Historic Chinese Secret Societies and Some Strategic Implications

Author’s Note: Some twenty-three years ago, the author was asked to write about certain aspects of historic Chinese culture, especially the history of Secret Societies. This study is presented below with the very important footnote no. 1 to be found in the first paragraph about historical culture and Chinese secret societies. The author believes that the current situation with China abroad might convince us of some deeper matters of strategy and policy. The author emphasizes the high value of Dennis Bloodworth’s 1980 revised text The Chinese Looking Glass, first published in 1966 and now alluded to in footnote no. 1.

25 August 1997

Feast of King St. Louis of France

Dr.Robert D. Hickson

Professor of Strategic and Cultural Studies

United States Air Force Academy

Colorado Springs, Colorado


Some strategic-minded, highly intelligent and courageous men whom I know in the America Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have told me that they are most gravely troubled by the actual and potential national-security threats presented to the United States by the Chinese Triads (or Tongs). These FBI agents are tough and unsentimental men; deeply honorable and aware of the subversive “solvents” of our culture and our cultural security. And, they know that the Triads are historic and strategic Chinese secret societies, which are also trans-national criminal syndicatesi, and strategic assets of Chinese national power and of international oligarchical power.

These men say that, compared to the Triads, the “Narco-Trafficantes” from Latin America and the Nigerian syndicates from Africa are mere “pifflers” and “poofery.” For, the Chinese Triads are acutely intelligent, very well organized, and, when necessary, unspeakably brutal. Moreover, they are strategic operations with a long and deep history in Chinese culture, and in China’s often troubled relations with other nations and oligarchies, such as the British. The Triads, furthermore, usually speak dialects of Chinese which are unintelligible to those who know only Mandarin, and this sober fact constitutes an additional difficulty. For, how many people in Europe or in the US, even in the intelligence or crime-prevention organizations, understand the Chao Chou, Fukien, Hakka, Hokkien, or Cantonese dialects used by many of the overseas Chinese and their Triad networks? I think that the Chinese themselves already know about the linguistic incapacities of the Americans, although I am probably not allowed to tell you the statistics I reliably know.

Therefore, in light of the recent, new public status of Hong Kong, with its whole Triad apparatus, another important question arises. To what extent have the Triads themselves been strategic assets of Chinese power, both of Chinese Communists and of the old Kuomintang and current Taiwanese, especially as long-range assets of Chinese strategic intelligence and strategic intelligence operations? Given the larger cultural and strategic phenomenon of the Chinese Triads–to include their ideology and occult organization–what should Europeans themselves essentially know and eventually do about the Chinese Triads?

In Chinese culture, if one is not tied to various supportive kin groups, the secret society has always been a special way of mobility, affiliation, prosperity, and security, especially overseas. Chinese secret societies overseas are not unlike a “trans-national corporation” or a Chinese Freemasonry (Freimaurertum). The KGB (whatever “label” it now displays) still has its own trans-national corporations, like NORDEX, which is unmistakably connected to criminal syndicates and mafias, not only in the Baltics, but elsewhere. It would be very illuminating for you also to consider the Triads as a kind of Chinese “NORDEX,” and as a form of Chinese “Special Operations Forces” (SOF), both of which are strategic assets.

Look especially at the Chinese activity now in Austria, to include the use of Chinese restaurants, even in the remotest villages of Austria, perhaps (and at least) for “money-laundering.” They are all over the place, and never filled or crowded. And, yet, they seem to flourish. Is this only a trivial fact?

Likewise, there are indications that the Chinese Triad apparatus has more than accidental contact with the expanding and diversifying NORDEX apparatus in Western Europe, increasingly now in Switzerland, as well as in the Low Countries. It is also to be considered that, increasingly so, national intelligence agencies themselves use “non official” covers of variously euphemistic sorts. How should we look at NORDEX, as well as the Triads? Where does the head of NORDEX, Gregori Luchansky, now reside, and to what extent does he know Markus Wolf, even now, and very intimately? Might not some appropriate agencies fruitfully pursue this line of inquiry, as well as the contacts of George Soros with NORDEX, and in Asia?

But, the Chinese Triads are perhaps the biggest test–on many fronts–just as the strategic culture of China may be the biggest test of the West and of Western democratic culture: not just what we are finally against, but what are we finally for. What do we finally affirm, to live by and to live for? Is it only or predominately for the spread of “democratic capitalism” and its “spirit”? China and the Chinese Triads, by contrast, will be seen to provide an even greater challenge to the older non-materialistic traditions of the West, if we now, perhaps dangerously, consider the extent to which certain Western Oligarchies–or the cosmopolitan mafias–make use of (or are used by) the Triads and their higher strategic leadership or manipulators. To what extent is there a mutual duplicity and complicity with “criminal capitalism”?

