Chinese Secret Societies

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Chinese Secret Societies  (1891) 
by Frederick Boyle
Published in Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Volume 83, Issue 489, September, 1891, pages 595-602.

This subject is not only curious; from day to day it may become most gravely pressing. The secret societies of China are innumerable; and although the very great majority have no concern with public affairs, since most of them are persecuted, not one, perhaps, is friendly to the government; But the great leagues are furiously hostile. Expulsion of the Tartar, and, as we should say, China for the Chinese, are their passwords and mottoes. They work without ceasing to overthrow the dynasty; every year they raise revolts, and at intervals they break out in a grand rebellion. Schlegel satisfied himself that the Taiping movement was the work of the T'ien-Ti-Hwey, and no man has such authority to pronounce. It is certain, at least, that the troubles which began that tremendous outbreak in 1849 were directed by Hung-siu-Tsuien, a Grand Master of the T'ien-Ti. Wherever Chinamen dwell they have their secret societies, affiliated to the parent Hwey, and the professed object always is to overthrow the imperial line. It may be doubted whether the emigrants of San Francisco or Melbourne trouble themselves about home politics, but a percentage of their subscriptions is transmitted to the mother lodge. In brief, those acquainted with the state of things would feel no surprise if tomorrows newspaper announced a revolution in China.

First of these societies in every point of view is the T'ien-Ti-Hwey - I adopt the spelling now approved by Chinese scholars. Dr. Milne drew attention to it so far back as 1825. His book Some Account of a Secret Society in China attracted the notice of Gustav Schlegel, interpreter to the government of Netherlands India; also of Dr. Joseph Schauburg, a learned and enthusiastic Freemason of Zurich. I shall have no room to dwell upon the striking resemblance of the usages and ritual of the T'ien-Ti to those of Freemasonry, and I cite Dr. Schauburg's name only to put inquirers on the track. Schlegel's personal investigations were started by a lucky chance. A Chinaman dwelling at Padang, in Sumatra, was suspected of theft, and the police searched his house. They found there a quantity of books and papers showing that a lodge of the T'ien Ti was established at Padang, with two hundred members. Schlegel obtained these documents; and all other evidence past and future, bearing on the subject was placed at his disposal by the government. Upon these he published his famous work The Thian-Ti Hwey, or Hung League, in 1866; but he obtained no assistance whatever from Chinamen. I could not find one among them, he says, to confirm or deny any single article of my discoveries. At a later date, however, Mr. W. A. Pickering, Protector of Chinese and Registrar of Secret Societies in Singapore, won such confidence among the leaders of the Hung there, that they allowed him even to attend their meetings. But he does not flatter himself with the notion that the rites performed in his presence were those that would have been held under other circumstances.

The T'ien-Ti, or Hung League, claims an immemorial antiquity. Since the foundations of the earth were laid, says its catechism, we bear the name of Hung. Again, Yin and Yang, Heaven and Earth, accoupled, produced the sons of Hung in myriads leagued. But the only distinct evidence with which I am acquainted lies in the honor paid to Liu-pi, Chang-fi, and Kwan-yu, heroes who flourished, as they say, about 184 AD. The fact is that we should not expect to hear of the T'ien-Ti before the Manchu conquest. In those early days its motto was, Obey Heaven and do Righteousness. That motto still heads every page of its hand-books, but in practice it is over-ruled by the eternal Hoan Cheng, Hok Beng - Drive out the Tartar, restore the native line. The league in its present form dates from 1664 A.D., twenty years after the conquest. At that time the Eleuth or Olot Tartars revolted against their Manchu suzerain, and reduced him to the greatest straits. This is history. By the tradition of the T'ien-Ti, a certain Buddhist abbot saved the empire, taking the field with his monks. The grateful monarch made them such presents that Tang-sing, his favorite, determined to ruin them. By false reports he obtained an edict commanding him to destroy those traitors, and he fired the monastery. Five inmates alone escaped, by a series of miracles; they are now reverenced as the five ancestors. For years they were hunted over the province of Hok-kien. At length, walking on the banks of the Sam-ho River, they beheld a censer floating, on the bottom of which was inscribed the new motto, Overthrow the Ching [the Manchu, restore the Ming [the native dynasty],in the Hok-kien dialect, Cheng and Beng. With this watchword they took up arms. Many thousands joined them, and they routed the imperial army. But their hero Bang-lung fell. Thereupon the second in command dismissed every man to his home, there to enlist recruits and to preach eternal hatred to the Tartar. Thus the Hung League was formed.

