An ancient esoteric society of China. The candidate was
taken to a dark room by two members to kneel before the president.
He was given a living cock and a knife and took an oath
to assist his brethren in any emergency, even at the risk of his
life. He then cut off the head of the cock, mingled its blood with
his own, and the three assisting individuals added some of their
After being warned that death is the punishment should he
divulge the secrets of the society, he was initiated and given the
triad signs of recognition. For example, a member had to lift
any object with three fingers only. This society, originally altruistic,
later became political.
Various Triad societies were revived in Hong Kong to operate
criminal extortion and protection rackets. Cinema protection
was a specialty of these gangs and usually involved Triad
members being employed as ushers, ticket-sellers, or submanagers.
Financial operations involve magic numerals, symbolic of
the particular Triad society. For example, protection money
may be demanded in sums relating to the figure 8, the lower
half of the Chinese character Hung, used by some Triad societies.
The numeral 3 denotes heaven, earth, and man. The word
Triad originally was used as a mystical symbol.
In the 1970s, the Triad racketeering operations in Hong
Kong resulted in the publication of a police manual, Triad Societies
of Hong Kong, restricted to police personnel. In 1976, the
Triad societies spread their operations to Britain, where cities
like Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool, Portsmouth, Southampton,
Manchester, and London with large Chinese populations
could be victimized. Triad protection rackets even operate in
the West End cinemas and clubs of London, where vicious
fights have been reported involving meat cleavers.
A muscleman in the Shing Wo Triad is known as 426, a
numerical symbol for Red stick or enforcer. In some British
cities, the protection racket is being partially reduced by
closing down illegal gambling clubs where Triad members
meet or convert their funds.
Chesneaux, Jean. Secret Societies in China in the Nineteenth and
Twentieth Centuries. Ann Arbor University of Michigan Press,