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Thread: The roots of "vicious" modern triads in "chivalrous" ancient wulin

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    Moderator Ken Cheng's Avatar
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    Default The roots of "vicious" modern triads in "chivalrous" ancient wulin

    The wulin as written about by wuxia authors such as Jin Yong, Gu Long, and Leung Yu Sang was largely fictional, but there was something of a "wulin" society in history...martial artists who worked together as anti-government rebels during times of foreign domination (such as during the Yuan Dynasty and Qing Dynasty). If the stories told in wuxia novels are to be believed, these warriors were known for their heroism and chivalry: they used their great fighting skills to protect the innocent and uphold justice. Their methods were violent, but not directed against innocent people. These were xia.

    From these anti-government martial societies evolved the organized criminal enterprises known as "triads" today. Although the triads have their own code of honor, ordinary people would not regard triad members as "chivalrous." The triads are thought of as felons...bullies who use violence or threats of violence to extort and exploit innocent people. They are not thought of as heroes.

    So how did the "chivalrous" wulin society devolve into the "vicious" triad society?

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    Senior Member HuangYushi's Avatar
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    I would like to share what I know about the development of triads in South-east Asia.

    When migrant workers from China came to South-east Asia (e.g. Malaysia, Singapore) in the late 19th/early 20th centuries, they did not really intend to stay for life. Most of them wanted to work, finish their contracts, make some money and return to their families in China. However, due to various circumstances (e.g. political upheaval, etc), a lot of them ended up staying longer than they wanted.

    Most of these migrants did not have relatives or friends in South-east Asia, and the people whom they knew were often those they met on the boat during the journey. When they landed and were taken to their new workplaces, they began to form bonds with their new co-workers. As time went on, they formed groups (or organised societies) to protect themselves from oppressive employers.

    When times became hard (e.g. the Depression in the 1930s), opportunities for employment became fewer. Different groups of workers had to compete for jobs at the cargo ports. As competition increased, disagreements became quarrels, and quarrels soon led physical fights.

    The passage of time brought progress and new thoughts. Some of these worker groups became legalised labour unions, while others went underground because their leaders dabbled in illegal money-making activities, especially in the smuggling of goods. There is a saying around here: Many of the rich old towkays today might have dabbled in illegal activities and made their fortunes before switching to legal forms of business.

    ---

    A more contemporary perspective: When the farmlands in my community were redeveloped for residential purposes, many farm workers lost their jobs and became displaced. Many of them have worked for at least two or three generations on these farms, and they have never had opportunities to explore other means of making a living. Left without jobs, the elderly men turn to collecting scrap/junk, while the women turn to menial work like dishwashing, laundry and other chores. The youth suffer the most. With low education and few skills, they cannot get jobs. So they end up banding together into gangs and terrorising the poorer neighbourhoods.

    Can they be blamed for being unchivalrous? Chivalry does not give them meals and roofs over their heads, but crime might, because theft brings money, and arrest results in food and shelter albeit a loss of personal freedom.

    My 2 cents...
    Last edited by HuangYushi; 07-08-06 at 01:53 AM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by HuangYushi
    Chivalry does not give them meals and roofs over their heads, but crime might, because theft brings money, and arrest results in food and shelter albeit a loss of personal freedom.

    My 2 cents...
    Well, almost by definition being chivalrous must result in some kind of personal disadvantage. If being chivalrous resulted in personal gain then there's no reason why anyone would want to be unchivalrous and being chivalrous or not is a matter of smart vs dumb instead of good vs evil.

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    Senior Member Candide's Avatar
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    Well, they still protect the weak against the rich and powerful. The weak just have to pay for that.
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    Moderator Ken Cheng's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Candide
    Well, they still protect the weak against the rich and powerful. The weak just have to pay for that.
    And, typically, the weak *must* accept that "protection" whether they want it or not.

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    In real life, there were no gallant heroes. If there were any, they didn't live long. Any sort of secret martial arts societies were mostly a collection of brazen criminals who have no problem taking your money, women, or life.
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    To have a cause, you have to have money. To have money, you need to sometimes engage in immoral activites. Then along the way they realized that money is more important and the cause is lost. It's really about gains more than anything else. Why fight for a lost cause when you can just be your own king.
    Last edited by SkineePanda; 07-09-06 at 08:41 PM.
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    Senior Member Son of Light's Avatar
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    Personally, I've always view triad societies as chivalrous.
    They did help a lot during the 1911 restoration of China.
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    Senior Member CC's Avatar
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    The modern notion of a 'Chivalrous' xiake is as dreamy and unrealistic as a western knight in shining armor who rescues damsels in distress.

    Nice for stories.
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