We may venture to believe this story in the main. Putting romance and marvels aside, it tells how a benevolent association was transformed into a ruthless conspiracy by persecution. Thus one of the Vanguard Generals replies in the book of ritual may be understood. The Master asks him, Do you know that there is a Greater and a Less T'ien-Ti? He answers: Yes. The Greater was founded in Heaven; the Less at the waters of the Three Rivers that is, on the banks of the Sam-ho.

T'ien-Ti-Hwey means association of Heaven and Earth. Its symbol is the triangle, Man forming the base. The unity of God and His intimate relations with mankind are tenets so much insisted on that Schlegel almost believes it a survival of the monotheistic creed displaced by Buddhism. Its moral code is not less pure. The equality of all men, the duty of benevolence, the forgiveness of injuries, are inculcated again and again. What is the practice we shall see.

The society recognizes another name, Sam-hap, translated Triad, by which it is better known among foreigners generally; but the meaning is the same Heaven, Earth, Man. More practically significant is the title Hung League. Hung stands for Water, also for Many that is, Deluge, and figuratively, Universal. Upon the strength of this title the society claims allegiance from all of Chinese blood. It holds itself justified in taking any means to secure a convert to further its ends, to punish those who reject it. The rights of the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages are an exact parallel. Thus initiation generally is enforced, not willing. Each lodge has a varying number of Tai-ma, whose duty it is to hunt up recruits. Marking down a person who seems desirable, for one reason or another, they order him, by a written notice, to repair to such or such a spot. He who neglects to do so had best quit the neighborhood, concealing his new address. A savage beating or a false accusation will assuredly follow, and he may congratulate himself if no worse happen. But a man never re-fuses, unless he prefer exile. After all, if it must be, membership offers compensations. Or the fated initiate is stopped in a public place, and told to follow there and then. Not infrequently he is abducted by main force, if occasion serve. A favored trick is to slap him in the face; he pursues the assailant, and a number of sympathizing passers-by join the chase, which leads them to a solitary spot, where on a sudden they fall upon him.

In all countries where the T'ien-Ti is established, excepting the Straits Settlements there also, perhaps, since the suppression its lodges are held in a secret place, the most difficult of access that can be 4ound. Every approach is defended by traps and pitfalls under charge of armed men, posted in the trees or hidden in the brushwood that is, of course, when the brethren are assembled. The first gate of the lodge is called Ang, where the Executioner abides. It is his duty to behead any stranger who cannot recite the distich which gives admittance. Mr. Pickering, no unfriendly witness, allows that the punishments of the league were carried out in their integrity forty years ago, even in Singapore. On one occasion some strangers were actually beheaded for intruding on a meeting held in the jungle. Elsewhere, by all accounts, there is no need to use the past tense. Beyond the Ang Gate lies the eastern portal, with its garrison of armed men, sentries and officers. North, south, and west are equally protected, each gate under its proper General, whose flag flies above it. The inscriptions are so curious and symbolical that I regret my space does not allow me to quote them. Entering from the east we come to the Red Flowery Pavilion, where water of the Sam-ho River is provided to cleanse the soul. Thence we pass through the Circle of Heaven and Earth to the Two-planked Bridge, by which sits the Red Youth, armed with a spear to destroy any unworthy member who has escaped the vigilance of the So-Ang-Kuang at the Gate of Execution. According to the testimony of the Headman, Mr. Pickering says, many victims have fallen to his spear in Singapore. Beyond the Bridge lies the Market of Universal Peace and the Temple of Peace and Happiness. This is the City of Willows, or. the Peach Garden; in the Straits, the Pear Garden, the Lodge itself.

