The triads, the Kuomintang and Hong Kong’s “democracy riots”

February 02, 2021

The triads, the Kuomintang and Hong Kong’s “democracy riots”

By Ji Pei for the Saker Blog

To put the World in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must first put the Family in order; to put the Family in order, we must first cultivate our personal lives by setting our hearts right. Confucius

The extent of the criminal and corrupt past of Hong Kong and Taiwan is little known in the West.

People know that Hong Kong has been a British colony and the center of the opium trade with China from the the nineteenth century on, but this often remains an abstract knowledge for most readers, who often ignore to which extent this “trade” was tied to blackmailing, corruption, money laundering, war, colonial exploitation and other criminal activities. Part of the huge growth of British banking and of the financial power of the City of London in the 19th century resulted notably from the profits from the opium sold in China. This trade grew from around 5000 crates of opium sold in 1820, to 96,000 crates sold in 1873. This took place against the fierce resistance of the Chinese imperial government, which for this reason had to suffer the three so called Opium Wars waged by Great Britain against China. Expressed in tons, the British opium exports reached very nearly ten thousand tons during the year 1873. An incredible quantity for a substance sold in grams!

Colonial exploitation and crime expanded to new heights after 1949 in Hong Kong and, for that matter, also in Taiwan. Why?

Western people interested by Chinese history usually know that the Kuomintang (KMT) came to power in China as a result of Chiang Kai-shek’s 1926 “Northern Expedition” against the northern warlords. With 6000 Whampoa cadets and 85,000 troops, Chiang took Wuhan in September, 1926, and Shanghai and Nanking in March 1927. Many also know, if only by having read the famous French Author André Malraux’s moving text on this event, that Chiang Kai-shek organized the liquidation of the communists in Shanghai in April, 1927, and that he used the help of the Shanghai criminal syndicates, the so called triads to this aim. What is much less known is the incredible high level of influence played by the triads and by crime in the history of the Kuomintang government of China until its defeat at the hands of Mao Tse-tung’s and Chu Teh’s communists in 1949. This ignorance is due to the fact that the USA, which supported the Kuomintang-based anti-communist government in China during the war with Japan and later in Taiwan after the liberation of China, did everything to let Chiang and the KMT appear clean and solid. They thus laid a coating of governmental respectability on everything that concerned Chiang Kai-shek and his KMT.

In the twenties of the twentieth century, Shanghai’s underworld was dominated by three triads: Pockmarked Huang’s (Huang Chih-jung’s) Red Gang, which would soon be the most militant anti-communist force in China after Big-eared Tu (Tu Yueh-sheng) took the gang’s operational direction, Tu’s own Green Gang, and the Blue Gang. These three triads associated under Big-eared Tu’s pressure to exercise a monopoly of opium handling in order to raise the price. Tu was soon pulling all strings in Shanghai, not only in the underworld, but also in the city’s administration (the gangsters could even read the mail and gather information on banking operations) and in the police. He also had the best connections to the Kung banking family and to the Soong finance dynasty, thus combining the resources of the Kung banking empire, the leverage of the Soong family and the mammoth clout of the green gang. With Chiang Kai-shek, Tu would soon add political power to this extraordinary pyramid of forceful means.

Chiang Kai-shek, the Kuomintang and the triads

And here comes violent-tempered Chiang Kai-shek, born around one year before Big-eared Tu left his mother’s womb in 1888. In 1906, young Chiang left for Japan to receive a military training. On arriving, he discovered that he did not own the official recommendation necessary for that. Soon, he came in contact with the Chinese expatriate community, many of which were followers of Sun Yat-sen’s republican movement. One of them, Ch’en Ch’i-mei, one of Sun’s most ardent recruiters and member of Pockmarked Huang’s Shanghai Red Gang, befriended him. Back in China where he attended the lessons of a military academy, Chiang finally obtained a permission to follow a three-year course at the famous Shimbu Gakko military academy. There in Japan, Ch’en put Chiang up for membership of Sun’s political movement and he was accepted. During one of his visits to China with Ch’en, Chiang Kai-shek was also enrolled into the Green Gang. Involving himself in the gang’s activities, he took part in extortion, armed robberies and a jail break. “His police record in the British-administered International Settlements grew over the years to include murder, extortion, numerous armed robberies, and assorted other crimes.” (Seagrave, page 156).

