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Sun Yee On (New Righteousness & Peace Commercial and Industrial Guild)


Insurgency Overview


Sun Yee On (新義安), or the New Righteousness and Peace Commercial and Industrial Guild, is the largest and ostensibly most powerful triad society in the world (1). By some estimates, the organization has more than 55,000 members across the world, making it nearly twice as large as the Hong Kong Police Force (2)(3). Like most triads, the Sun Yee On is based in Hong Kong, but also operates in mainland China.


Triads are Chinese organized crime groups, most often based in Hong Kong. Unlike many Western organized crime groups, such as the Italian mafia, triads are not necessarily organized in a strict hierarchy. A member of another triad, the 14K, said, “I was not required to pay any percentage of profits to the 14K leadership [...] Triad members do favors for each other, provide introductions and assistance to each other, engage in criminal schemes with one another, but triads generally do not have the kind of strictly disciplined organizational structure that other criminal groups like the Italian mafia have…” (4). The Sun Yee On is slightly more organized than the 14K, but it is still a very decentralized hierarchy, with Red Poles, or lieutenants, having a lot of autonomy in what they do in their respective areas (5).


The Sun Yee On was founded in 1919 by Heung Chin, in Teochew (also called Chaozhou), mainland China. In the early 1950s, Heung was deported to Taiwan, and his eldest son Heung Wah-yim allegedly took over the triad (6). The Sun Yee On takes part in a wide variety of criminal and legal money-making ventures, similar to many organized crime groups around the world.


The three largest triads in Hong Kong are the 14K, Wo Group (whose largest faction is the Wo Shing Wo) and the Sun Yee On.


History & Foundations


Early predecessors to the modern triads were mutual-aid societies of lower-class people who banded together for protection during the Qing dynasty. Between 1685 and 1849, the population of Qing China quadrupled from 102 million to 413 million; this rapid increase led to much strife for the lower class, and many were not able to own enough land to survive off subsistence farming. Many farmers were forced to migrate to coastal cities to make a living, but as migrants, they were socially isolated. This led them to join secret societies, generally made up of fellow migrants from the same region. In exchange for protection, migrants were often recruited to perform criminal activities for the secret societies, including smuggling, extortion, robbery and trafficking (7).


In 1992, a U.S. Senate subcommittee report stated that one of the purposes of early triads was to overthrow the Qing dynasty and restore the Ming, a view mentioned by other sources including the South China Morning Post. Others, such as Chinese scholar S. Cai, reject this notion, stating that the precursors to triads were about surviving difficult times as a group and not for political reasons such as the overthrow of the Qing (4)(7)(8).


Triads exploded in popularity during the British colonial period in Hong Kong (1841-1997). Similar to during the Qing Dynasty, many people were oppressed by foreign overlords and desired to band together for protection. In 1987 a lieutenant in the Hong Kong police estimated that 160,000 people, or 3% of the total population of Hong Kong, were in a triad (9).


Ideology & Objectives


Like any criminal enterprise, the Sun Yee On first and foremost should be viewed as a money-making organization. Their objective is the enrichment of themselves like any other business, the difference being that they are willing to break the law in order to do so.


Also similar to most criminal organizations, honor and loyalty are key components of Sun Yee On ideology. The Sun Yee On is the most traditional of all the Hong Kong triads, with the leadership position being hereditary instead of electoral like the 14K or Wo Shing Wo (5).


Membership in the Sun Yee On is also the hardest to obtain out of all the Hong Kong triads. It can take years to get Sun Yee On membership, which is much longer than it takes to achieve membership in the 14K or Wo Shing Wo (5).


Approach to Resistance & Capabilities


Like most triads, the Sun Yee On engages in a wide variety of criminal activity. One of the more popular Sun Yee On activities is running protection rackets. In this favorite of organized crime, businesses are forced to pay protection money or face the wrath of the criminal organization. In the later years of British rule in Hong Kong, it was alleged that 80% of all restaurants in the colony had received demands for protection money (9).