One who reads of these impediments and precautions with the idea of a four-walled building in his mind may think them rather childish make-believe. So they are, or rather were, in Singapore, where the societies had built handsome structures. But elsewhere it is all gravest reality the gates solid, the bridge dangerous, the swords sharp, and the guards only too ready to use them. A lodge of the Tien-Ti, says Schlegel, is a little encampment. From the Aug Gate to the City of Willows may be several miles, with peril for the uninitiated at every step. If descriptions of the great Shan Ling Lodge may be trusted, the rock called Heaven Screen Pass lies fifty miles from the Island, which is the Central Magazine of the Brotherhood. I do not recognize these names.

To detail the ceremonies of initiation, most striking in themselves, and, above all, interesting from their resemblance to Freemasonry, would demand all my space. In brief, a novice is received by the General of the Vanguard outside the Gate of Execution. He must be attired in new white clothes, or, by dispensation in clothes newly washed. His pigtail is loosened, in sign of renouncing allegiance to the Manchu Empire; his pockets emptied; his right shoulder and his knees bared. Thus arrayed, he gives in his name, birthplace, and so on to the Registrar, pays a fee of three dollars and fifty cents, and kneels expectant. The General of the Vanguard meanwhile has begged permission of the Master to introduce a neophyte, who is brought within the gate presently, under an arch of swords, and so, with formalities innumerable, to the City of Willows. The spectacle here is tremendously impressive; I regret that I have not space to describe it. After taking a solemn vow in thirty - six articles of obedience to the rules of the league, the novice declares that all his kinsfolk are dead, because a member acknowledges no earthly bond. He lies prostrate before the Masters throne, with the swords of the eight Councillors resting on his bare shoulder, until formally accepted. Then a cup of arrack is given him, he scratches his arm, and lets a few drops of blood fall into it, and drinks. Next day the Secretary of the lodge explains the simpler passwords and tokens, and gives him a book of instruction; but, as in Masonry, there is no end to the secrets which the initiated may learn by study.

It appears to be certain that there is no Supreme Grand Master of the T'ien-Ti, but it has a central government. There are five Grand Lodges in Fuk-kien, Kwang-tung, Yun-Nan, Hunan, and Che Kiangto one of which all branches are subordinate. The Masters of these, in some sort of council, direct the society in all parts of the world such is the theory, at least. Every local lodge has its President, two Vice-Presidents, a Master, two Introducers, a Cashier, and thirteen Councillors, of whom eight form a quorum. As for the roll of membership, it must be reckoned by millions. We gain some information on this point by observing that more brethren were registered in the Straits Settlements in the year 1887 than the census return admits for the whole Chinese population. The actual number was 156,440.

Having traced the history of the T'ien-Ti, glanced at its organization, and observed too briefly the objects it professes, we have to consider what in effect is its influence. Certain articles of the oath assist us here. The first, after enjoining obedience, commands every member to mind his own affairs; the second forbids him, under direct penalties, to confide in any uninitiated person whatsoever; the thirty-fourth sentences him to a cruel death if he calls upon police, magistrates, or jurisdiction of any kind, under any circumstances; the thirty-fifth pronounces an awful doom if he gives evidence in a court of law, unless, be it understood, by direction of his superior that is, generally false witness. In the Masters address to candidates after initiation, he tells them to lay before him any wrong or grievance they may have, and justice shall be done. These principles, the repudiation of all jurisdictions, and the assumption of their power by an irresponsible tribunal, constitute an imperium in imperio, the foulest, the bloodiest, the most oppressive, of which there is record, on such a scale. Schlegel says, The Hung League has carried civil war and murder wherever it has gone. Mime says, They engage to defend each other against the police, to hide each others crimes, to assist detected members in making their escape from justice. Pickering says the T'ien-Ti is a combination to carry out private quarrels, and to uphold the interests of the members in spite of law; and lastly, to raise money by subscription, or by levying fees on brothels or gaming-houses. The Inspector-General of Police for Singapore says, They are a standing danger to the peace of the Settlement. And so on. Their government is a Reign of Terror, which the law itself maintains in its own despite; for if it be not thought advisable to take active steps against one who has incurred the ill will of the society, such as murder, torture, a pitiless beating, a false charge is brought, and supported, if needful, by a thousand witnesses.