When a man I know, who speaks with a “Bronx” New York City accent, recently saw how the Triads were not only moving into Brooklyn, next to where the old KGB apparatus used to reside more exclusively and predominately, but also meeting with the Cali and Medellin and FARC cartels in the offshore Caribbean islands, as well as in Cuba, he said: “Who are deese guys?” Who are “these guys” and “the host of squalid oligarchs” with whom they collaborate, also in Europe? An important strategic question, no?

Therefore, to the extent that we, and our strategic intelligence agencies, can take the true measure of the generic (and specific) Chinese Triads (San-Tien Hui) as “versatile and deftly strategic, deeply historical secret societies that have strategic ‘interior lines’ on the ‘inner front’ of many ‘host nations’,” we shall better come to discern their actual or potential national-security (or cultural-security) threat, and threat of strategic subversion. Every word counts in that long sentence which I have just made. Moreover, by more deeply understanding the Triads, we would then especially come to grasp how and why “organized crime is protected crime.” That is to say, protected by political and financial oligarchies, especially the imperial “cosmopolitan mafias,” and not just recently. Remember the sordid and murky Opium Wars in 19th century China, and consider the strategic “re-export” of those drug wars to the West, especially after the 1949 Communist takeover in China. Mao Tse-Tung was himself associated with the Triads and their traditions of revolt against the “usurping barbarians”; and he cherished Shih Nai-An’s 17th century Ming dynasty, Chinese novel about honorable Sung dynasty bandits, Men of the Marshes (Shui Hu Chuan), “a stronghold village surrounded by a lake of reeds and called Liang Shan Po.”

Indeed, there has often been “a murky alliance” (as Marshall Pétain, among many others, once called it) between financial oligarchies (usually unaccountable to any electorate of “democracy”) and revolutionary movements themselves (to include their own “occult organizations of Revolution” with strategically subversive, and highly useful Secret Societies). The illuminating phrase, “the occult organization of Revolution,” comes from the words of James Billington in his brilliant 1980 book of analysis, Fire in the Minds of Men: Origins of the Revolutionary Faith. (Fideism, however, instead of Faith, may have been a more fitting word in his subtitle, especially because he emphasizes, against the conventional “rationalist” interpretation of Revolution, the irrational and hermetic and feverish mentation of resentful and destructive revolutionaries).

Although the Chinese Triads (The Heaven and Earth Society) may have even had their proximate historical origins in the 17th century White Lotus Society, which was itself militantly determined to restore the Ming Dynasty after its 1644 AD conquest by the usurping Manchu barbarians out of the north (similar to the earlier Jurchen and Mongol invasions and conquests of the Han Chinese by Kublai Khan), it was only after the British-instigated Opium Wars in the 19th century (starting in 1839-1842) that the Triads became more prominent and powerful, especially in South and South-Central China. Often working with the British oligarchs, especially in and through Hong Kong and other port cities, the Triads could more efficiently help target the somewhat decadent Mandarin elite that was seen as supporting the rule of the hated Manchu (Ch’ing) Dynasty, which fell finally in 1912. One of their long-standing rally cries was: “Overthrow the Ch’ing! Restore the Ming!”

This initially patriotic, nationalist secret society, and the later, variously “diversifying,” rival Triads, became deeply involved in the prominent opium trade and other criminal activities, to include the smuggling of labor and prostitutes overseas.

With respect to the Triads, their organized crime was often protected crime, protected especially by the British and others interested in the drug trade, to include the Japanese Yakusa themselves (after the 1895 Treaty of Shimonoseki, which humiliated the Chinese further, after their military loss to Japan in the Sino-Japanese War, as when later the German colonies in China were given to the Japanese after the Treaty of Versailles!). If such organized crime were not protected, it would not be so sustainably “organized.” Do we agree?

Therefore, with this brief history and the long and vivid memories of the Chinese, what might the Triads be doing now in Europe, with even further protection after the reversion of Hong Kong to the Communist Leninists? (And we must not forget, as in the case of the Shanghai Green Gang, the historic Triad involvement in, and with, Formosa and the Kuomintang, and their current analogous activities in Taiwan and Southeast Asia!)

