pp. 105-30; T. S. Cheung
and C. C. Lau, ’A Profile of Syndicate Corruption in the Police Force’, in Lee (ed.) Corruption
and its Control in Hong Kong, pp. 181-93; Lethbridge, Hard Graft in Hong Kong, Chapters 2-4.
164 Ibid., pp. 134-45.
165 J. R. Heilbrunn, ‘Anti-Corruption Commissions: Panacea or Real Medicine to Fight
Corruption?’ (Washington, DC: The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development
/The World Bank, 2004) Stock No. 37234; T. W. Lo, Corruption and Politics in Hong Kong and
166 Lethbridge, Hard Graft in Hong Kong, p. 73; such an alliance was reminiscent of the role of
the green gang in the suppression of the communists in 1927 in support of the nationalist
government and there-after with the full support of the international settlement Shanghai
Municipal Police: see Wakeman, Policing Shanghai 1927-1937, pp. 123-4.
167 H. Traver, ‘Crime Trends’, in H. Traver and J. Vagg (eds), Crime and Justice in Hong Kong
(Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1991), p. 18.
168 Bolton, Hutton and Ip, ‘The Speech–Act Offence: Claiming and Professing Membership of a
Triad Society in Hong Kong’.
169 N. S. Lee, ‘The Causes and Effects of Police Corruption: A Case for Political Modernization’;
H. C. Kuan, ‘Anti-Corruption Legislation in Hong Kong—A History’, in Lee (ed.), Corruption and
its Control in Hong Kong, pp. 15-44; P. A. Lupsha, ‘Transnational Organized Crime Versus the
Nation-State’, Transnational Organized Crime, vol. 2, no. 1 (1996), pp. 21-48.
The Transformation of Triad ‘Dark Societies’ in Hong Kong
Volume 5, Number 4 (Summer 2009) - 27 -
through war-time profiteering was limited by a focus on politics, ritual and
fraternity. This cultural focus under-emphasised the symbiosis that arose
within the dynamic forms of risk-aversive crime groups—many with no triad
affiliation. Triad rituals and symbols were readily disguised and display
curtailed. In short, the traditional tactics of suppressing triads via outlawing
membership was not particularly effective in curbing organised crime in the
context of widespread corruption. Attempts to weaken triads through a
widely promoted and innovative renunciation scheme during the 1980s may
have been more effective in severing ties and helping de-stigmatising known
triads if the Triad Renunciation Scheme had been better resourced and
continued for longer.170 Few ‘active’ triads, however, participated171 and so
little knowledge was gained that might have been used against triads.
Ngo172 has argued that the general context upon which crime control
operated was the powerful influence of the commercial and financial class in
the form of a state–capital alliance, with a laissez faire ideology that reflected
the trade priority of the colonial government—one that was reluctant to
overly regulate enterprises, even dubious commercial activities that often
involved triad societies.173 Although this non-interventionist stance
characterised HK government policy, it was not able to prevail in the
changed circumstances where the legacy of the (British) rule of law and
independence of the public service were crucial to the dignified retreat of the
colonial state. The pro-business rationale of the colonial state was reformed
around the notion of neutrality in respect to the governance of both British
and Chinese enterprises and the promotion of competitiveness. Goodstadt
argued that this re-legitimisation resulted in a greater protective role for the
late colonial and neo-colonial state—one that drove it to take action in many
areas of HK life that it had previously left alone.174 Liu and Chiu considered
that the old alliance between business and government had become
fragmented after 1997, creating in turn tensions within the emerging new
elite of local Chinese and later mainland business enterprises.175 These new
business elites (some prone to rent seeking), as well as public expectations
170 A. S. Huque, ‘Renunciation, Destigmatisation and Prevention of Crime in Hong Kong’,
Howard Journal of Criminal Justice, vol. 33, no. 4 (1994), pp. 338-51. The 1989 crime victim
survey found that 72 percent of respondents knew about the Triad Renunciation Scheme and
48 percent felt it had helped lessen the power of the triads although a significant number
disagreed (31 percent) or didn’t know (21 percent): Census and Statistics Department, Crime
and Its Victims in Hong Kong 1989 (Hong Kong: Government Printer, 1990).
171 Personal communication HKP, 9 July 2009.
172 T. W. Ngo, ‘Industrial History and the Artifice of Laissez-Faire Colonialism’, in T. W. Ngo
(ed.), Hong Kong’s History (London: Routledge, 1999).
173 M. S. Gaylord, ‘City of Secrets: Drugs, Money and the Law in Hong Kong’, Crime, Law and
Social Change, vol. 28 (1997), pp. 91-110.
174 L. Goodstadt, Uneasy Partners: The Conflict Between Public Interest and Private Profit in
Hong Kong (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2005), pp. 119-27; see also Miners, The
Government and Politics of Hong Kong (Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1986), Chapter 1;
Lethbridge, Hard Graft in Hong Kong.
175 T. L Lui and S. W. K. Chiu, ‘Governance Crisis in Post-1997 Hong Kong’, The China Review,
vol. 7, no. 2 (2007), pp. 1-34.
Roderic Broadhurst and Lee King Wa
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about greater inclusion from an indigenous government, combined to deliver
real politics to a government needing to reassure business and community
that it would play fair.176 The three pillars of governance in HK—rule of law,
personal freedom, and an effective and corrupt free civil service—became
the focus of greater public scrutiny.