The colonial branches of the T'ien-Ti are murderously hostile among themselves. They have, in fact, no raison d'tre beyond that enmity to the Manchu, very vague in practice save internecine war. Their chiefs accumulate enormous wealth. Chang Ah Kwi, a leading member of the Gin-Seng branch at Penang, was proved to possess two millions sterling when tried for murder.[1] His fellow - prisoner, Chin Ah Yam, was said to be as rich.[2] The District Grand Master, Khu-Tan-Tek, who was actually sentenced by the Supreme Court, declared that the government dared not hang him, and he proved right, so far, at least, that the government did not. These cases arose out of the tremendous riot which I must refer to presently, when the town was occupied for more than a week by warring Hweys, forty thousand strong. This disturbance is especially notable because it led to our occupation of Perak, and therefore I cite it. Both Penang and Singapore had beheld troubles almost as grave. Perak was a native state at the time, rich in antimony mines, which had attracted fifty thousand Chinamen, every single one belonging to a society established at Penang. Freed from all restraint, they followed their own instincts. The Malay Rajah did not interfere so long as they paid their dues. Pitched battles were incessant. On one occasion thirty thousand men engaged, of whom two thousand were left dead upon the field. The mother lodges at Penang took up these quarrels and attacked one another. At length the Governor of the Straits Settlements proposed to occupy Perak, and the Rajah accepted. But the societies remained. At a conference in.his own drawing-room, they once threatened to hang the Resident, Sir Hugh Low.

It is needless to give details about the working of this great conspiracy in China, because, when the conditions are understood, a reader can imagine the effect. For two centuries the imperial government has been fighting. To give a notion of its ruthlessness, I may state that three thousand members were beheaded in one day at Canton, and ten thousand, more or less, thrown into prison about Pekin, most of whom perished, after the troubles of 1817. The Dutch and Spaniards made acquaintance with the secret societies long before our attention was called, and at an early date they introduced the Chinese system of dealing with them. In the first place, membership, the possession of flags, books, or emblems, and the use of secret signs were made penal, whilst all concerned in the ceremony of initiation were punished with death. In the next place; all Chinamen were compelled to live in a certain quarter, divided into wards. Each ward had its Master, with a staff of constables, and each street, or convenient section of a street, its watchmen. These persons, in their several degrees, were held responsible for the inhabitants. The watchmen had a list of householders and lodges, which was verified and corrected monthly. The con stables arrested any man found out-of-doors after a certain hour, who had to convince the watchman, necessarily acquainted with his affairs, that he was abroad on lawful business. This system is still in force throughout the Philippines and Netherlands India. But it proved useless or worse, failing to repress murders and disturbances, whilst turning the hostility of the league against the government itself. The Ward Master, constables, and watchmen, Chinese themselves, do not dare fulfil their duties honestly, even if inclined. Manila was actually seized, and held for a time, by a combination of the principal Hweys, all branches of the T'ien-Ti. Scores of times it has been saved only by calling out the full force of the garrison. In 1854 the great Dutch town of Banjer~massin was the scene of a desperate struggle. It is no exaggeration to say that lives were lost in riots, outrages, or murders every week at this time.