In 1911, now graduated from Shimbu Gakko, Chiang joined Ch’en for the revolution in October with a unit of Sun Yat-sen’s Republican army composed entirely of Green Gang personnel. After the success of the revolution, Ch’en was appointed military governor of Shanghai and Chiang was made commander of a regiment. He spent the years of WW I mostly in Shanghai (and in Japan when Yuan Shih-kai’s secret police was after him and after Ch’en), usually active in Green Gang extortions and also assisting Ch’en Ch’i-mei who was now chairman of the Kuomintantg’s Central Committee. After Ch’en’s murder by the secret police in May, 1916, Chiang found himself at the heart of a hefty realignment of power in the Kuomintang. He became senior political assistant to Sun Yat-sen and, in 1917, his military adviser in Guangzhou, at the same time always closely working with Big-eared Tu on insider dealings in Shanghai’s stock market. His Shanghai patrons (Tu, the Soongs and wealthy industrialists, bankers like Kungs and merchants) wanted him to ingratiate himself with Sun to increase their common influence upon the Kuomintang. He fulfilled the task with success and was himself made chairman of the Kuomintang’s military academy in Whampoa and chief of staff of the Kuomintang army. Following Sun Yat-sen’s death (1925), Sun’s favored successor, left of center politician Liao Chung-k’ai, was gunned by five Green Gang killers. The murder was attributed to right wing influence: this eliminated the conservative candidates to Sun’s seat, while other leftist candidates couldn’t secure enough support because the workers’ strikes called by the Communist Party scared too many. Thus in the end, it was the “middle of the road” candidate Chiang Kai-shek, Big-eared Tu’s secret candidate of choice, who was elected president of the Kuomintang, the ‘Nationalist Party’. Chiang organized immediately the election of Curio Chang (Chang Ching-chang, another Green Gang friend of Tu with wide connections) to the chairmanship of the KMT’s Central Committee. “With them in charge, the Kuomintang was finally thoroughly criminalized.” (Booth, page 143). Two years later, Chiang and the Green Gang would carry against the communists the heavy blow mentioned at the beginning of this article (the Shanghai 1927 communists’ massacre), thus opening the long civil war between KMT and CPC that would end 1949 with Chiang Kaishek’s defeat at the hands of Mao Tse-tung and Chou Teh and with the establishing of the People’s Republic of China. Chiang fled to Taiwan with his defeated army.

New Regime on Mainland China: the triads flee to Hong Kong and Taiwan

Whatever position one has on communism, one must admit that Mao’s new regime proscribed the triads with a vigor never seen before. The triads were considered a real threat: the Kuomintang had used them as they had used the Kuomintang, virtually running (and ruining) the country together. So the communists feared and abhorred triad criminality: triads had plundered China for decades and in their eyes, this had to stop. Within three years of the communists’ victory, opium got completely removed from Chinese society, the nation “clean” again after more than one century and the triads bereft of their most lucrative business. Addicts were treated sympathetically, farmers ordered to grow food crops instead of poppies. Opium-den owners were publicly humiliated and sent for political reeducation in labor camps. Dealers and traffickers were shot in public after brief trials. The triads got outlawed all over the country.

It is easy to imagine where the triad bosses and members that did not get caught by the communists would go: to Taiwan and to Hong Kong.

As a colony, Hong Kong had attracted Chinese triads almost from the beginning. The more affluent the colony became, the more worthwhile crime also grew. So by 1848, Hong Kong was already considered the nerve center for triad activity all over South China. Hundred years later, by 1949, it looked as if Hong Kong would become the biggest criminal city on earth: prostitution, protection, gambling rackets, narcotics trade, nothing was missing. It is in this situation that refugee members of the big Chinese triads (especially the Shanghainese ones) arrived to Hong Kong and Taiwan in great numbers. Big-eared Tu and his Green Gang chose Hong Kong, not Taiwan, as their mainstay. A new scourge came with them, Heroin: the first Hong Kong heroin laboratories were financed by Big-eared Tu and went into production in 1950. “With an orchestrated, vicious ruthlessness, they also started their own extortion rackets and staged armed robberies on Chinese jewelers’ and gold shops. Well organized and financed, they were soon challenging the local societies (…), coordinating vice with the efficiency of corporate managers. They opened dance halls full of ‘taxi dancers’ who, charging clients by the dance, in turn paid the Green Gang operators for the right to work in their establishments. They ran brothels and massage-parlors, and administered opium and gambling dens. Not content with this, they bribed immigration officials, then preyed upon wealthy criminal exiles, offering protection to avoid deportation or to avoid being sent back to China. Wealthy non-criminals were forced to invest in Green Gang-controlled legitimate business.” (Booth, page 264). However, not everything developed smoothly in Hong Kong for the Green Gang. They had to ward off the competition of the local triads, and the arrest of a high member of the gang, Li Choi-fat in 1952, was a serious setback.