Developments in the criminal law in the United Kingdom (UK)177 and
Australia178 in the late 1980s and early 1990s, where growing concern about
mafia-like and other serious crime was re-shaping the policing response,
also led to an acceptance of greater policing powers to counter organised
crime. Harfield suggested that the creation of the national UK Serious and
Organized Crime Agency in 2005 with enhanced powers recognised the
limitations of conventional Anglo-Saxon policing in addressing the problem of
organised crime. In this context, unburdened by the numerous policing
agencies and complexities of UK policing, the HK government was able to
proceed more quickly with increased investigative powers, and the
prosecution of illegal entrepreneurs and others who fund, assist and derive
criminal proceeds from organised crime became possible.179
Thus not until nearly fifty years after the overhauled Societies Ordinance of
1950, but before HK’s sovereignty was transferred to the PRC in 1997, did
the colonial government enact specific measures to counter serious
‘organised’ crime. The enactment of the Drug Trafficking (Recovery of
Proceeds) Ordinance in 1989,180 the Organised and Serious Crimes
Ordinance (OSCO) in 1994181 and later amendments and statutes granted
law enforcement agencies further powers to investigate and prosecute
patterns of unlawful activities associated with organised crime.182 Ancillary
176 Mitchell, Velvet Colonialism’s Legacy to Hong Kong 1967 and 1997.
177 See C. Harfield, ‘Paradigms, Pathologies, and Practicalities: Policing Organised Crime in
England and Wales’, Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice, vol. 2, no. 1 (2008), pp 63-73.
178 For example the establishment of the National Crime Authority (now the Australian Crime
Commission) and the extension of investigative powers in respect to interception of
communications were known by many police and ICAC through attendance at the Australian
Institute of Police Management (Manly); see for details of the ‘new investigators’ M. Findlay,
‘International Rights and Australian Adaptations: Recent Developments in Criminal
Investigation’, Sydney Law Review, vol. 17, no. 2 (1995), 278-97.
179 Van Duyne and Vander Beken, ‘The Incantations of the EU Organized Crime Policy Making’,
pp. 267-8 suggest that the United Kingdom ‘discovered’ domestic organised crime in 1993,
however, by the late 1980s British authorities were engaged in addressing the limitations of the
Regional Crime Squads—formations to some extent replicated in HK but greatly simplified by
the single police command of the HKP; see Harfield, ‘Paradigms, Pathologies, and
Practicalities: Policing Organised Crime in England and Wales’; and also M. Woodiwiss and D.
Hobbs, ‘Organized Evil and the Atlantic Alliance: Moral Panics and the Rhetoric of Organized
Crime Policing in America and Britain.’ British Journal of Criminology, vol. 49 (2009), pp. 106-
180 Chapter 405, Drug Trafficking (Recovery of Proceeds) Ordinance, HKSAR, 1989.
181 Chapter 455, Organized and Serious Crimes Ordinance, HKSAR, 1994.
182 For example, further changes introduced by the Drug Trafficking and Organized Crime
(Amendment) Ordinance 2002, addressed problems in the earlier laws including substantive
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Volume 5, Number 4 (Summer 2009) - 29 -
laws included witness protection orders and regulated telecommunication
interception to investigate crime networks. Laws for restraining and
confiscating criminal proceeds initially targeted illicit drug profits and were
extended to include many forms of organised crime. The enhanced
penalties provided by OSCO and the more frequent use of interception
technologies increased the level of risk for triads and crime syndicates.183
However, the complexity and uneven performance of the law have led to
demands for more effective measures including the introduction of civil
forfeiture regimes for the recovery of criminal proceeds.184 Young has
argued that little impact has been made on the extent of money laundering
and the presence of triads remains significant.185
The 1991 preamble to the HK government’s Organised Crime Bill
acknowledged that the criminal law was not geared towards the prosecution
of organised criminals and that police had concentrated their resources on
the substantial presence of triads and the perpetrators of organised crime
rather than those who influenced or controlled them.186 This policy
recognised the need to target both the ‘head and feet’ (leaders and soldiers)
of organised crime syndicates regardless of triad connections. The OSCO
redefined organised crime groups as any triad society187 or any group of two
or more persons associated solely or partly for the purpose of engaging
repeatedly in offences such as drug trafficking, loan-sharking, extortion,
corruption, blackmail, prostitution, illegal gambling, import of illegal
immigrants, robbery, forgery and smuggling. Because a triad-related crime
is defined as one that has known or suspected triad involvement,188 any
and procedural issues with respect to confiscation and restraint orders, notification
requirements, and legal privilege: see D. G. Saw, ‘Interdicting Tainted Wealth: The Perspective
from Hong Kong’, Journal of Money Laundering Control, vol. 7, no. 3 (2004), pp. 275-80.
183 Ibid.
184 For example, James To, chair of the Legco Security panel cited in Hong Kong Hansard, 25
October 2006, p. 866.
185 N. M. Young, ‘Civil Forfeiture for Hong Kong: Issues and Prospects’, in N. M. Young (ed.),
Civil Forfeiture for Criminal Property: Legal Measures for Targeting the Proceeds of Crime
(Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 2008). An earlier discussion of HK’s role in money laundering
is provided by Gaylord who notes HK tradition of financial secrecy attracts criticism but its role
as a hub for such activities may have been exaggerated by the impact of capital flight in the
early 1980s due to the instability created by Sino-British discussions over sovereignty: see M. S.
Gaylord, ‘The Chinese Laundry: International Drug Trafficking and Hong Kong's Banking
Industry’, Contemporary Crises, vol. 14 (1990), pp. 23-37. A more laudatory picture is provided
in Saw, ‘Interdicting Tainted Wealth’.
186 Fight Crime Committee, A Discussion Document on Options for Changes in the Law and in
the Administration of the Law to Counter the Triad Problem; Secretary for Security, Explanatory
Notes on the Organized Crime Bill (Hong Kong: Government Printer, 1991).
187 Previously the HK Fight Crime Committee had used ‘organised crime’, ‘triad society’ and
‘triad gang’ interchangeably to describe triads. OSCO defined ‘triad society’ as one which uses
any ritual commonly used by triad societies, any ritual closely resembling any such ritual or any
part of any such ritual; or adopts or makes use of any triad title or nomenclature.