The Dutch followed the Spanish example presently in making proof of membership a capital offence. They decreed the suppression of the societies, and expelled every suspected person; but ten years after this stringent measure Schlegel wrote, It is impossible to eradicate the Hung League where it exists, and he himself traced it in every direction throughout Netherlands India. But the expulsion of the brethren had a disastrous effect. Many of them crossed from Sambas into Sarawak, and there after a while actually seized the capital, Kuchin. Rajah Brooke had but just time to escape in his night clothes. The chiefs of the Hweys, sitting in the court-house, made Bishop McDougal and Mr. Helm, manager of the Borneo Company, swear allegiance, and then departed in their boats, thinking, Chinese fashion, that their rule was secure. But the Malays rose instantly, and the boldest of them, two hundred strong, attacked the Chinese flotilla, manned by four thousand gold-diggers. Instantly they turned about, sweeping the river by mere weight of numbers, and burnt Kuchin to the ground. But Mr. Charles Johnson, the present Rajah Brooke, sent round the spear at Sakarran, mustered ten thousand Sea Dyaks in forty-eight hours, and marched, raising the country on his way. The Chinese fled towards Sambas, whence they came; but all the paths were occupied. Fighting without a moments pause, they reached the crest of Sirambau hill to find the Dyaks gathered for a final struggle~ The poor wretches were no match for those antagonists at best, in the jungle; but,worn out and panic-stricken, they refused even to charge. Then occurred a dramatic scene. The maidens pushed to the front, clapping their hands in time and singing; under this stimulus the men roused themselves, made a desperate effort, and broke through; but with awful loss. I saw one of the Dyak chiefs, Gasing, with ten pigtails attached to the scabbard of his sword, personal trophies of that encounter. It is said that of four thousand Chinese males, less than two hundred reached the Dutch settlements. This was in 1857.

Such startling revelations of the spirit and the power of the Tien-Ti moved every government of the far East to proceedings yet stricter, except the British. Twelve years had still to pass before the existence of secret societies was officially recognized at Singapore. Yet the colonial authorities had information enough, and the Straits government reported mail by mail, with wearisome iteration, that the state of things was intolerable. One of the very earliest enactments in the statute-book of Hong-kong decrees the suppression of the Triad and other secret societies; it was passed in 1845. The preamble describes them as associations having objects in view incompatible with the maintenance of good order and constituted authority, and with the security of life and property. But nothing was done in the Straits. Month by month the streets of Singapore, even more especially of Penang, were held by mobs, fighting to the death. Scores of times the garrison was called out. Murders were discovered weekly, suspected daily. One man boasted to Mr. Pickering that he had released seventy-two of his confederates from jail. Petitions were sent to the Governor and to the Colonial Office until respectable inhabitants, Chinese as well as European, were sick of petitioning. At length came the crisis. Penang was the headquarters of several associations, the chiefs residing there in safety, whilst they directed wholesale murder and civil war in the native states. In 1876 they had a grand quarrel. Not less than forty thousand men took up arms, a thousand at least were killed, whole streets looted, women outraged, and houses burnt. Two years afterwards the Colonial Office assented at last to decree, not the suppression of secret societies as was demanded, but the registration.

It worked some good, no doubt. Mr. Pickering, the Registrar, declared himself satisfied, because, as he ingenuously con: fessed, no better could be had. Even an attempt on his own life by the chiefs of the Ghee Hok Society did not shake his faith. But the public, which saw crime still rampant in all directions, could not wait longer than nine years for the beneficent effects of registration. Backed by the police, and in fact everybody else, it demanded stronger measures, and in 1888 the societies were suppressed. The despatch of Sir Cecil Clementi Smith urging this measure points out that eleven secret societies were registered in Singapore by last returns, having 1122 office-bearers and 62,376 members enrolled; in Penang, five secret societies with 361 offices bearers and 92,581 members - an increase of 20,771 in the twelve months. This will be thought startling, but when, as has been said, the whole Chinese population by the census of 1881 was but 153,532, it shows in the first place that the census is inexact, and in the second that very nearly all the males must be enrolled in one or other branch of this tremendous conspiracy.

It is satisfactory, so far as it goes, to learn that no bad results have followed. I have seen a letter from Sir C. C. Smith, dated December 29, 1890, which says: You will be glad to know that the policy has been quite successful. I have made careful inquiry since I came back, and am quite satisfied that there has been no attempt at resuscitation, and that the dangerous societies are entirely blotted out. Of course a careful watch must be maintained. May this cheering view prove exact! But the Mandarins, the Dutch, and the Spaniards of the far East will be slow to accept it.

