• definitions decide what you will find
• historically defined group (descending from Coxinga/Ming loyalists/etc.)
• type: organized ethnically Chinese crime
• group sharing specific rituals and myths (my preference)
• historiography
• suffers from inconsistent different definitions
• has attempted to separate the political and religious
• tends to side with state (in definitions of crime) and romanticize Triads
• concepts
• history vs mythology
• social, political and religious
• largely in context persecution and repression
• Qing state
• colonial state
• local gazetteers
• ritual manuals
• from early 19th century onwards
• descriptions of ritual
• in confessions
• (very few) partial eyewitness accounts (Western)
• painting of initiation ritual (Singapore)
• extant altars (HK and Singapore)
• contextualisation within local culture of the south
• see also detailed historiographical survey by Dian Murray (Qin, Baoqi coll.),
The Origins of the Tiandihui: The Chinese Triads in Legend and History
(Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994)
• Western colonial officers stressed ritual and myth, for instance:
Ward and Stirling (Freemasons)
• Chinese academic historiography
• inspired by connections to the nationalist revolution (early on, still alive)
• linking up to Zheng Chenggong/Ming loyalists
• analyzing foundation myth as close to history
• looking at movement thru archives and local histories
• role as moving force of history (rebellions, revolution)
• Triads as mutual support groups, gangs or otherwise (close to Qing readings)
• Western academic historiography
• early work influenced by marxist models
• more recently: following Chinese work stress on mutual support groups
• categories split and confine
• this is necessary, but always analytically subject to correction and
• risk of projecting back modern categories (check: our definitions of the
political, social and religious)
• social and religious often coincide
• as a result use of terms such as “diffuse” religion
• earlier therefore proposal: all lasting social formations in premodern
China have a cult of worship at their centre
• Triads are such a group, with a twist: with addition of a seemingly political
• sufficient elements of the following characteristics
• name (or a variant): Heaven and Earth Earth Gathering 天地會, or Triads
• family name Hong 洪 (radical!)
• bloodcovenant
• initiation ritual in three passages
• elements foundation myth
• on this basis
• selection cases
• selection topics for analysis
• frustrations of Qing officials and colonial officers
• Triad members unable to “explain” their ritual and mythology
• foundation myth or history
• what is explanation anyhow?
• Triad members: quoting poems from the ritual
• us: taking ritual apart to explain its purpose
• how do we know our explanation is “true” and what is the
relevance of this “explanation”
• “true” : by contextualising within rituals and narratives of the participants
as a group
• relevance: ask and answer the quesiton of how participants in a culture
“know” meanings and what “meanings” mean
• central devotional act without intrinsic Triad meaning
• Triad founders on the run had to use grass
• incense burner as ritual centre of a cult group
• more important than statues etc.
• miraculous appearance of the White Ding burner with the text 復明滅清
• leader initiation ceremony called Incense Master
• reenactment by new members of first incense burning by Triad
founder creates community in the present and links up with the
• bushel commonly used in variety of rituals (at least since Tang)
• measure filled with local grain (=community)
• objects (scissors etc.) inside receive Triad specific meanings taken up their
exorcist functions
• five-coloured flags or threads symbolizing Five Encampments/ Five Houses
Triad mythology
• Triads: 木楊城 or safe haven
• altar
• table with incense burner, bushel, candles, sacrificial food
• other objects on the altar as location in the City of Willows
• liminal places and transitions
• occur all the time in ritual practices & narrative elements
rivers & bridges
gates, passes seas & boats
springs, sources, wells
• places for administering status
• cities for salvation (incl. Western Paradise, imagined as a city)
• cities for judgement and rebirth (underworld)
• safe places & retreats
• gardens
• grotto worlds
• rituals and narratives manage transitions between different states of being
(death, life, no-death, before life, etc.)
• funerary ritual
• after-birth rituals
• exorcisms
enactment journey through hell (funerary ritual)
廈門 龍珠殿 送王船
• Tian Youhong’s interview with the
• preliminary questions
• encounters with two mysterious
• Dark Dragon Hill & the Foot of Nail
• boat crossing of Triad River at
Hongying Ferry, landing at Great
Peace Market
• under the bridge with the two
Hong Gate
Hall of Loyalty and Righteousness
Circle of Heaven and Earth
City of Willows
Mountain of Fire
concluding blood covenant at the
Hong/Red Flower Pavilion
• festive banquet
“竹簍檔太陽,很重要的動作”: more likely a prophylactic
measure, traditionally with winnowing basket
crossing the fire with possessed sedan chair
• ancient and common practice
• drinking alcoholic spirits mixed with blood of sacrificial victim (attested
since CQ & WS period at least)
• gate of swords (attested in Song source!)
• aim to strengthen mouth as vehicle of words
• self-imprecations
• contents covenant
• sworn 洪 brothers
• duties of family members
• self-imprecations
• contextualisation=>
• use conventional practices => meaning ritual works through shared cultural
• no meaning, but meaningful
• made specific by Triad mythological explanations (next section)
• Triad internal explanation
• as theatrical performance in five acts and an epilogue
• First Act: Gathering Together in the Flower Pavilion
• Second Act: Instructing the Children in the Central Hall
• Third Act: Taking the Oath at the Flower Pavilion
• Fourth Act: Meeting at the Side of the Bridge
• Fifth Act: Stabilizing the Country and Beheading the Traitor
• Epilogue: Banquet
• other indications: ritual preface with Eight Immortals, make-up of the
Vanguard official in the British Museum Triad manual, use of whip to indicate
horse riding (Morgan description) etc.