188 Hong Kong Police, Crime Enforcement Report 1991–2000 (Hong Kong: Hong Kong Police,
Roderic Broadhurst and Lee King Wa
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violence motivated by triad identity, rivalry, revenge, or conflict may fall into
the category of organised crime and thus be subject to enhanced
investigative powers.
The purpose of the enactment of OSCO was to redefine organised crime
offences and target the wealth of criminals and the means to launder illegal
proceeds, to enhance penalties, and to prepare the ground for production of
evidentiary materials, orders and witness orders. Essentially, it enhanced
police capability by creating new powers of investigation and greater control
over the proceeds of crime.189 From enactment to 2005, OSCO enabled 26
witness orders (s. 3), 1304 production orders (s. 4), 263 search warrants (s.
5), 84 restraint orders (s. 15) with value of assets restrained HK$6482
million, and 16 confiscation orders (s. 8) with value of assets confiscated
HK$131 million. In addition, 324 persons have been subject to the
enhanced punishments provided by OSCO. Convictions for money
laundering offences have increased from 84 persons in 2005 ($HK163.28
million restrained) to 248 persons in 2008 ($HK419.96 million restrained).
Altogether 603 persons have been convicted of money laundering offences
and $HK65.67 million recovered between 2005 and 2008.190 OSCO has
also become an effective means of prosecuting commercial crime cases
such as the London Gold Fraud, the Pyramid Selling Fraud and the Boiler
Room Fraud cases (see Legislative Council Panel on Security 1997,
2005).191 The enhanced penalties have also been recently applied to street
deception cases (Fight Crime Committee 2007).192
Since the passage of the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance in 1971, the
setting up of the ICAC in 1974, the enactment of the Drug Trafficking
(Recovery of Proceeds) Ordinance in 1989, OSCO in 1994, the Witness
Protection Ordinance in 2000,193 Interception of Communications and
Surveillance Ordinance 2006194 and subsequent enhancements in respect to
189 Young, ‘Civil Forfeiture for Hong Kong: Issues and Prospects’.
190 Data source the Joint Financial Intelligent Unit of the HKP and the HK Customs and Excise
Department see <> [Accessed 11 May 2009].
191 See Legislative Council Panel on Security, Review of the Organized and Serious Crimes
Ordinance 1995–1997 (Hong Kong: HK Government Press, 1997); Legislative Council Panel on
Security, Organized and Serious Crimes Ordinance, Report on Implementation 1997–2005
(Hong Kong: HK Government Press, 2005).
192 Especially scams such as the “Spiritual Blessing” con that targeted lonely elderly victims; see
HKSAR Fight Crime Committee Report No. 27, 2007, <> [Accessed
3 June 2009].
193 Chapter 564, Witness Protection Ordinance, HKSAR, 2000.
194 Chapter 589, Interception of Communications and Surveillance Ordinance, HKSAR, 2006: in
the first 4 months of the new law 301 authorisations were made and 209 arrests (109 of whom
were the initial targets of the surveillance) for a variety of offences including managing a triad,
robbery, theft and bribery; see ‘Report of the Annual Report of Commissioner of the Interception
of Communications and Surveillance’, June 2007, <> [Accessed
11 May 2009].
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Volume 5, Number 4 (Summer 2009) - 31 -
assets of terrorism,195 hostility towards the potential organised crime-police
symbiotic relationship and crime syndicates, whether triad-related or not, has
been sustained. The endemic corruption in government generally noted by
numerous inquiries and scholars such as Lethbridge and N. S. Lee is no
longer rampant. Corruption had provided the soil upon which the triad
flourished; without it growth was limited. In these circumstances corrupt
officials and organised crime groups are forced to operate in a more risky
environment and thus seek out legitimate business, less hostile markets and
delinquent professionals to assist them.
Social Change and Displacement
In addition to policing reforms and the establishment of a well-funded
effective anti-corruption agency,196 the transformation of HK’s economy to
one of the wealthiest in Asia (and as a service-oriented logistics hub) has
also influenced attitudes toward violence and corruption. General attitudes
have become less tolerant of triad violence.197 Crime victim survey
respondents reported fewer crimes involving triads although such estimates
are subjective (see Table 1). The cultural depiction of triads also changed to
less patriotic, romantic and more realist form in the popular media.198 Fear
of crime was among the lowest of any city surveyed by the United Nations
ICVS in 2005.199 The overall crime rate had also begun to decline through
the 1990s, including those crimes associated with triad activities.200
According to victims, even commonplace triad-related crimes such as
criminal intimidation, wounding and assault, blackmail, and robbery were
less likely to involve recognisable triads in 2005 than in 1989.201 However,
HK’s low tax system and advanced financial/bank services sector combined
195 Chapter 575, United Nations (Anti-Terrorism Measures) Ordinance 2002 as amended in
2005 to reinforce seizure of assets and funds of terrorists.
196 A. S. Huque, ‘Organization Design and Effectiveness: A Study of Anti-Crime Organizations in
Hong Kong’, International Journal of Public Administration, vol. 18, no. 4 (1995), pp. 639-57; A.
Wu, ‘Hong Kong’s Fight Against Corruption Has Lessons for Others’, Hong Kong Journal, no. 2
(April 2006), pp. 1-6, <online> [Accessed 29 May 2009]; Heilbrunn, ‘Anti-
Corruption Commissions: Panacea or Real Medicine to Fight Corruption?’.
197 Mitchell, Velvet Colonialism’s Legacy to Hong Kong 1967 and 1997, pp. 32-3.
198 D. Desser, ‘Triads and Changing Times: The National Allegory of Hong Kong Cinema, 1996-
2000’, Quarterly Review of Film and Video, vol. 26, no. 2 (2009), pp. 179-93.
199 Van Dijk, van Kesteren and Smit, Criminal Victimisation in International Perspective: Key
Findings from the 2004–2005 ICVS and EU ICS; only five percent of respondents felt unsafe or
very unsafe walking at night.