In addition to the protection rackets, the Sun Yee On takes part in extortion, murders, robberies, drug trafficking, kidnappings and prostitution (9). The Sun Yee On doesn’t only take part in illegal activities either. In 2012, for example, 102 Sun Yee On members were arrested in Shenzhen, People’s Republic of China. The triad members were involved in real estate and car rentals, as well as selling bottled water and gas (10). Many organized crime groups take part in legal activities as this helps with money laundering as well as giving plausible deniability to what members do for a living. Besides showing how the triad makes money through legal means, this also highlights how they are active in mainland China.


The triads, and by extension the Sun Yee On, are infamous for their brutality, especially in retaliation to perceived snitches or people who have broken their oath to the triad. Triads are known for their penchant for using meat cleavers to lop off the limbs of those who have fallen in their bad graces (11).


Relations & Alliances


The Sun Yee On’s main rival is the 14K, another Hong Kong-based triad, the Wo Shing Wo is another rival (1)(5). As mentioned earlier, triads are much more decentralized than other types of organized crime, so rivalries are not necessarily as ingrained in the Sun Yee On.


This is not necessarily to say that fights among different triad societies do not break out, in 2021 for example 15 members of the Sun Yee On and Wo Shing Wo were arrested following a brawl outside of a pub. (12)


Like many organized crime groups, territory is a significant part of the triads. The territory controlled by triads is not necessarily off limits to other triads; it is possible to ask permission and pay a fee to operate in one triad’s territory even if you are in another triad. This shows how there is not necessarily constant hatred or rivalry between triad groups. At the end of the day triads can be seen as businesses, and making money can trump a rivalry (5).

Works Cited (Chicago-style)

(1) - Le Blanc A. Triad Article Page 1. Archive.org. Published 2001. Accessed November 7, 2023. https://web.archive.org/web/20091026161444/http://geocities.com/leixiaojie/Triads (2) - Koh M. 14 Things You Didn’t Know About The Triads. Thought Catalog. Published February 27, 2014. https://thoughtcatalog.com/michael-koh/2014/02/14-things-you-didnt-know-about-the-triads/ (3) - Hong Kong Police Force. Organisation. web.archive.org. Published 2009. https://web.archive.org/web/20180616221307/http://www.police.gov.hk/info/review/2009/tc/pdf/TC_E_p68.pdf (4) - Australian Parliamentary Joint Committee on the National Crime Authority. Asian Organised Crime - Australian Parliamentary Inquiry. irp.fas.org. Published February 1995. Accessed November 7, 2023. https://irp.fas.org/world/australia/docs/ncaaoc2.html (5) - Kwok SI. Triad Society in Hong Kong: The Hierarchical Approach and Criminal’s Collaborations.; 2017. http://lbms03.cityu.edu.hk/theses/c_ftt/phd-ss-15457829.pdf (6) - Dannen F. Partners in Crime - Part II. archive.ph. Published 1997. https://archive.ph/20130215182401/http://www.copi.com/articles/triads2.html (7) - Wang P, Kwok SI. Hong Kong triads: the historical and political evolution of urban criminal polity, 1842–2020. Urban History. Published online March 30, 2022:1-23. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0963926821001024 (8) - Blundy R. A brief history of Hong Kong’s triad gangs. South China Morning Post. Published February 4, 2017. https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/law-crime/article/2067890/brief-history-hong-kongs-triad-gangs (9) - Biers D. Criminal Trial Provides Rare Inside Look at Hong Kong’s Infamous Triad Societies. Los Angeles Times. Published December 27, 1987. https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1987-12-27-mn-31357-story.html (10) - Want China Times. 100 members of Hong Kong triad arrested in Shenzhen|Society|News|WantChinaTimes.com. web.archive.org. Published December 28, 2014. Accessed November 7, 2023. https://web.archive.org/web/20141228211427/http://www.wantchinatimes.com/news-subclass-cnt.aspx?id=20120328000034&cid=1103 (11) - Dannen F. Partners in Crime - Part I. The New Republic. Published online 1997. (12) - Lo C. 15 arrested after brawl between rival Hong Kong triad gangs. South China Morning Post. Published November 2, 2021. Accessed November 7, 2023. https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/law-and-crime/article/3154567/hong-kong-police-arrest-15-following-brawl-between

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