To what extent do the Chinese still want to export the Opium War back to the West, with all of its attendant corruptions and specious profits? According to several independent sources, including the secret papers of Gamal Abdel Nasser himself, Chou En-lai in the early 1950s, even before the Bandung Conference of 1955, spoke of the strategic plan to weaken and deeply demoralize the West by means of expanded drug trade. In 1974, Gerd Hamburger, an Austrian, wrote a book on this topic, which includes a discussion of the Triads. The book was entitled Die Peking-Bombe: Chinas geheime Superwaffe (The Peking Bomb: China’s Secret Superweapon) (Stuttgart, Germany: Seewald Verlag). The US troops in Vietnam later were also especially to be targeted with the drugs. We should return to this matter, but we shall first need more and very-difficult-to-gather knowledge and even more difficult, real courage–Mut zur Ethik and Mut “to come out from under the rubble” of disinformation and strategic distractions.

Vladimir Bukovsky has written a recent, trenchant book, Abrechnung mit Moskau, as yet unpublished in English, because (says the author himself) of its unflinching and uncomfortable truthfulness–and truth. It is especially uncomfortable to Western elites–or oligarchies–who themselves do not want to see the whole truth about the long-standing, continuous collusion between Western political and financial oligarchies and the “democratic centralist” elites of Communism (or Revolutionary Socialism).

In the inspiring manner of Vladimir Bukovsky’s long-standing courageous ethos, we also need–do we not?–an Abrechnung mit Peking, to include and ongoing reckoning with the human cost of Communism in China: hence, with its own still-standing Gulag System (The “Lao Gai” System) and its own strategic collaboration with Western financial oligarchies (British and others); and its use of the Chinese Triads as multi-faceted strategic assets–in drug-trafficking, money-laundering, blackmail and intimidation, and various intelligence operations. To what extent are the Triads strategic assets of Chinese power and mediating structures to Western oligarchies, as well as close-bonded secret societies with a long-history in Chinese culture? The question deserves repetition, with nuanced incremental variations, until we awaken to its sobering implications.

Before looking at the Triads and some of their current implications for Europe, in the longer light of history and of China’s profoundly sophisticated (and often deceptive) strategic culture, let us re-consider, for a moment, the courageous ethos of Bukovsky, and especially the Mut zur Ethik of a fellow Russian who is also a man of truth and who has also learned, like the Greek tragedian Æschylus, the importance of truth by suffering (pathé mathos): Alexandr Solzhenitsyn. Bukovsky, even earlier in his 1978 book, as well as in others later, has stressed the “overwhelming force” of courageous resistance to falsehood. And as, Arnaud de Lassus has said: “What is true for falsehood in general is equally true for the particular form called ‘disinformation’”–as Vladimir Volkoff has also analyzed it in his 1986 book in French, called Disinformation: A Weapon of War (La désinformation, arme de guerre); and as R. Mucchielli had analyzed it also in his book ten years earlier, called Subversion (1976)–a profound study, which will also illuminate our current understanding of Triad operations.

But, two years before Mucchielli’s own book on the strategic and subtle power of subversion, Alexandr Solzhenitsyn himself wrote his “Open Letter to the Rulers of the Soviet Union” (Moscow, 12 February 1974), about an analogously subversive power, but, this time, against evil; namely the subversive power of the “rejection of the lie.” Solzhenitsyn said:

And that refusal [of the lie] makes a breach in the imaginary circle of our inaction…. For when men turn their backs on the lie, the lie ceases to exist, purely and simply. Such a contagious disease can only exist when men co-operate with it [and are in complicity with it]. Our way must be a refusal knowingly to give support to the lie in any way whatsoever. And it is there precisely…that the key to our liberation is to be found: the refusal to participate personally in the lie! What does it matter if the lie overshadows everything, if it becomes master of everything; on one point at least let us reject all compromises; may it [the lie] not owe its victory to any help of mine!

Desiring to give a true memory to his people, Solzhenitsyn urged them–and implicitly also us–not to live the lie; and to take, if necessary, but one step at a time and “come out from under the rubble,” but not to participate in the lie and hence in our own self-deception and consequent inner self-destruction. These are fortifying words, especially for those who are wounded, or full of fear, and cannot yet face or live the fuller truth. Let us, at least, not live the lie–or imbibe the pervasive disinformation–which, for example, denies (or deflects us from) the long-standing collaboration of various national and cosmopolitan oligarchies with “organized crime” and its many resources and “controlled” (or blackmailed) assets. Despite disinformation to the contrary, the “financial capitalists” are not so stupidly greedy as to “sell or give them the rope to hang themselves.” These oligarchs have long calculated their profitable, publicly unaccountable, and power-enhancing complicities with brutal and bloody revolutionaries, as in South Africa today, and as was certainly the case with the Soviet Union between 1917 and 1991 continuously. Arnaud de Lassus makes an important and deeper point in his own 1990 Study of Disinformation, which analogously applies, I think, to the Triad Secret societies today, in Europe and elsewhere.