200 Broadhurst, Lee and Chan, ‘Crime trends in Hong Kong’.
201 In 2005, for example, 36 percent of victims of criminal intimidation thought triads were
involved compared to 45 percent in 1989 and 15 percent of assault and wounding victims
thought triads were involved in 2005 compared to 37 percent in 1989 (Hong Kong Crime and its
Victims, 1989, 1994, 1998, 2005). Official police reports of serious assault and wounding also
showed some decline in triad involvement; see HKSAR Fight Crime Committee, Annual Report
2002; HKSAR Fight Crime Committee, Annual Report 2007, <>
[Accessed 11 May 2009].
Roderic Broadhurst and Lee King Wa
- 32 - Security Challenges
with the absence of currency and exchange controls also encouraged money
laundering, especially in aid of tax avoidance for mainland Chinese.202
Table 1: Percent of crimes reported by victim survey respondents as Triad-involved
Year All Crimes All Personal All
Household Violence Personal
% triad (DK) % triad (DK) % triad (DK) % triad (DK) % triad (DK)
1989 16.8 (34.7) 21.9 (32.7) 10.6 (37.1) 33.5 (22.1) 17.5 (36.8)
1994 15.8 (25.4) 19.4 (26.5) 12.0 (24.2) 31.9 (24.3) 13.7 (27.5)
1998 13.2 (16.7) 17.3 (16.0) 8.2 (17.5) 29.3 (13.5) 12.9 (17.0)
2005 10.2 (31.3) 13.3 (32.6) 5.6 (29.4) 17.9 (32.5) 11.2 (32.6)
Source: HK Census & Statistics Department, Crime and Its Victims, 1989, 1994, 1998, 2005;
DK= do not know
Some triad-related activities in HK also began to become less prevalent from
the 1970s and 1980s with the reduction of criminal revenue due to hostile
state policies and disruption to the supply of illicit services and goods—
indeed commercial vice had been in deep recession.203 Business attention
shifted to the growing markets offered in Southern China with the opening of
the Chinese economy in the mid 1980s.204 Illicit services and goods were
more competitive in Southern China and attracted customers away from
HK.205 HK residents headed north in ever larger numbers for business and
shopping with the liberalisation of cross-border traffic post-1997. Many also
sought out illicit services such as prostitution, pirated and counterfeit
products, and drugs. For example, many HK drug users headed north to
Shenzhen SEZ, the city immediately adjacent the HK–PRC border. The
retail price of popular illicit drugs was often less than half the price in HK.206
The steady decline in the use of heroin in HK (and worldwide) since 1996
was not initially matched by the increase in ‘club drugs’, diminishing a
previously lucrative market for triads in HK.207 Yet by 2009 ‘ketamine’208 and
202 Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, ‘International Narcotics
Control Strategy Report 2007: Country Reports: Hong Kong’, <
2007/vol2/html/80887.htm> [Accessed 3 April 2008]; Y. K. Kwok, ‘An Overview of the Anti-
Money Laundering Laws of Hong Kong’, Journal of Money Laundering Control, vol. 11, no. 4
(2008), pp. 345-57.
203 Lethbridge, Hard Graft in Hong Kong, p. 132.
204 S. H. Lo, ‘Cross-Border Organized Crime in Greater South China’, Transnational Organized
Crime, vol. 5, no. 2 (1999), pp. 176-94; Wren, ‘China Attracts Hong Kong’s Money, and
Gangsters’; Goldstein, ‘China: Two Faces of Reform’; Vagg, ‘The Borders of Crime: Hong Kong
Cross-Border Criminal Activity’; Xia, ‘Organizational Formations of Organised Crime in China’.
205 ‘Business: Mind Games; Counterfeit Goods in China’, The Economist, vol. 385, no. 8554 (10
November 2007), p. 102.
206 S. Lee, ‘Youngsters Head North to Escape HK’s Drug Crackdown’, South China Morning
Post, 3 January 2007; C. W. Lam, K. W. Boey, O. O. Wong and S. K. Tse, A Study of
Substance Abuse in Underground Rave Culture and Other Related Settings (Hong Kong: Action
Committee Against Narcotics, University of Hong Kong, Department of Social Work and Social
Administration, 2004).
207 HKSAR Fight Crime Committee, Annual Report, 2006; The Fight Crime Committee (Ibid.)
noted registered heroin users declined from 16,107 in 1996 to 9 734 in 2006 while other drug
The Transformation of Triad ‘Dark Societies’ in Hong Kong
Volume 5, Number 4 (Summer 2009) - 33 -
amphetamine occupied the same role as heroin once did and is widely
distributed among youth. This occurs at street level, rather than ‘nightclubs’,
where periodic conflicts between triad-related groups occur over protection
of local trafficking franchises.209
Economic development in Shenzhen SEZ had attracted millions of rural
migrants from all over China, many of whom were unemployed. The state
was unable to quickly establish a reliable system of dispute settlement or
create the circumstances for effective public order. There was a rapid rise in
homicide in the early 1990s.210 Elements of the emerging market economy
were unprotected by law, creating a market for protection and corruption.211
In 2003 the PRC abolished the border permits controlling access to
Shenzhen and abandoned the custody and repatriation system long used to
expel beggars and indigents. The inadequacy of the local procurator’s
office, the shortage of police and corruption among them made Shenzhen
more vulnerable to crime: overall crime surged with over 100,000 offences
recorded in 2003. In a single year murder and assault increased by a third
and kidnapping by 75 percent. Large numbers of HK visitors also became
victims of crime212 and the Shenzhen police and courts were overwhelmed
until more resources were provided.213
The PRC General Administration of Customs conceded that Shenzhen had
become a major gateway for drug smuggling.214 The HKP Narcotics Bureau
noted that up to a third of drug users arrested in Guangdong were from
HK.215 Triads were also active in the cross-border shipment of ephedrine216
users increased from 3389 to 6310 cases; K. Joe-Laidler, ‘The Rise of Club Drugs in a Heroin
Society: The Case of Hong Kong’, Substance Use and Misuse, vol. 40 (2005), pp. 1257-78.
