excerpt from The Chinese by Sir John Francis Davies, 1836
The fraternities which are most dreaded by the government of China are those secret associations, under various mysterious names, which combine for for purposes either religious or political, or perhaps both together. The present weak state of the government renders it particularly jealous of all secret societies whatever, as well as cruel and unrelenting in punishing their leaders. But the chief object of its dread and persecution is the Sānhéhuì, or Triad Society, of which some description was given in 1823 by Dr. Milne. The name seems to imply that when Heaven, earth, and man combine to favour them, they shall succeed in subverting the present Tartar dynasty, and that, in the mean while, exertion is to be used to mature that event.Members
Dr. Milne's account of the Triad Society, whose nature and objects he took some pains to investigate, is so curious as to deserve particular notice. In the reign of Jiāqìng [reign years 1796–1820], the Triad Society, under another name, spread itself rapidly through the provinces, and had nearly succeeded in overturning the government. In 1803 its machinations were frustrated, and the principal leaders seized and put to death, the official reports stating to the emperor that "not a single members of that rebellious fraternity was left alive." But the fact was otherwise, for they still existed, and, with a view to secrecy, adopted the name which they at present bear.
The objects of the association appear at first to have been allied to something like freemasonry, and to have aimed simply at mutual aid and assistance; but as the numbers increased, their views degenerated from the laudable ends of reciprocal benefit to violence and robbery, the overthrow of government, and the acquisition of political power by the expulsion of the Tartar dynasty. In foreign colonies, as at Batavia, Singapore, and Malacca, the real or pretended branches of the association exist, and their objects are mutual defence, as well as plunder and other dishonesty. They engage to defend each other from the attacks of police officers, and to assist members of their society in escaping from justice. If any one feels himself injured, the others take part in his quarrel and help him to revenge himself.
The management of the combination is vested in three persons who are denominated gè, elder brethren. Of their internal discipline, Dr. Milne could obtain little information. The society's regulations are said to be written for greater secrecy on cloth, which on any emergency may be thrown into a well, or otherwise concealed for a time.
The ceremony of initiation is said to take place at night. The oath of secrecy is taken before an idol, and a sum of money given to support the general expense. There is likewise a ceremony called guò qiáo, "passing the bridge," which bridge is formed of swords, either laid between two tables, or else set up on the hilts and meeting at the points, in form of an arch. The persons who receive the oath take it under this bridge, and the chief brother reads the articles of the oath, to each of which an affirmative response is given by the new member, after which he cuts off the head of a cock, which is the usual form of a Chinese oath, intimating, "Thus perish all who divulge the secret." Some of the marks by which they make themselves known to each other consist of mystical numbers, of which the chief is the number three. Certain motions of the fingers constitute a class of signs. To discover if one of the fraternity is in company, a brother will take up his teacup, or its cover, in a particular way with three fingers, and this will be answered by a corresponding sign.
The Triad Society originally attracted anti-Manchu patriots; it later evolved into a Mafia-style criminal brotherhood.
- Must be sponsored by someone who is already a member of the secret society.
- The new member must be useful to the secret society, either through his wealth, or through his skills, or his influence...
- Knowledge (Streetwise) must be at least 60%
- Financial benefits from the Triad Society's illegal activities
- Help from fellow members, incl. being smuggled abroad to lie low for a while
- New skill: Knowledge (Group: Triad Society) at a starting value of 10+3D6% - Can be used to find shelter, recognise fellow Triad members, etc. (see Description above)
- Must help fellow members
- Must blindly obey orders from 'elder brethren' (gē)
- Risk of death penalty if caught by government agents