Monday, May 30, 2005

Triads In Taiwan: the Dragon Rears an Ugly Head

There was a graphic public demonstration of the power of organized crime in Taiwan yesterday as 10,000 gangsters showed up to thumb their noses at the police at the funeral of "Mosquito Brother."

The funeral began at 12:30pm and drew to a close at 2:30pm. After the funeral service, Hsu's ashes were brought to Taipei County's Chinpaosan cemetery. Thousands of gangsters walked behind Hsu's hearse in a procession that stretched for about 10km along Minquan E. Rd, temporarily blocking traffic. Hundreds of family members and gang members waited at the cemetery for the funeral procession to arrive.

Police set up roadblocks around the cemetery. They also said the funeral services affected the surrounding area, and inconvenienced the nearly 50,000 junior high school graduates in the city who were taking their high school entrance exams yesterday.

My things have certainly changed since the go-go days of the 1990s, when President Lee Teng-hui attended the funeral of a prominent gangster in the same part of town, as I recall.


Lots of people write paeans to the "low crime" of Japan and Taiwan. Few foreigners ever really come into contact with the rampant crime in those two countries since they do not stay for long nor come to any understanding of the way those societies actually work. But here was an extraordinary surfacing of the underworld that deserves closer attention. For every mugging that doesn't happen in Taiwan or Japan, there's an act of extortion or a con game that doesn't happen in the US. Crime, like everything else, is cultural.

My friend Nikola Pazderic writes perceptively on the 1990s, the KMT's use of Triads in ruling Taiwan, and Taiwan's gang atmosphere here. He notes:

During the postwar era, this pattern found expression in the public sphere vis-à-vis crime; for crime provided an official cause for state control of local areas, a control enforced through the unofficial alliance of government and local, criminal ("black society") gangs. Yet, following the November 21, 1996 murder of Taoyuan County Chief Liu Bangyou and eight others (including two county councilors and two other Taoyuan County Government officials at Liu's official residence) and the December 3, 1996 discovery of feminist activist Peng Wanru's raped and naked corpse in a Kaohsiung County field, the chaos, sickness and danger appeared as an overwhelming and unstoppable tide(1). For following the execution-style killing (believed ordered by black society Mafioso involved in the construction industry), many began to fear that Taiwan would become a "little Sicily"-- rendering its vitally important emergent status as a democratic state lost; and, after the death of Peng Wanru, an admired reformer who advocated that at least one fourth of all Democratic Progressive Party candidates be women, women across the island felt their fears about the safety of the streets, in general, and taxis, in particular, to be demonstrated for all to see. (Peng was last seen in a taxi, a vehicle that serves as a sign-- despite the professional demeanor of most drivers-- of regardless individualism, lawless social relations, aggressive male domination and unrestricted urban migration). Moreover, the deaths proved what people beholden to the ways of emergent, middle class life already believed: namely, that the social conditions from which they sprang, including the long-time alliance of government and organized crime and the actions of uncontrolled capitalists required continued and aggressive cleansing and re-ordering.
The 1990s were also the era of Lo Fu-chu, the self-proclaimed "spiritual head" of the island's organized crime syndicates. Asiaweek reported:

Indeed, the skeptics point to another development to bolster their claims that the anti-corruption effort is but window-dressing. Legislator Lo Fu-chu, widely suspected of being the godfather of the same gang that kidnapped lawmaker Liao, recently cut a deal with the legislature�s KMT caucus and was appointed co-chairman of the assembly�s Justice Committee.
Here's another Asiaweek story from 2000 on the gangland past of one of the island's billionaires. This story gives a different take on the emergence of Taiwan's gangs than most:

Sheen was born on the mainland in 1947, eldest son of an officer in the Kuomintang army. He moved to Taiwan the following year as the KMT forces, led by Chiang Kai-shek, began to retreat from the advances of Mao Zedong's communists. The KMT regulars were not popular in Taiwan, where many natives considered them an invading force. Children like Sheen were ready targets for the animosity. Weak and scrawny, Sheen formed a gang with other "mainlanders" for protection. Over time, similar groups, often started by the sons of KMT military fathers, morphed into Taiwan's biggest and most notorious crime syndicates. The triad tradition of secret societies goes back hundreds of years among Chinese, but the strongest organizations in Taiwan today are typically less than 50 years old.
Fortunate those days are long past, eh?



Anonymous said...

Its too bad the funeral wasn't next weekend, right in the middle of Computex, the worlds 2nd largest computer exhibition with 120,000 visitors. That woulda been interesting.

Anonymous said...

Both Japan and Taiwan are run by yakuza gangster families. It has always been that way. You should not be surprised. There are 100 families in Japan that run the country, with solid ties to the yakuza there; and there are 25 families in Taiwan who run the country, with similar solid ties to gangsters.

This is the Asian way. Culture.

Anonymous said...

What's more unbelievable is that the media actually encourages and favors these groupds.

In one Chinese news report, TVBS I believe, the broadcaster openly remarked her opinion of gangsters.

"They look so cool in black," she blurted.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like the beginning of these gangs are exactly the way so many other gangs have formed up. In America, the roots of so many recent organized groups were made up of recent immigrants that got organized in response to being bullied by American gangs or gangs of more Americanized elements in their communities.