208 Locally known, as “K-Jai” this drug is an NMDA receptor antagonist that induces ‘dissociative
anaesthesia’—initially associated with other illicit drugs such as ecstasy and featured in ‘rave’
and nightclub lifestyles.
209 The loci of drug distribution are in street and school: over half of arrests involve those under
21 years; Personal communication, District Regional Commander New Territories, 27 July 2009.
210 X. Tan and K. Xue, ‘The Thinking Concerning the Strengthening of Police Force under the
New Situation’, in Shenzhen Political and Legal Year Book (Shenzhen SAZ, 1997) (in Chinese);
Zhong, Communities, Crime and Social Capital in Contemporary China, Chapter 7.
211 S. H. Lo, ‘Cross-Border Organized Crime in Greater South China’; Shieh, ‘The Rise of
Collective Corruption in China: the Xiamen Smuggling Case’; Xia, ‘Assessing and Explaining the
Resurgence of China’s Criminal Underworld’.
212 For example, around this time as many as thirty HK people per month were kidnapped by
Shenzhen criminals: see Editorial, ‘Soaring Crime Rate Dims Shenzhen’s Luster’, South China
Morning Post, 17 January 2004.
213 Crime rates peaked in 2003–2004, thereafter they declined in line with a surge in the
apprehension and detention of offenders. See Zhong, Communities, Crime and Social Capital
in Contemporary China, Chapter 7; Editorial, ‘Soaring Crime Rate Dims Shenzhen’s Luster’.
214 V. Cui, ‘Shenzhen is Key Gateway for Illegal Drugs Trade’, South China Morning Post, 10
May 2006.
215 B. Wong, ‘High Rate of HK Party Drug Users Caught in Guangdong’, South China Morning
Post, 23 December 2003.
Roderic Broadhurst and Lee King Wa
- 34 - Security Challenges
and the manufacture of amphetamine to meet the demands of the growing
domestic and international market.217 The vice-director of the Narcotics
Control Bureau of the Ministry of Public Security suggested that HK
syndicates had been coaching mainland criminal gangs on drug manufacture
and trafficking: ‘Hong Kong criminals are more experienced and have more
capital to conduct the illegal activities they are the organisers and
masterminds behind drug trafficking activities’.218
Despite increased cross-border cooperation between Guangdong Public
Security and the HKP—including the opening of a Beijing Office to assist HK
citizens arrested and detained in China219—the crime problem, including
local dark society or triad-related activity, worsened in Shenzhen.220 Crime
in Shenzhen became so serious that a senior police official was forced to
apologise over the city’s crime problem and some police were involved in
providing protection to triads who operated vice premises. For example, the
former director of the Public Security Bureau in Lowu (the area in Shenzhen
immediately across the border of HK) was removed from her position for
receiving millions of Yuan from karaoke clubs, brothels and other
entertainment facilities catering to HK residents and for accepting bribes
from subordinates seeking promotion.221 A significant number of HK
residents were also arrested for participating in HK–Shenzhen cross-border
drug-trafficking syndicates, and triads were able to strengthen networks with
local criminal gangs and illicit opportunities throughout China.222 Shenzhen
216 Ephedrine is a traditional ingredient of traditional Chinese medicine but also a precursor in
the manufacture of amphetamine and, consequently, difficult to monitor as noted by the
Director, Anti-Narcotics Division, Ministry of Public Security. See M. Deng, ‘Narcotics Control in
China: The Present and the Future’, in Broadhurst (ed.), Bridging the Gap, pp. 227-34.
217 L. C. Ip, ‘Changing Trends in Narcotics Trade: The Hong Kong Experience’, in Broadhurst
(ed.), Bridging the Gap, pp. 235-9; Z. L. Chen and K. C. Huang, ‘Drug Problems in China:
Recent Trends, Countermeasures, and Challenges’, International Journal of Offender Therapy
and Comparative Criminology, vol. 51, no. 1 (2007), pp. 98-109.
218 A. Lam, ‘Drug Gangs from HK Coaching Mainlanders’, South China Morning Post, 23 June
2006; Z. Xie, M. Hu and X. Zhou, ‘Reflections on Cracking Down on Drug Crime in Guangzhou
2003’, Journal of Political Science and Law, vol. 21, no. 2 (2004), pp. 82-4 (in Chinese); X.
Zhou, ‘Triad Societies in Guangdong (V)’, Journal of Political Science and Law, vol. 19, no. 6
(2002), pp. 10-3 (in Chinese); Frederic Dannen, ‘Partners in Crime: China Bonds with Hong
Kong’s Underworld’, The New Republic, 14 and 21 July 1997, pp. 20, 21.
219 Over the period 2002–2004, the Beijing Office (a liaison office set up by Security Bureau and
HK Immigration Department) recorded 293 requests for assistance from HK residents detained
in the Mainland. Most were arrested in Guangdong (64.5 percent) and 44 percent were
detained for smuggling/manufacturing/or possession of narcotic drugs; see ‘Examination of
Estimates of Expenditure 2005–06: Controlling Officer's (Beijing Office) Reply to Written
Question, SB146’, HSAR Legislative Council.
220 Xie, Hu and Zhou, ‘Reflections on Cracking Down on Drug Crime in Guangzhou 2003’; Xia,
‘Organizational Formations of Organised Crime in China’, p. 13.
221 C. Y. Chow, ‘Former Shenzhen Police Chief to Face Prosecution’, South China Morning
Post, 7 December 2004.