• “narrative”
• to explain and justify the Triads>conceived as history
• modern view would deny historicity=> mythological account
• matter of degree: academic history often serves legitimation attempts!
• specific aims of the narrative
• creation of an in-group (Triads) and out-group (the Qing state)
• justification of Triad activities as legitimate on a higher poltical level
• fall-from-grace plot is widespread type of southern Chinese story (more
further below)
• at the time of Li Zicheng one concubine fled>gave birth to the
Young Prince
• rebellion Xilu Barbarians(Xilu 西魯~Xifan 西番) rebelled
>emperor asked for help
• Shaolin monks from Gansu (!) responded> defeated the
barbarians, thanked by emperor, returned to monastery
• traitorous official persecuted the monks, 13 survivors fled
• appearance of incense-burner with 復明滅清, made into focus
blood covenant survivors
• successful fight against Qing armies
• loss Young Ruler and their original leader Master Wan,
founding of the Five Houses from the five provinces
impact of fiction:
Putian ‘s Shaolin
• uniquely Triad elements
• High Creek as important location(1787>)
• Red Flower Pavilion as important location (1787>)
• story of fighter monks, dispatching spirit soldiers, losing their lives with 13
monks left (1787 >)
• meeting Zhu prince and Triads (1801-1802>)
• mythical date jiayin (1801-1802>)
• Zhu-prince flees the imperial palace (1803-1806>)
• City of Willows (1803-1806 >)
• Triad (Five Houses) armies from specific provinces ((1803-1806>)
• Shaolin monastery in Gansu (1807-1808 implicitly, 1810 explicitly >)
• Mount Wan (1807-1808>)
• first complete narrative extant in 1810 manual, most constituent parts
already present several or more years before
• names most prominent figures stem, from demonological messianic
paradigm (see further on)
• examples
Patriarch Luo (Non-Action Teachings foundation myth)
Eight Trigrams
Green Gangs
Yao culture and other southern local cultures (partially)
• basic plot
loyal service to the imperial state in defeating barbarian ennemy
strong in-group consciousness
• similar to tradition of charismatic networks discussed in an earlier lecture
• cosmic change and the fall of the dynasty
• preceded by violent times filled with war and the coming of the apocalypse (often
mention of a Black Wind)
• advent of divine armies from distant places, led by a young ruler and his generals, to
defeat the demonic creatures causing apocalyptic disasters
• western location as origin saviour
• find of treasures, city as safe haven
• no role for the Eternal Venerable Mother myth
• in late imperial period mainly a southern paradigm
• Qing version:
• prince is of Ming Zhu-family descent
• generals have auspicious names suggesting long life 紅, 桃, vastness 洪 and auspicious
numbers 九, 萬.
• some cases
• Ma Chaozhu (1752) and other smalls cases
• crucial impact on Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace (in notion safe haven in Nanjing,
barbarian./Manchu threat)
• Young Prince (Young Prince important folkloric element in
general), referred to as 明君, 明王, 明主
• general as assistants with auspicious names 朱洪德, 朱紅竹, 朱
九桃, 李桃洪, 朱七桂 ,萬雲龍 and so on
• demological armies from concrete distant places 五房
• city as safe haven (City of Willows 木楊城), compare 楊州/陽
• Sichuan (western location) as provenance savior
• fixed date (jiayin 甲寅)
• weak sense of apocalyptic disasters, but strong sense of
barbarian (Manchu) threat
• weak messianic impulse
• messianic ruler present: Young Ming Prince
• concrete event in the future predicted, not expected
• weak sense apocalyptic disasters
• possible moments
• translation into activities against Manchu/Qing regime
• maybe during the Triad uprisings of 1840s?
• maybe some expectations in late 19th century =-> collaboration early
• for an evaluation, discussion of political symbols is required
• Mandate of Heaven
• Son-of-Heaven as recipient of tribute (i.e. not ruler over territory): ordering
• classical and vernacular Daoist ritual specialists: ordering All-under-Heaven
• local deities with feudal titles: ordering the local territory on behalf of heaven
• shared language
“following [the mandate of] heaven” 順天
“the revolution” 運
precious objects (tripod, sword, etc.)
messages from heaven
• please note:
• political and religious dimensions coincide
• here: political and messianic dimensions coincide
• treasures also have exorcist functions
• leaders of Triad events who were never arrested:
Wan Tiqi 萬提起 (1787 Lin Shuangwen rebellion)
Zhu Jiutao 朱九桃 (1851intended [?] uprising)
Zhu Hongying 朱洪英, Zhu Shenghong 朱盛洪 a.o. (1852 actual rebellion)
Wan Dahong 萬大洪 (1850s Guangdong Red Turban rebellions)
• extensive search, at best claimed death=> mythical elements
confused with real history
• political or religious rebellions?
• probably both
• attempts to bring the ideal Triad state about
• low level of long term planning
• some late 19th century Triad leaders may have seen nationalist
revolutionaries in similar light
• as part of nationalist historiography=> creating a
pedigree/historical depth for nationalist activities
• Ming-loyalists (not entirely untrue, although always a myth)
• anti-Manchu
• connecting to Zheng Chenggong/Koxinga
• martial arts connection
• Shaolin element
• prelude of martial arts films
• Incorporation into martial arts foundation myths, historical depth unclear
• proto-revolutionaries
• because of purported nationalist connection
• social rebels (mutual support groups)
• police exaggeration
• organized crime> more funds & more freedom of persecution

Triads: social, political or religious group