May I interest you in this matter, and in this eminently testable hypothesis?

What did Arnaud de Lassus lucidly and courageously say, already in 1990, that may still be of value to us, especially as an illuminating criterion of judgment? Quoting the then-recent book by his fellow Frenchman, Jacques Attali, on Sir Siegmund G. Warburg (1902-1982): A Man of Influence (1985), de Lassus says:

Speaking of the influence wielded over men in power by financiers, Attali shows that this can extend to the point of being a ‘power over power’ (p. 13–Payard edition, Paris 1985). We are thus presented with the setting up on a global scale of a ‘Mercantile Order,’ founded by an ‘austere order’ of financiers discreetly exercising their ‘power over the holders of power’ (p. 3).

(See Attali’s book, especially pages 4, 14, 15, and 86, concerning the political role of financiers, especially over the mass media of communications, understood as an “uncontrolled fief”–uncontrolled at least by the State, who must often still finance the State radio and television service in France even when it opposes and subverts State policies.)

In the light of Jacques Attali’s very well-informed and admiring book, says de Lassus,

It would be possible to draw up an organizational chart for French society, showing: (a) at the top, ‘power over power’ of the financial dynasties [hence, the dynastically intermarried families] (and, it may well be, of other hidden forces operating just as discreetly as those); and (b) lower down, the powers of the political establishment and those of the media. [It is, moreover, of great confirmatory (or corroborative) values to note], says de Lassus, that Attali’s 1985 book tells the life of one of the greatest Jewish financiers of our time (he lived from 1902 to 1982), together with the history of his family, and amounts to a vindication of a Jewish super-capitalist by a Jewish socialist.

Furthermore, in Figaro Magazine (13 January 1990), Louis Pawels gives the following summary of Jacques Attali’s “vision of the world that is about to be born,” as expressed in Attali’s 1990 book, Lignes d’horizon (Lines on the Horizon):

Since de-colonization we have seen the end of the great Western empires. We are now witnessing the death through exhaustion of the Soviet empire. We are at the same time witnessing the triumph of democratic capitalism [and its new oligarchic forms of “criminal capitalism” and “democratic centralism”?] Its advantages are obvious; its attractiveness worldwide cannot be denied. What we are seeing is the establishment of a Mercantile Order on a global scale.

How do the Chinese Triads and the Chinese financial oligarchies–to include the Bank of China–and their dynastic families in China and overseas fit into this vision, if at all? To what extent do they constitute a “power over the power of the Chinese State,” as well? And how might they help the formation of a new strategic and cultural Chinese imperium, with the help of trans-national Western elites and other globalists or “cosmopolitan mafias” (to include “trans-national criminal syndicates” who use and despise the nation-state)?

What deals were made between the old rulers of Hong Kong–British, Chinese, and others–and the new political regime? Since drugs are a kind of financial currency, and provide, as it were, an easy access to “liquidity,” under tight (or uncertain) conditions of credit, who is still protecting and using the Triad network, even as they also traffic in the removal and destructive dumping of toxic wastes from nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, and also perform economic and financial espionage?

In this context, consider the long-standing and pervasive disinformation over the mutually profitable relations between certain financial oligarchies and the Communists. The massive support of the 1917 Soviet Regime in Russia by American and European financial oligarchies is now, for rational thinkers, an uncontested historic fact, but still dangerous to talk about in detail. These same oligarchies sustained that support continuously from 1917 to 1991, supplying the Soviet regime, says de Lassus:

With practically limitless credit, Western technology, ready-to-use factories, wheat and raw materials. Hence, the “military-industrial complex” of the USSR may be seen as a Western creation.

There has been much disinformation about the facts and about the explanation of the facts–and about the explanation of explanations. What is the analogous situation, now, as well as historically, in relation to Communist China (Leninist, Maoist, Gramscian, or Machiavellian)?

Now, with respect to the rising power of China, what will be the relation of these same oligarchies with the “modernizing” Chinese Communists and their overseas assets, especially the Triads?

Given that Swiss political and financial oligarchies are now under pressure from more cosmopolitan or “Maastrichtean” oligarchies, what will be the pressure on the Swiss to “compromise” or to partake of a larger “duplicity” or “complicity”? How will the Chinese assets themselves exploit this vulnerable situation, given their subtle strategic sense of timeliness and timelessness? How might the Chinese play this in an effort to divide further Europe from America, and thereby certainly to weaken the American presence in the Pacific or on the Pacific Rim? Will the “Euro” be pushed as a necessary and desirable rival currency to the US dollar, as an international reserve currency? Will the Chinese Triads–like NORDEX–be used as fronts for many strategic policies and strategic intelligence operations? I believe this to be the case even now, but it will grow in pervasiveness and importance, in my judgment.