222 X. F. Zhang, ‘Organised Crime in Mainland China and its Counter-Measures Against Cross-
Border Organised Crime’, in Broadhurst (ed.), Bridging the Gap, pp. 249-53; Chen, ‘Secret
The Transformation of Triad ‘Dark Societies’ in Hong Kong
Volume 5, Number 4 (Summer 2009) - 35 -
therefore, in accord with ‘routine activity’ theory,223 became the initial focal
point of triad criminal activity because the absence of a hostile law
enforcement environment converged with a ready demand for illicit services
and the capacity to supply these services.224
A United Nations survey of the prevalence of crime victimisation among
Chinese businesses in four cities (HK, Shenzhen, Shanghai and Xian;
n=5117) showed that the prevalence of crime against business was highest
in Shenzhen: bribery and corruption was 2.5 times more likely in Shenzhen
than HK.225 Perceptions about the level of crime and security problems were
also highest among Shenzhen business: 58 percent of them compared to 37
percent of HK businesses. The prevalence of extortion, a typical triad-
related offence was similar in Shenzhen (3.1 percent) and HK (3.3 percent)
but the prevalence of corruption was much lower in HK (2.7 percent) than in
Shenzhen (9.1 percent). Extortion in HK was reported almost exclusively by
small retail businesses whereas in Shenzhen it was reported by a diverse
range of business including medium size enterprises.
Although we lack reliable independent temporal measures of triad-related
activity, displacement of commercial vice crime from the hostile environment
of HK to Southern China appears to have occurred throughout the 1990s
and onward. This displacement process may also be regarded as a form of
crime transplantation (or ‘colonisation’ cf. Varese 2006226).
Before the enactment of OSCO in 1994, the assumed hierarchical-like
structure of triad societies directed most law enforcement resources to
attempt to suppress triad subculture but at the same time hindered them
from effectively dealing with organised crime as an enterprise. This paper
used lethal violence by triad-related groups and individuals to explain some
of the features of the nexus between criminal groups and the facilitators of
organised crime. We have sought to understand the nature of triad-related
‘dark societies’ and their enduring forms of criminal society that nurture and
service underground capitalism and periodically surface as threats to the
Societies and Organized Crime in Contemporary China’; Xia, ‘Assessing and Explaining the
Resurgence of China’s Criminal Underworld’; Xia, ‘Organizational Formations of Organised
Crime in China’.
223 L. Cohen and M. Felson, ‘Social Change and Crime Rate Trends: A Routine Activity
Approach’, American Sociological Review, vol. 44 (1979), pp. 588-608.
224 Xia, ‘Assessing and Explaining the Resurgence of China’s Criminal Underworld’; Xia,
‘Organizational Formations of Organised Crime in China’.
225 R. Broadhurst, K. W. Lee, and J. Bacon-Shone, ‘UN International Crime Against Business
Survey (UNICBS): Preliminary Results for Four Cities in PR China’, 20th Annual Conference of
the ANZSOC, 23-27 September 2007, Adelaide.
226 F. Varese, ‘How Mafia’s Migrate: The Case of the ‘Ndrangheta in Northern Italy’, Law and
Society, vol. 40, no. 2 (2006), pp. 411-44.
Roderic Broadhurst and Lee King Wa
- 36 - Security Challenges
state. The violence of the triad or ‘dark society’ plays a role in the success of
the various forms of criminal enterprise that have expanded in the lucrative
broader China and international illicit markets. These illicit markets, history
would suggest, survive in environments where corruption flourishes and
government underestimates,227 or colludes with the actors in, underground
economies—the net becomes so wide that the fish swim through—as the
Chinese idiom suggests. Some of these markets are relatively new such as
copyright theft, waste disposal, internet-driven gambling or scams while
smuggling (including exotic animal species and products228), adulteration of
products,229 tax avoidance and money laundering continue to evolve and
exploit the disconnect between international standards regarding money
laundering and local practice.230
With the advent of the ICAC in the 1970s, the enactment of OSCO and
related laws in the 1990s, law enforcement shifted from symbiosis (partial
capture) to one of concerted hostility towards organised crime and sustained
suppression of triad subculture that helped transform them to less visible and
more flexible forms. More research is needed to explore and clarify the
impact of the post-OSCO enforcement strategy, the role of penalty
enhancement, the effects on triad morphology and the extent of any spill-
over from the political–criminal nexus in China.231 The presence of triads
remains significant, although members are as likely to appear in business
suits as sporting tattoos, and to engage in financial manipulation as well as
extortion.232 Nevertheless, we lack the auto-biographical accounts or the
transcripts of special commission and the testimony of former triads as has
occurred among mafia groups in the United States or Italy.233 Thus our key
actors in contemporary ‘dark societies’ with some few exceptions remain
elusive and, until comprehensive evidence is assembled, the subject of
conjecture rather than clarity.
Attempts at suppression via confiscation of assets and enhanced penalties
appear to require strengthening, and vigilance must be constantly
227 According to Mei, ‘China’s Social Transition and Organized Crime’, many scholars and
legislators [e.g. Wang Hang Bing Deputy Chair of the National Congress, PRC] deny that
organised crime exists—perhaps as Mei argues because it does not fit the conventional Hung or
Qing form.
228 B. Moyle, ‘The Black Market in China for Tiger Products’, Global Crime, vol. 10, no. 1-2
(2009), pp. 124-43.
229 Mei, ‘China’s Social Transition and Organized Crime’, p. 212.
230 Z. P. Sham, ‘Money Laundering Laws and Regulations: China and Hong Kong’, Journal of
Money Laundering Control, vol. 9, no. 4 (2006), pp. 379-400; P. He, ‘Money Laundering a True
Problem in China?’, International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology,
vol. 50, no. 1 (2006), pp. 101-6.
231 T. W. Lo, The Political-Criminal Nexus: The Hong Kong Experience; Chin and Godson,
‘Organized Crime and the Political–Criminal Nexus in China’.