For Chiang Kai-shek in Taiwan, on the contrary, the refugee triads from the mainland were welcome. Here again one may say: ‘With them in charge, the island’s new government was now fully criminalized’. Chiang’s government itself consisted almost exclusively of triads, which could so continue their life of crime. They associated themselves into a new government sponsored society, the United Bamboo Society, which helped other triads to gain foothold in Hong Kong. They also formed an effective branch of Chiang Kai-shek’s secret service. Chiang had originally even hoped to be able to establish some political power in Hong Kong to run the colony as another KMT center of power against communist China.

After riots in Hong Kong’s refugee settlements in 1956, during which triads had supported the rioters, the British colonial government increased its fight against the secret societies. The triads had to adopt a low profile and to reconsolidate their position. At the same time, they re-oriented their criminal business to take advantage of the worldwide growing level of wellbeing. “Within four years of the riots, they were in a position to internationalize the narcotics trade. A new triad era was dawning.” (Booth, page 275).

The worldwide narcotic trade

Soon, the triads developed their infrastructure, increased their grip on Hong Kong, and organized during the Vietnam War an essentially Asian-wide, and later a worldwide Heroin trafficking. To gather the huge quantities of morphine base they needed, they set up a purchase agreement with Kuomintang general Li Wen-huan who lived in the Thai jungles in the so called ‘Golden Triangle’ ready to strike at communist China, and who paid his troops by selling Heroin. They also had agreements with Burmese insurgents, with General Rattikone, head of the Laotian army, with the Vietnamese heroin ring of air Vice-marshal Ky etc., thus controlling unlimited sources of morphine base. The CIA, Air America, Continental Air Service and Laos Development Air Service flew the narcotics for them to Thailand and to Hong Kong. In this way, the Hong Kong triads could soon control the entire heroin smuggling, processing and trade from the source to distribution. Hong Kong was the place which accommodated the Heroin labs, where the worldwide income was gathered, laundered and invested in casinos, in general and in commodity trading companies, in commercial property, cinemas, restaurants and bars. Triad bosses like the Ma brothers founded the Oriental Press Group, the main publication of which was the Oriental Daily News, one of Hong Kong’s most popular daily papers. They took part in high profile philanthropic activities, were accepted on the select Hong Kong racecourse and even in the exclusive Royal Jockey Club and lived in luxurious mansions.

After the end of the Vietnam war in 1973, the Hong Kong triads organized connections to the American Mafia (some say they even met Mafia boss Meyer Lansky), to the French Corsican crime syndicates, the French Marseilles gangsters and others. Soon, heroin addiction rose sharply in most Western countries and the triads’ income rose correspondingly. Meanwhile, the fight of the British authorities against the Hong Kong triads was most of the time rather a joke. Even the Ma brothers, if arrested, were released on appeal, or went to Taiwan if necessary. Many high level traffickers were acquitted. Why would police officers or judges risk their lives, seeing the attitude of their bosses: according to a Sunday Times report, the triad’s Oriental Press Group had donated considerable sums to the Conservative Party funds. Even Christopher Patten, sung of as the so incredibly democratic minded last governor of Hong Kong, “attended functions at the Oriental Press Group headquarters and gave his blessing to the founding of a new English-language daily newspaper, the Eastern Express. John Major, as party leader as well as prime minister, entertained [triad boss] Ma to tea at Downing Street.” (Booth, page 295). No change from the 19th century: Great Britain’s elites (if not the poor British youth addicted to Heroin!), Hong Kong’s elites ‒ and their banks! ‒ have always thrived on opium. And the USA always followed the example.

Chinese corruption and Chinese Fight against corruption

Everybody knows that in the early eighties, Deng Xiaoping told the Chinese to “Get rich” in order to launch the process of building up efficiently a market economy to strive out of underdevelopment. The Chinese people obeyed and the economy started to thrive and to boast incredible GDP growth rates never seen before. Obviously, in this process, quite a few Chinese would transgress the laws of morals, and corruption grew again in China at a rate never seen since 1949. Hong Kong triads reestablished business with the new Chinese criminal scene. Even the People’s Liberation Army, the communist party and the administration were caught in this corrupting frenzy. But because the Chinese communist party is – with more than eighty million members – the biggest people’s party worldwide, the law abiding majority of this party let their party leaders understand that they had to do something against corruption, or else… Since China had and has energetic leaders like Jiang Zemin, Zhu Rongji or now Xi Jinping, who organized a war against corruption never seen of in our parts of the world, things started to change: in the meantime, even high level officials or ministers found guilty of corruption have been condemned to heavy sentences (even death penalty) in China, whereas similar persons in the West get a few months on probation for the same level of corruption, if at all.

