Triad Society in Hong Kong: The Hierarchical Approach and Criminal's Collaborations


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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  • Sharon Ingrid KWOK


Awarding Institution
Award date9 Jan 2017


The present study adopted hierarchical approach to examine the structure and operation of triad societies; and how structural features of triad societies facilitate their members in accessing criminal resources and establishing criminal collaborations within triad community. Different from conventional triad research method, the present study adopted in-depth interviews and ethnography to study two triad associates and 28 triads ranging from Sze Kau members to Lo Shuk Fu and former Cho Kun, and covered eight different triad societies in Hong Kong, including the three major triad societies, namely Sun Yee On, Wo Shing Wo, and 14K. The present study not only provides empirical contribution to triad research, but also a new dimension in studying organised crime - the “structural-social capital” approach in an attempt to link up “Organized Crime” (organized crime committed by criminal organization) and “organized crime” (crime that is organized) as defined by Finckenauer (2005) and Hagan (2006).

The triad community is a gateway to the network hub of the underworld in Hong Kong. The triad structure turns the individual resources and power into aggregate resources for individual purposes. The established triad networks provide an exclusive social platform for criminal collaborations. This study found that the genuine value of triad societies is the triad identity and status that offer an opportunity to establish social capital and to access the resources in the criminal underworld through the structural hierarchical network in the triad societies.

The present study reveals that triad societies are decentralised but not disorganized. Triad societies are made up by factions, which constitutes of the spider-web structure that links up numerous generations of triads through the Dai Lo–Lang Chai relationship. The hierarchy of triad society is determined by seniority and financial power. The triad structure and hierarchical positions significantly influence the access to triad resources, and hence the chance of successful criminal collaborations. In addition to structural factors, Dor (reputation) and face are important asset and credentials for establishing trust and hence facilitate criminal collaboration and the establishment of social capital. The establishment, advertisement and verification of Dor are crucial to criminal collaboration. Triad societies provide a breeding ground for young criminals to establish criminal networks in the triad community, which provides a hierarchical ladder for triads to accumulate power, resources and Dor. Triad territories provide a networking platform for triads to circulate criminal information, promote themselves, verify Dor, and obtain information about potential collaborators.