The flashing, strobing neon signs— some ringed by thousands of blinking light bulbs—glare at pedestrians and motorists on Hong Kong’s Nathan Road like a psychedelic hallucination. The people on the street are almost as frenetic, as they avidly seek the flashiest, gaudiest and most expensive good time available before the lights of Hong Kong change in 1997—when the
People’s Republic of China takes over the British colony. Inside the discos on Nathan Road, the most elegantly dressed men, the ones spending the most money and accompanied by the most beautiful women, do not provide their names. They are known instead by number—always divisible by three—or by titles like “the Red Pole.” Treated with deference and respect, they are among the most powerful members of the richest, most farreaching and most ruthless criminal organizations in the world—the Chinese Triads. And like tens of thousands of honest and legitimate Hong Kong citizens who hope to leave the colony before the 1997 deadline, the Triad chieftains are also laying plans to depart— many of them to Canada.
In fact, the Triads’ advance teams are already active in this country. The 14K and Kung Lok Triads are growing forces in the Chinatowns of Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary and
Montreal. Said Const. William Chu of the Vancouver police Asian Crime Section: “The Triads have been in Toronto since the late 1970s. They surfaced in Vancouver in 1987. They have made their connections.”
Around the Pacific Rim, the Triads’ crimes are far more ambitious—and chilling—than those of North America’s Mafia. Among Hong Kong’s 5.8 million residents alone, police say,
there are over 300,000 full-fledged Triad members. By comparison, most estimates put the number of Mafia members in North America at around 2,000. And with a discipline unmatched by their North American criminal rivals, Triad foot soldiers are sworn not only to secrecy and obedience, but also to put the Triad’s interests above those of their families and even above their own lives.
Exodus: According to Hong Kong government sources, in the past few years there has been a steady exodus of top Triad leaders. Their favored destinations are the Chinatowns of Canada, the United States, Australia and Europe. Canadian police sources say that at least one high-ranking Triad member has reached Canada, arriving two years ago by way of Europe. And the Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post reported in November that a leader of Hong Kong’s Tan Yee Triad, nicknamed Ngau Kan (Bull Tendon), had
also immigrated to Canada with his family.
Triad chiefs like Kan, and the leaders of other crime syndicates with such names as the 14K, Wo Sing Wo and United Bamboo, control multibillion-dollar empires. Noted Vancouver’s Chu: “The Triads are incredibly profit-motivated, engaging in everything from pickpocketing, to murder, to trafficking heroin.” Their activities in Asia—and increasingly in Canada—extend as well to gambling, prostitution, money laundering, counterfeiting, immigrant smuggling and extortion.
Feared: The Triads’ current activities represent an astonishing evolution from their patriotic origins. The modern ones formed in southern China in the late 1600s, when five Chinese Buddhist monks swore to overthrow the Mongolian Manchu invaders who had deposed the Ming Dynasty. They took their name—and their symbol, a triangle—from the Chinese concept of the three fundamental elements of the universe: heaven, earth and man. The monks’ revolution failed, but the network of secret associations that they founded prospered. By the late 1800s, the Triads had evolved into widely feared criminal societies. During the upheavals in China after the Second World War, they aligned themselves with Chiang Kai-shek against the Red Army of Mao Tse-tung. But when the Communists seized control of mainland China in 1949, the syndicates fled to Taiwan and Hong Kong.
In six years, however, the inheritors of Mao’s China will regain Hong Kong. And in the meantime, police forces in Canada and elsewhere are bracing for the Triads’ expected attempts to relocate once more. Last November, federal Solicitor General Pierre Cadieux signed an agreement with Hong Kong’s colonial administration to increase co-operation on police monitoring of such Triad activities as heroin trafficking. And next month, police agencies from around the world will gather in Seattle to share information about the Triads. They face a major task. As the syndicates’ unbridled power and prosperity after more than three centuries of existence indicate, the Asian dons of Nathan Road are past masters at eluding detection—and enforcing their wills.
HAL QUINN in Vancouver with THOMAS LEWIS in Hong Kong
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