Triad Origins: The Tiandihui (Heaven and Earth Society) | Chinese History


While on the set of transformers 4 in Hong Kong, a small group of gangsters attempted to extort money from director Michael Bay.

When he refused to pay, one member tried to hit him in the head with an air conditioner.

The media were quick to say this was the work of Hong Kong triads, but these were merely street level thugs.

The real triads are a series of independent crime syndicates that have become some of the most powerful and feared criminal empires in the modern world.

Conflicting sources and a lack of historical documentation have meant that the Triads true origin are a widely debated subject, but most agree that they began with the Qing Dynasty's Tiandi Hui, the Heaven and Earth Society.

There are two accounts of where they came from, one mythological and one pieced together from what information is available.

Today let's look at the origins of the Triads!

The mythological origins of the Tiandi hui comes from a fictional tale called the Xi Lu legend.

The story begins during the Kangxi Period of the Qing Dynasty when the country was being invaded by Xi Lu barbarians a group of 128 Shaolin Monks come to the aid of the emperor.

The small number of Monks easily defeated the barbarian army with their Kung-Fu skills the Emperor wished to reward the monks for their victory but they refused returned to their temple.

A rumour was spread by an evil official that the monks themselves were planning a rebellion and as such the Qing Dynasty Emperor ordered that the monks be killed and their monastery be burned to the ground.

From the destruction only 18 monks managed to escape and while fleeing many more died until only 6 remained.

When the monks finally reached the ocean they discovered a white incense burner in the sea and on it were the words Restore the Ming and Cut of the Qing.

The monks saw this as a sign from heaven and began recruiting others to join their revenge mission.

They managed to recruit 108 members and together they formed the Heaven and Earth Society or the Tiandihui.

The group immediately decided to begin their attack but were quickly defeated by the Qing army The surviving members now without a leader, went their separate ways waiting for the time when they could rise again.

This anticlimactic version of the Xi Lu legend is the oldest of at least 7 versions, with each version becoming more and more fantastical as the years go on.

One version has the fleeing monks being rescued by Buddha who built a bridge for them to cross mountains.

A large inspiration for the Xu Lu legend comes for the classic novels Romance of the Three kingdoms and Thieves of the Marsh.

It might seem a little strange how this story led to creation of some of the world's most powerful criminal organisations, but when you study the true history of the Tiandihui it becomes much clearer… .

So. . . .

yeah, let's do that then . . . .

. . . . . . The real Tiandihui are believed to have originated from the Fujian Province in around 1761.

The Fujian province at the time was becoming a powerful economic zone thanks to its mineral deposits and rich agriculture.

Land prices were inflating to the point where locals were unable to sustain themselves, thus being forced to migrate out to other provinces in order to look for work or trade.

Faced with extreme financial insecurity, the migrant workers began forming mutual aid groups in order to help each other cover the burdens of living so far away from home.

At the same time, many of these groups began turning to crime and piracy as a way to make some fast money.

Historians believe a travelling martial artist and exorcist name TiXi returned to his home in Fujian in 1761 he and a few others created a sworn brotherhood called the Tiandihui as a way to over through the corrupt officials who were controlling Fujian.

They devised hand signals, secret codes as well as a complex initiation ceremony to legitimise the group.

6 years later the men made enough money from robberies, extortion and gambling houses to fund their rebellion.

They then decided to launch their attack, but were quickly defeated by the Qing army.

The Group became was mostly disbanded, but the one thing that remained was their traditions and ability to recruit new members.

Many took the Tiandihui organisational model, symbols and rituals and began creating their own groups, kind of like the McDonalds franchise of gangs.

So even though each group was completely independent, they all shared the same identity.

Many members joined for protection but others joined to gain money and power.

While the Tiandihui group famously assisted Hong Xiuquan in the Holy Taiping Rebellion, were the main force of the Lin Shuangwen rebellion in Taiwan and grandfather of modern China San Yatsen is also said to have joined their ranks in order to generate monetary support to overthrow the Qing government, but for the most part the sentiment of overthrowing the government which is a main feature of the origin myth was almost never the motivation of the smaller franchises.

To avoid prosecution from the government, the Tiandihui groups have taken on a number of different names, such as The Hongmen, Double Knife Society and the Sanhehui, but the term Triads was first coined in 1821, by Dr. William Milne referring to their superstitious use of the number three and it's prominence in their organisation.

Over the course of the next two hundred years individual groups following the rituals and traditions grew within the criminal underworld to the point they started controlling all aspects of illegal activity.

Their expansion and rise to becoming an international criminal super power is . . . . . . something we look at further in the next episode!

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Once again thank you so much watching, I'm WooKong and good bye.