By Bertil Lintner
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Extra resources for Blood brothers: Crime, business and politics in Asia
The first pledge states solemnly—and menancingly—that ‘after having entered the Hong Gates I must treat the parents and relatives of my sworn brothers as mine own kin. I shall suffer death by five hundred thunderbolts if I do not keep this oath’. (For a complete list of the 36 oaths see the Appendix on pp. ) While those oaths and the organisational structure of the Triad are real, the creation myth is not. Recent research into the origin of the Tiandihui, or the Hong Men Society, based on original Qing Dynasty archives, shows that it was formed almost exactly a hundred years after the supposed burning of Shaolin, a monastery that probably never existed in real life.
Lynn Pan observed: Touts and small-scale hoods [were] recruited to the ranks of the Green Gang, a secret society which, like the Mafia, had historically been a patriotic fraternity and which initiated its members in time-honoured ceremonies with oaths and symbolic acts. Like the Mafia too, it specialised in enterprises like drug-peddling and gambling, businesses in which the enormous profits bought official connivance, but also attracted gangland rivalry and violence. The French Concession harboured a roaring opium trade, the highest-ranking Chinese officer in the gendarmerie having a bigger stake in it than anyone.
The almost surreal quality of the French Concession was further enhanced by the presence of large numbers of Russian refugees. The Communist victory in the Russian civil war had forced tens of thousands of people who remained loyal to the Tsar—hence the nickname ‘White’ Russians—to flee. The wealthiest ended up in Paris, London and New York, but those without money and contacts, and thousands of soldiers who had been trapped in the Russian Far East, crossed into Manchuria to settle in the city of Harbin.