232 A trend also noted by Hill, ‘The changing face of the Yakuza’.
233 Paoli, ‘The Paradoxes of Organized Crime’; see however, the judicial reminisces of Liu, Hong
Kong Triad Societies: Before and After 1997; and Yu, The Structure and Subculture of Triad
Societies in Hong Kong, with respect to recollections of incarcerated triad.
The Transformation of Triad ‘Dark Societies’ in Hong Kong
Volume 5, Number 4 (Summer 2009) - 37 -
renewed.234 Efforts in China to curtail corruption and reduce organised
crime will also be crucial and need to be guided by greater clarity in the PRC
criminal law, firmer use of Communist party disciplinary mechanisms,235
genuine transparency in the oversight role of all levels of the CCP Political
and Legal committees,236 and recognition of the impact of globalisation.237
Periodic ‘strike hard’ (Yanda) mass line anti-crime campaigns by the public
security bureau and courts, such as the recent strikes against so-called
‘protective umbrella’ (corrupt officials) have proven largely ineffective.238
Countermeasures will succeed only to the extent that corruption can be
curtailed and success in mainland China will be equally important in HK’s
attempts to suppress dark societies. Although the Communist party may not
be winning the war against corruption, there was “no evidence that
corruption is on the verge of swamping it”.239 However, the planned
extension of local elections from townships to the county level will need to
guard against the risk of increasing the influence of ‘black-gold’ politics, vote-
buying and corruption. But “crossing the river by feeling for the stones”, to
quote Deng Xiao-ping, along with continued effort by Beijing will be part of
the process of finding a Chinese approach that works.240
The rapid economic development in Southern China disrupted the
profitability of illicit services and goods in HK by offering highly competitive
markets in Shenzhen and elsewhere. This raw capitalism provided a lifeline
for embattled triads and illicit entrepreneurs. Triads, like many business
enterprises, headed north to look for safer and richer opportunities in the
234 Jacobs, Freil and Radick, Gotham Unbound.
235 T. Gong, ‘The Party Discipline Inspection in China: Its Evolving Trajectory and Embedded
Dilemmas’, Crime, Law and Social Change, vol. 49 (2008), pp. 139-52; H. M. Cheng, ‘Insider
Trading in China: The Case for the Chinese Securities Regulatory Commission’, Journal of
Financial Crime, vol. 15, no. 2 (2008), pp. 165-78.
236 T. Gong, ‘Dangerous collusion: corruption as a collective venture in contemporary China’,
Communist and Post-Communist Studies, Vol. 35 (2002), pp. 85-103.
237 G. Jin, 2004, ‘Organizations of a Secret Society Nature and the Characteristics of the Crime
They Commit: A Survey Based on 32 Cases of a Secret Society Nature’, Journal of Chinese
People’s Public Security University, vol. 112, no. 6 (2004), pp. 68-88. The existence of secret
societies or “gangs with the nature of a secret society” continues to be a source of ideological
debate; see Xie and Wang, ‘Research on Organized Crime: Ten-Year Review, Evaluation and
238 M. S. Tanner, ‘Campaign Style Policing in China and its Critics’, B. Bakken (ed.), Crime,
Punishment and Policing in China (Lanham MD: Rowman and Littlefield 2005), pp. 181-9; S.
Trevaskes, ‘Severe and Swift Justice’, British Journal of Criminology, vol. 47, no. 1 (2006), pp.
23-41; M. Manion, ‘Lessons for Mainland China from Ant-corruption Reform in Hong Kong’,
China Review, vol. 4 (Fall 2004), p. 5.
239 A. Wedeman, ‘Win, Lose, or Draw? Chinas Quarter Century War on Corruption’, Crime, Law
and Social Change, vol.49 (2008), p. 24; see also A. Wedeman, ‘Anticorruption Campaigns and
the Intensification of Corruption in China’; R. G. Broadhurst and J. H. Liu, ‘Introduction: Crime,
Law and Criminology in China’, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology, vol. 37
(2004), pp. 1-12.
240 W. Clem, ‘Crackdown to Curb Influence of Triads’, South China Morning Post, 31 July 2009;
Chen, ‘Secret Societies and Organized Crime in Contemporary China’; M. K. Lewis, ‘China’s
Implementation of the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime’,
Asian Journal of Criminology, vol. 2, no. 2 (2007), pp. 179-94.
Roderic Broadhurst and Lee King Wa
- 38 - Security Challenges
PRC. Recent declines in the engagement of HK business in Guangdong,
especially manufacturing, and the increased interest in land development in
the previously restricted ‘Frontier Closed Area’ in the New Territories may
also herald further shifts in the fortunes and scope of HK urban-based
criminal entrepreneurs and the triads or dark societies on either side of the
border that thrive on the demand for illicit services and goods. More than
ever before the task of countering the triad and the growth of serious crime
depends on the concerted efforts of the public security authorities in greater
Professor Roderic Broadhurst is an Associate Investigator at the ARC Centre for Excellence in
Policing and Security, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, RegNet, Australian
National University.
Lee King Wa holds a PhD on Triad related homicide in Hong Kong and is at the Department of
Sociology, Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Full-text available
This article investigates the link between state capacity and the abalone poaching industry in South Africa. We argue that poaching can be traced back to the architecture of the apartheid state in South Africa and the lack of development in marginalised communities. This marginalisation continues today and the penal system used as a tool to supress social mismanagement has not been effective. The poaching industry involves a number of actors and the process is both organised and transnational, with Asia the primary end market. However, it is argued that it is not correct to blame ‘the other’ (Asian crime groups and markets) when dissecting the increase in abalone poaching. To focus solely on criminal groups and to see the criminal as an outsider from society and a dangerous member of a distinct racial and social group disregards history and the policies of the state which are contributory factors to ongoing poaching. Given the size of the market, flexibility of organised crime and the states lack of legitimacy and capacity on a local level, there will be a sustained continuation of poaching.
