How much do you know about triads in Hong Kong?

The scary attack on Prince Edward Road East yesterday prompted us to wonder why underground gangsters are so gung-ho and blatant in committing crimes. They are oblivious to the tight law in the city and often engage in gangland wars to wrestle for power over turfs.

Tseung Kwan O, the ‘bedroom community’

Tseung Kwan O, is a relatively a new town with a population of nearly 400,000 people. It was once named by the Sai Kung District Councillor as a “bedroom community” . He described the town ‘as somewhere you go home after work to sleep and not to wander around the streets. If you want to dine and party, go to other areas’ . On the surface, this small town seems to be peaceful but Hong Kong’s notorious triad, Sun Yee On has committed multiple crimes in this area. They have assaulted victims and perpetrated car arsons on numerous occasions. This township is full of young people who live in public housing estates. Eager to increase their omnipresence with young blood, the triad loves to recruit rookies from here.

Sheung Tak Market

Sheung Tak Market located at Tseung Kwan O is under the purview of triads, each stall owner pays thousands of ‘protection money’ monthly to keep them out of trouble. The triad even decides who is eligible to set up business there. In December 2018, 9 triad members vandalised the stalls in the market and scalded a female stall owner. On 26th September last year, a 24 year old woman was slashed by two masked men and sustained serious body injuries. 30 minutes later, another car was set on fire in To Kwa Wan.

One of the suspects arrested for vandalism and assault at Sheung Tak Market in December 2018. Picture credit : HK01
Weapons recovered from suspects at Sheung Tak Market. Picture credit : HK01

There have been many cases of arson in the carpark of King Lam Estate, Tseung Kwan O. 26 cars were burned and destroyed in September 2018. According to police, the case is linked to a turf dispute among Sun Yee On triad members from Tseung Kwan O and TST.

26 cars were set on fire at King Lam Estate in September 2018
Police arrested 3 suspects who committed the arson at King Lam Estate

Contrabands, drugs and illegal gambling dens can easily be found in the public housing estates of Tseung Kwan O. The triads even utilise some of the apartments to stash drugs and provide addicts with illegal fix rooms for them to inject drugs. According to records, a gazebo within the King Lam Estate was even improvised by the triads as an illegal gambling den. Police arrested 13 people who operated the gambling business. 3 of the masterminds arrested were aged between 17-22.

The history of Sun Yee On

Sun Yee On  or New Righteousness and Peace Commercial and Industrial Guild  is one of the leading triads  in Hong Kong and China. It has more than 55,000 members worldwide. It is also believed to be active in the United Kingdom, the United States, France, Belgium and the Netherlands. Sun Yee On was founded by Heung Chin, originally from Teochew (Chaozhou), in 1919. The organisation is involved in counterfeitinggambling, narcotics, human traffickingprostitutionsmuggling and extortion. Mainly through ethnic Chinese diaspora, it is thought to extend to the United States, Canada, Thailand, Australia, South Africa and Central America.The founder was deported to Taiwan in the early 1950s and continued to lead the organisation from there. Sun Yee On was allegedly taken over by his eldest son Heung Wah-yim, who ostensibly worked as a law clerk. The triad is also noted as being founded by “Teochew and Hokkien immigrants” to Hong Kong.

Heung Chin, founder of Sun Yee On

Charles Heung, the son of Heung Chin is the founder of Win’s Entertainment in the 1980s and China Star Entertainment Group in the 1990s, he has helped established the careers of various cinematic icons in Hong Kong that include Stephen ChowChow Yun-fatJohnnie ToJet Li and Andy Lau among countless others. Apart from being one of the most successful film producers in Hong Kong, Heung is also one of the most controversial figure in business due to his family’s Triad background.

Charles Heung

The triad operates several vice establishments in Tsim Sha Tsui and Yau Ma Tei, or at least did in November 2010 when a 29-year-old alleged office-bearer or “red pole” of the triad, named “Sai B” Chan, was arrested for vice offences and money laundering.

Lee Tai-lung Lee, a Sun Yee On boss in Tsim Sha Tsui, was murdered in front of the Kowloon Shangri-La hotel on 4 August 2009 by members of the Wo Shing Wo gang. It was supposedly a revenge attack ordered by Leung Kwok-chung, a senior member of a Wo Shing Wo crew in Tai Kok Tsui who was injured by Lee during a bar fight in July 2006 in Prat Avenue. Following Lee’s death, three of his former followers stepped in to defend his lucrative entertainment empire from other triads. In 2011, Lee’s three followers were tracked by ‘Ko Tat’, another ‘red pole fighter’ in Wan Chai, who failed to spread his influence across the harbour. Tai Hau, leader of another Sun Yee On faction active in Tuen Mun tried to encroach upon Lee’s West Kowloon and Tsim Sha Tsui operations. His attempts were thwarted by an undercover police operation, as a result of which 222 people were arrested in January 2012. The Organised Crime and Triad Bureau suspects that ‘Ko Chun’ may be the latest kingpin of Lee’s original turf.

On 22 March 2012, police arrested 102 members of Sun Yee On in Shenzhen, China.

Map of countries with branches or operations of the Sun Yee On Triad reported by law enforcement or in the news.

In order to join, a person has to take 36 oaths, like “If I am arrested after committing an offence, I must accept my punishment and not try to place blame on my sworn brothers. If I do so I will be killed by five thunderbolts,” or “I shall never embezzle cash or property from my sworn brothers. If I break this oath I will be killed by myriads of swords.”

Sun Yee On makes money the same way that many other gangs do; they run prostitution rings, fraud schemes, extort legitimate businesses, and are known to traffic and deal in heroin, cocaine, and opium. Supposedly, Sun Yee On made a deal with the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico and they now have access to the raw materials to make methamphetamine.

Sun Yee On’s main form of attack is assaults with knives because of Hong Kong’s strict firearm laws. What happens many times is that groups of men armed with knives, often meat cleavers which are called “choppers,” swarm their victims and stab and slash them. Not all of the attacks are deadly, but they can leave victims without a limb.


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