However, the corruption fighting leaders of the Communist Party had a problem: if criminal or corrupt members of the Chinese society and of the party could flee to Hong Kong before being arrested, they couldn’t be brought to trial in their homeland because the ex-colony had no extradition law. That was a real problem for China’s politics and for China’s justice.

In the final months of British rule under Governor Patten, Hong Kong had passed laws barring the extradition to mainland China due to claimed concerns about the quality and objectivity of the mainland’s justice. This in spite of the huge progress made in China in the field of justice, especially since the law of 2004 strongly reinforcing the position of the defending counsels in court, and in spite of the fact that colonial justice itself had always been a caricature of justice, since in Hong Kong Chinese people could never be tried by Chinese judges, but only by British ones.

Beijing formulated very early its wish to see this Patten “non-extradition” bill changed for a law allowing extradition, but displayed much patience in order to avoid doing violence to the autonomy and anti-communist feelings of part of the Hong Kong population. But the constant misuse of Hong Kong’s protection by persons menaced by the Xi Jinping government’s legal, useful and successful fight against corruption and graft led to an increase of Beijing’s pressure for a change in this field. Beijing let it know that more than 300 wanted fugitives were hiding in Hong Kong. Finally, the Hong Kong government decided in February, 2019 to amend the law and to allow for extradition on a case-by-case basis with countries not already covered by mutual agreements—and this would include mainland China and Macao, doing away with the geographical restrictions on the PRC in the existing rules.

Street war against extradition law

Opposition to this change manifested itself very soon. Aside of the old anti-communist prejudice of a part of Hong Kong’s population, this change obviously affected huge interests: the financial interests of the Hong Kong triads which earned millions with the corrupt part of mainland China’s industry, banking and import-export business, the financial interests of the Taiwan triads doing similar businesses, the financial interests of the money laundering and money manipulating British and overseas Chinese banks, the financial interests of Hong Kong’s big import-export houses, the financial and political interests of Taiwan’s Kuomintang party, the huge political and geopolitical interests of the imperialist NATO countries, especially Great Britain and the USA and their secret services and NGOs, which have been practicing the containment of China since 1949 and which dream of a weak China which could be recolonized, and finally the financial and political interests of the infamous One Percent billionaires dreaming of globalization and world power and who saw there an opportunity to sabotage China’s Belt and Road Initiative. With such interests ready to finance and support opposition against the new extradition bill, and within the framework of the anti-China business war waged by the Trump government against the Chinese government, it is clear that huge rioting activities and widespread protests were soon mobilized on a very large scale against China in the streets of Hong Kong and Kowloon during the whole of 2019 and part of 2020.

The incredibly brutal and nasty protests against the extradition law in Hong Kong thus lasted more than one year. The West has probably never before invested so much money and political influencing in a single China containment political struggle, fortunately to no avail: bar associations, chambers of commerce, law societies, so called human rights groups, journalist’s associations, dozens of colonial era officials including of course Chris Patten himself, the whole of the Western mainstream media and dozens of government representatives in the line of Great Britain, the EU, the USA, Canada, etc. have criticized the People’s Republic’s policy. A nastier intervention into the internal affairs of a country is difficult to find. The world can rest thankful to the Peoples Republic of China for having shown much patience: the units of the People’s Liberation Army established in Hong Kong never intervened except to clean up the debris of destroyed shop fronts. Having brought seven hundred million citizens out of poverty within twenty-five years, China is now a strong, proud dragon that obviously no longer needs to brawl with misled students and louts. One only feels sorry for the tens of thousands of these naïve students and other young people who believed the lies of their agitators and thought to fight for liberty and democracy, whereas they were fighting for the financial and political interests of criminals, of money launders, globalists and of corrupt politicians.

In the end, an extradition law had to be. And it is now effective in Hong Kong.


Literature:

One could fill many pages with titles of books on the Chinese triads, on the history of Kuomintang China, on the history of Hong Kong, etc. The two books mentioned in this article bring the most important facts together in attractive, easy readable texts:

SEAGRAVE, Sterling, 1985: The Soong dynasty, Corgi Books, London

BOOTH, Martin,, 1999: The dragon syndicates. Bantam Books, London

See also: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2019_hong_kong_extradition_bill

Dr. Ji Pei was lecturer for Chinese history at a European University.

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