Our intelligence and internal-security communities should become deeply attentive to the Triad phenomenon in the longer light of Chinese history and strategic culture, and should follow the specific Triads closely. But, this will indispensably require knowledge of Chinese (and its key dialects) as an important strategic language. And, it will likewise require a greatly enhanced capacity “to read the culture”: to read the highly sophisticated and subtle Chinese culture, to include the culture of their historic and strategic secret societies, like the Triads. Building this capacity itself constitutes an easily intimidating strategic challenge, let alone where the lines of enquiry more deeply lead. And what will thereby be demanded of us for the protection and sustenance of a rooted, just, and civilized democratic order? For, if such a democratic order is not to be a deception, it must be attentive and dedicated to enhancing the common good (bonum commune), not to enhance the leverage and unaccountable privileges and immunities of selfish oligarchies.

How might all of this be deeply illuminated if we follow up on this concluding question: “To what extent are the Chinese Triads a form of Chinese Special Operations Forces (SOF), which are always elite strategic assets of national power and, maybe also, of international oligarchical power?”

We shall learn many things of strategic importance, if we more attentively and knowingly track the Chinese presence in Europe (hence the Triads’ “SOF” networks), in clarifying contradistinction to the Japanese presence (along with their own Yakusa networks) in Europe, as well as their strategic presence in Peru and Brazil and other parts of Latin America, the Southern strategic front of the United States. The Chinese are also strategically situated in Canada, especially on the northern front in Vancouver, in British Columbia. They are also, of course, on the strategic inner front of the United States and maybe also Europe. Are we now, after these many considerations, in a better position or to discern the nature and implications and “strategic interior lines” of the Triads in the West, and to develop a strategic intelligence agenda and an effective counter-strategy? Or, as James Burnham said in his 1964 book, Suicide of the West: An Essay on the Meaning and Destiny of Liberalism, will our increasingly deracinated “liberal democracies” “hand over the weapons to its own assassins”? Will our courage and informing faith derive from “the spirit of democratic capitalism” or be able to resist “the spirit of criminal capitalism”? Let us rather form and lead a new and higher chivalry, propter parvulos ad Christum trahendos.


1) Secret societies are very important in Chinese Culture, and with a long history, but scholars have long tended to ignore them. In his 1980 revised and expanded edition of his The Chinese Looking Glass (1966-1st edition), Dennis Bloodworth has some excellent chapters on the history and importance of secret societies in China: from the philosopher Mo Tze (5th century BC); to the “Red Headbands” of the proto-Triad “Red Eyebrows” (30AD); to the 7th century AD “Yellow Turbans”; to the 17th century “White Lotus Society” in North China and the “Hung Society” (Hung Men) in South, West, and Central China, and more. The Triad–implying a restored threefold harmony between Heaven, Earth, and Man–this “Heaven and Earth Society (T’ien- Ti Hui) or “Triple Harmony Society” (San-Tien Hui) has a rich and often obscure history as the “Triad Society” (San-Tien Hui) or, in the USA, the “Chih Kung Tong” (Society to Bring About Justice). Bloodworth says, for example: “Esoteric history that no one dared to put in writing at the time has it that the Triad was founded in the seventeenth century by an abbot of Shao-Lin [Buddhist] monastery [in Fukien Province] who had raised an invincible company of 128 warrior-monks [cf. The Western Templars]… and the [Manchu] Emperor agreed that the monastery should be set on fire and blown up. This was achieved with the help of an unfrocked traitor who was number seven in the Shao-Lin hierarchy, so that even today these secret-society gangsters never use this number in their ritual.” (Bloodworth, The Chinese Looking Glass, p. 146). Bloodworth and others have eloquently described how these historic societies of Triads “secretly organized for Revolution.” The Triads were also involved in the 19th century Taiping Rebellion, as well as in the earlier uprising of 1774. They supported this 1911 revolution under Sun Yat Sen, combated Yuan Shih-K’ai in the 1915 attempt to become a new emperor (after the Manchus fell in 1912), and the Triads fought the Japanese (especially from 1937-1945). Other famous secret societies had such names as: “the Double Sword Society,” “the Dagger Society,” “the Clear Winter Society,” “the Elders Society” (Ko-Lao Hui)–and “the Harmonious Fists Society” (the famous “Boxers” of the North China Rebellion of 1899-1900).


© 1997 Robert Hickson