Triad Organized Crime and Corruption Research Group

Group Members

  • Professor T Wing Lo (Triads, Gangs and Corruption)
  • Guoping Jiang (Corruption in China)
  • LiLi (Corruption in Hong Kong)
  • Eric So (Triads and Drug Dealing)
  • Sharon Ingrid Kwok (Triads and Structural Network Perspective)
  • Cora Hui (Successful Factors in Anti-Corruption)

Introduction

CORRUPTION IS LIKE “CANCER”. TRIAD SOCIETIES ARE A “MENACE TO SOCIETY”.

Hong Kong’s reputation as one of the cleanest and safest cities in the world is hard-earned. During the postwar era, Hong Kong was the capital of triads and was riddled with corruption. Governors of Hong Kong were bestowed with the task to keep corruption and triad problems under control for the survival and growth of the city.

Some background information about triads and corruption in Hong Kong:

  • During postwar era, it is estimated that one in every six inhabitants in Hong Kong was a triad member (Morgan, 1960).
  • “Almost everybody was suffering” as corruption was also seen as a fact of life during the post-war era (Elsie Elliot Tu, 1999)
  • “Qualitative accounts suggest that corruption in Hong Kong in the 1960s was as common as that found in mainland China today. “ (Manion 2004, p. 27)

Hong Kong’s transition to cleanliness has been paved with challenges. Challenges included rampant corruption among civil servants and within the police force, corruption scandal involving high-ranked police officer (case of Peter Godber), hostility between the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) and the police force, the dire need to grant a partial amnesty, the return to Chinese sovereignty (and governance under “One Country, Two Systems”), changing nature of corruption, the mainlandization of Hong Kong etc.

Triad societies are well-established, cohesive Chinese criminal organizations focally aimed at monetary gain. Abiding by the same code of conduct and chain of commands assured the formation of blood brothers with one solitary aspiration. With such authority and manipulation amid the triad syndicate, this aspiration inevitably resulted in the running of illicit activities in triad-controlled territories. As the intimacy between Hong Kong and China grew deeper, an upsurge of cross-border crime has emerged since the 1990s. Prosperity in China caused a process of mainlandization of triad activities because of an ever-increasing demand of licit and illicit services in Chinese communities. Consequently, triad societies have changed from a rigid territorial base and cohesive structure to more reliance on flexible and instrumental social networks. They are entrepreneurially oriented and involved in a wide range of licit and illicit businesses based in Hong Kong but spread to mainland China. How traditional triads operate in the modern world and how triads respond to socioeconomic change are the focus of research.

Hong Kong is hence a particularly interesting case study for research purposes because it has been a story of learning through trial and error. Our research group believes the success of Hong Kong in keeping corruption and triads under control has important insights and implications for countries that are still struggling with corruption and with organized crime. For example, the three-pronged strategy of operations, corruption prevention and community education used by the ICAC has frequently been hailed as the “world model” of anti-corruption bureaus.

We see it as our mission to contribute to the literature by identifying research-informed and evidence-based lessons on how to combat triad and corruption related problems.

Some selected sample papers
Jiang, G., & Lo, T. W. (March 2015).
University Students’ Views on Political Influences and the Status of Law in Post-Reform China: A Moderation and Mediation Analysis. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology. Advance online publication. doi:10.1177/0306624X15572803

Scholars categorize societies into “rule of man” societies, “rule by law” societies, and “rule of law” societies on the basis of a status of law. After 1978, China’s leaders invoked law as an alternative to the arbitrariness of the Cultural Revolution. In this study, we used quantitative methods to explore university students’ views on the status of law in post-reform China. Surveys were conducted in three national universities located in different regions of China. Responses from university students show that their perceptions of well-developed legislation and perceptions of the publicity of law are associated with their perceptions of equality before the law, which could be the consequence of a “rule of law” system. However, the study found that university students are of the view that the political nature of legislation and interference in law enforcement moderate the relationship between legislation and equality before the law. The political nature of legislation also moderates the mediation effect of interference in law enforcement between law publicity and equality before the law. As such, the article concludes that although university students are no longer primary movers in China’s social and political development after the Tiananmen incident, they are still knowledgeable if not critical about the status of law and its political implications.


