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Stephen J. Cannell's RIDING THE SNAKE
Revenge Becomes a Brother's Obligation
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A Look at Chinese Triads
By Karen Ahn

Stephen J. Cannell's Riding the Snake coverThe death of Wheeler Cassidy's politically connected brother throws a monkey wrench in the easy, free-wheeling life of this Beverly Hills playboy. Suspicious of the circumstances and determined to bring the Chinese gangsters behind his brother's death to justice, Wheeler Cassidy soon finds himself thrust into the complex, frightening and mysterious world of the Chinese underworld.
Chinese Triad societies originated well before the birth of Christ, originally as rebel factions intent on overthrowing the current government. Based on the concept of sworn brotherhood, Triads evolved into criminal organizations that form the basis of the Chinese underworld. The clannish quality of the Triads was reinforced by and built on kinship and elaborate secret rituals. Reports of the rituals are extremely rare, but one commonly known official Triad initiation rite consists of beheading a rooster, pouring its blood into a wine glass, and having the member being initiated drink it. Little of these bonding rituals is left today in the current Triad organizations.
The original Triad, whose name translates to "Red Eyebrows," formed in an attempt to overthrow the Chinese Han dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD). By the 17th century, Triads had expanded to form "societies." One of the more powerful was formed by five monks who wanted to over throw the Chi'ing Dynasty and restore the Ming.
By the 18th and 19th centuries, the Triads were less concerned with political activism and more concerned with robbery, extortion and blackmail. By the first half of the 20th century, the Triads had established strongholds in Hong Kong, and had fully evolved into criminal organizations. A vast political crackdown in 1956 vastly limited Triad activities. In a few years, they had regrouped and formed throughout Hong Kong and other parts of China. Current estimates say that 5-10 percent of all "detected" criminal activity in Hong Kong is Triad-related.
Like Russia, the onset of free enterprise has given the Triads increased opportunity for control in Hong Kong and other areas of China. Unlike the Russian mafia or the various mafias in America, Chinese Triads rely less on brute force and more on intimidation tactics, bribery, and the select placement of "their" government and banking officials.
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Their main criminal activities are extortion, drug trafficking, loan-sharking, credit card fraud and video piracy. In Hong Kong, Triads control prostitution, gambling and many private and public sector businesses. More reinforcement of anti-crime laws has led many Hong Kong triads to turn their attention to southern China.
While some Westerners fear the spread of Chinese Triads to North America, most officials find this unlikely as Triads tend to operate in areas where smuggling is impeded by as few international customs as possible. The greatest source of income for Triads tend to be in southern China and Hong Kong. Many officials do point out that Triads (as well as the Russian, Japanese and Italian mafias) have key connections working for them all over the world.

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