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This report presents the key results of the crime victim surveys that were carried out as part of the fifth sweep of the International Crime Victim Surveys conducted in 2004/2005. A large portion of the these data are derived from the European Survey on Crime and Safety (EU ICS), organised by a consortium lead by Gallup Europe and co-financed by the European Commission, DGRTD. Wherever possible, results on 2004 have been compared with results from surveys carried out in earlier rounds since 1989. The ICVS project was started back in 1989 because there was a need for reliable crime statistics that could be used for international comparisons. Statistics on police-recorded crimes cannot be used for this purpose because the legal definitions of the crimes differ across countries. Besides, there are large differences in willingness of the public to report crimes to the police. Recording practices and counting rules of the police vary greatly as well. Results of nation-specific crime victim surveys have become the preferred source of information on levels of crime in many developed countries. However, surveys such as the National Crime Victim Survey in the USA and the British Crime Survey differ in questionnaires and other key design features to the extent that results are incomparable across countries. The International Crime Victim Survey (ICVS) is a programme of sample surveys to look at householders’ experiences with crime with the use of standardised questionnaires and other design elements. Reviews by independent scholars have confirmed that ICVS results are more comparable across nations than those of nation-specific surveys (Lynch, 2006). Nevertheless, the limits of the ICVS must also be recognised. Full standardisation of all design aspects has proven to be unattainable, especially if surveys in developing countries are included. Although there are no reasons to assume that comparability has in any way been systematically compromised, divergent design features such as the mode of interviewing and the period in which the fieldwork was done, may have affected results of individual countries in unknown ways. Also, since the samples interviewed were relatively small (2000 in most countries and 800 in most cities), all estimates are subject to sampling error. The ICVS and EU ICS cover ten conventional crimes, broken down into vehicle related crimes (theft of a car, theft from a car, theft of a motorcycle or moped, theft of a bicycle), burglary, attempted burglary, theft of personal property and contact crimes (robbery, sexual offences and assault & threat). In most countries in this report, questions have been added to the questionnaire on experiences with street level corruption, consumer fraud, including internet-based fraud and credit card theft, drug-related problems and hate crime. For most categories of crime trends over time can be studied in a broad selection of countries. Other subjects covered by the questionnaire are reporting to the police, satisfaction with the police, distribution and need of victim support, fear of crime, use of preventive measures and attitudes towards sentencing. This report presents data from 30 countries, including the majority of developed nations. Also the data from 33 main cities of a selection of developed and developing countries are presented in this report. Altogether data are presented from 38 different countries. For the first time data are available on Hong Kong (Special Administrative Region of China – SAR China) and Istanbul (Turkey). Surveys were also done in Mexico, Johannesburg (Republic of South Africa – RSA), Lima (Peru), Buenos Aires (Argentina), Sao Paulo & Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Phnom Penh (Cambodia) and Maputo (Mozambique). In the tables and graphs results of developed countries are presented as a special subcategory.
Full-text available
This study investigates the major pockets of activity of Chinese criminal groups from 2000–2003, throughout the world except for Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. The main geographical regions of such activity are Australia, Europe, Japan, Latin America, North America, Russia, South Africa, and Southeast Asia. The report notes the participation of such groups in all major types of crime, including trafficking of human beings and various commodities, financial crimes, extortion, gambling, prostitution, and violent crimes. For the purposes of this report, the term “Chinese” refers to individuals of purely Chinese ethnic origin living in any part of the world. The criminal groups described vary in size and degree of structure; they include syndicates, triads, gangs, and ad hoc combinations of organization members and non-members. Because of this variety, an increasing tendency toward ad hoc activity, and the lack of specificity in many open sources, the term “group” is used when a criminal activity is not attributed to a specific type of organization. The report's sources are several recent monographs, journal articles on various aspects of such crime in the geographical regions where it occurs, and Internet reports by journalists and law enforcement agencies. Some sources published prior to the time period covered by the report have been used to provide background and establish long-term trends.
This book explores the theoretical and empirical dimensions of community crime prevention in China, examining in particular the role of social capital in a rapidly modernizing economic, social and political context. in doing so it provides a vivid picture of contemporary crime and crime control in China as well as analyzing the very particular Chinese approach to community crime prevention, looking at such social institutions as the household registration system, the neighbourhood committee, the work unit and the public security bureau.
Presents a detailed account of many of the issues relating to Chinese "secret societies" and the use of triad language. The article emphasizes the pressing need to update and extend intelligent research in this area, particularly with regard to current practices of triad societies and their relationship to organized crime, in Hong Kong and overseas. (39 references) (CK)
This article gives a brief overview of how Chinese criminals, residing in the Netherlands, organize their illegal businesses. It will focus on the smuggling of precursor chemicals PMK and BMK, which are used for the production of MDMA and amphetamine respectively. The Chinese crime community that is being described here is predominantly Cantonese speaking. Chinese criminals from Hong Kong and the Guangdong province who live in Europe have been traditionally active in the smuggling of various illegal goods (they are not involved in human smuggling). Since the early 1990s, these criminals have shifted their attention to the trading of precursor chemicals that are smuggled from China. In describing the organization of their activities, the article will also address the backgrounds of the Chinese criminals and several cultural aspects that play a significant role in the way they organize their crimes. Finally, several recommendations will be put forward that have to be taken into account when investigating Chinese criminal groups.
This paper describes Hong Kong's first successful money laundering case, including the key role played by the local subsidiary of the now-defunct Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI). Hong Kong is revealed to be the organizational and financial lynchpin of a heroin smuggling syndicate stretching from Southeast Asia's Golden Triangle to New York City. In addition, the paper analyzes the development of anti-money laundering legislation in Hong Kong and evaluates the former British colony's prospects for remaining East Asia's premier offshore finance center following the territory's return to Chinese sovereignty on July 1, 1997.