Jiang, G., Lo, T. W., & Li, C. (2013).
Youths’ views on corruption control in China: Politics and social censure. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 57, 1498–1521.

It has been asserted that criminal law and common morality are not sufficient terms to describe specific behaviors as corruption because those in power have the capacity to include or exclude certain behavior as a category in the law. Thus, corruption should not be just treated as an objective behavioral category but as a form of social censure. This article reports on a quantitative and qualitative study that collected the views of Chinese youth on the control of corruption in China. It was found that they agreed with the moral-negative judgments behind the censure of corruption, and that bureaucratic forces can be mobilised to punish the corrupt and degrade their status. Mediation analysis discovered that political functions mediate the association between the moral-negative nature and bureaucratic form of the censure of corruption and status degradation of the censured.


Jiang G., Lo, T.W. & Garris, C. P. (2012).
Formation and trend of guanxi practice and guanxi phenomenon. International Journal of Criminology and Sociology, 1, 207-220.

Guanxi (pronounced “gwan-shee”) is often associated with corruption, as such, it can be viewed as having existed in Chinese society for thousands years. However, guanxi, as it exists in everyday life, is a modern Chinese term. Loosely translated as “connections,” it is a relatively recent Chinese word to gain entry into the English vernacular. While the term was virtually unknown to non-Chinese speakers a decade ago, it is used by Chinese and non-Chinese speakers alike today, and it has made its way into many academic arenas.


Li Li (2015).
Senior officials’ corruption-related malpractice in Hong Kong after 1997.

Corruption should not be regarded merely as a crime. Corruption is a form of social censure that reflects complex politico-economic and social phenomena. In Hong Kong, a new form of corruption has been created by conflicts of interest among senior officials. This study used social censure theory to examine how and why social changes have affected perceived corruption in Hong Kong after 1997.

The present study used both quantitative and qualitative methods. First, 20 respondents from Hong Kong and Guangzhou were interviewed to map the main discursive themes related to corruption and the changing relationship between Hong Kong and mainland China. Second, a subjective perception scale was constructed on the basis of the interview data, and 148 district council (DC) members were surveyed. Third, 15 DC members were interviewed to explore their perceptions of corruption.

Both quantitative and qualitative data showed that the important historical conjuncture of mainlandization has been politicized in Hong Kong and has deeply influenced the DC members’ perceived seriousness of corruption. Moreover, two additional mediating mechanisms of mainlandization’s effect on perceived seriousness of corruption were found: 1) Mainlandization brought about more conflicts of interest among government officials, which weakened the symbolic function of the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) and, in turn, affected the perceived seriousness of corruption; 2) the class conflict caused by social unfairness and conflicts of interest emerged in the process of mainlandization led to increasingly fierce civic engagement which, in turn, strengthened the public perception of increasingly serious corruption. Finally, the mass media began to cater more to public demand while performing a less ideological function for the dominant power bloc. Cases studies of corruption-related malpractice were used to illustrate the conflict of interest and collusion between senior officials and businessmen, which aroused active civic engagement against corruption. It was concluded that corruption is intimately related to power, class, and ideology, but the censure of corruption in Hong Kong nowadays failed to offer a hegemonic function for the dominant power bloc.


Kwok, S.I., & Lo, T.W. (2013).
Anti-triad legislations in Hong Kong: Issues, problems and development. Trends in Organized Crime, 16, 74-94.

One way to tackle triad societies is through effective legislation. The present article first describes and reviews the legislation dealing with triad activities in Hong Kong – The Societies Ordinance – and highlights the main issues and problems. Four issues are discussed, namely ambiguity in the definition of triad membership, doubtful neutrality of triad experts, outdated triad-related literature cited in the court, and the contradiction with human rights and freedom of expression. The article further examines the effect of the ordinance in suppressing triad activities and argues that the law is not very effective in penalizing senior triad members, thus justifying the need for a new legislation to contain the growth of triad activities and organized crime.