Next to the T'ien-Ti in importance among Chinese secret societies is the Wu-Wei Keaou Do Nothing, or, as some read the characters, No Hypocrisy. Our acquaintance with its tenets is small, for no lodge has been identified in the colonies, so far as I know, and in China this league is even more feared and hated than the T'ien-Ti. Mr. F. H. Balfour, however, obtained some hints during his long residence at Shanghai. It appears to be certain that the Do Nothing is the direct descendant of the White Lotus, a terrible association which played its part in Chinese history. The earliest mention occurs in an edict of the Emperor Yung Ching, 1724 AD., against secret associations and false laws, which, it says, are those that incite the people to rebellion under pretext of inculcating virtue, like the laws of the White Lotus. We may suspect that religion has more influence in this society than in others. Colored clothes are forbidden. The members are vegetarians of the strictest sort, and they use no pointed instrument; moreover, a novice surrenders all his property or hers, since women are admitted on initiation. He is allowed the usufruct, however, until called upon. A large proportion of members belong to the rich class, as is understood, and thus the governing body has a vast sum at command. However it be with the T'ien-Ti, the Wu Wei Keaou is certainly directed by one head. A certain Fang Yung-chen was Grand Master in the reign of Kia King, and he, instigated by his wife, Ma-erh Ku-liang, formed a plot to blow up the palace at Peking. For months it was incubating, and many thousands of persons, male and female, were engaged, but no hint reached the government until the conspirators were actually entering the palace. A great gust of wind suddenly extinguished their lights, and a few, seized with superstitious panic, cried out, alarming the guard. This was about 1810 AD. Forthwith Kia King exerted the whole power of the empire to, crush the White Lotus. Its headquarters then, as now, were in the province of Nanking, where the brethren flew to arms, and held their own for some months. The capture of Fang Yung-chen himself, after a desperate battle, put an end to the revolt. Many thousands were captured, so many that even a Chinese Viceroy was willing to be merciful. He offered to remit the penalty of death in favor of all prisoners who would consent to eat flesh. Not a few submitted; but the society boasts that every one of these was caught, tried, and executed afterwards, according to the terms of his violated oath; humane persons will not care to know what those terms are.

So hot and so long-continued was this persecution that the brethren changed the name of their league from White Lotus to Do Nothing. I am not aware that it has made any open movement since against the Manchu dynasty. But the influence of the society is great, and appears to be spreading. It works upon the superstitious terrors of the population, who regard the Wu-Wei Keaou as a band of magicians. All sorts of diabolical powers are attributed to them. Mr. Balfour says, I have been gravely assured by Chinamen of no small experience and culture that the initiated are able to cut birds out of paper, and then, by virtue of a certain charm, endue them with life and motion. He seems to believe on his own account that some of the leading members can hold their breath, through long practice, for an incredible space of time. They get black in the face and perfectly rigid; meanwhile the soul is supposed to leave the body and collect information of a more or less miscellaneous kind. When the trance is over, it comes back, the breath returns, and the revelation is divulged. A man once failed to recall his errant soul, and died - a mishap which caused much disruption among the members. In conclusion, Mr. Balfour observes that the stringency of their moral regimen is certainly in favor of their being genuine mystics, who prefer death to breaking their vows of abstinence; while the political character of the association is illustrated with equal cogency by the fact that its organization is carried on in the strictest political form, members assuming the rank and titles of regularly appointed officials, and being bound by a code of laws as rigidly enforced as that of any recognized community.

Readers may be able to recall an extraordinary movement which convulsed the cities of Nanking, Shanghai, Hang-chow, and all others of that enormous district in the spring of 1876; it diverted the universe. Mens "tails" dropped away without visible cause. In private chambers, as in the street, when asleep in their own beds or when gathered in convivial meetings, suddenly, without notice or reason, the cherished appendage "came off". At first it was believed to be the work of practical jokers - by foreigners at least, for the matter was too serious for such an explanation in the Chinese point of view. But so rapidly and so widely the portent spread that strangers ceased to laugh. As for the natives, they went mad with panic. And no wonder. I cannot think of a parallel to that outrage in the conditions of European society. If hundreds of respectable citizens found themselves divested of the characteristic male garment all of a sudden, as they went about their business, or "circled in the mazy dance", or attended church service, and if this happened daily for months before a glimpse of the modus operandi was discovered, it would not be so shocking to the deeper instincts as was this wholesale amputation of their tails to Chinamen. The mutilation of the Hermes at Athens is a similar case, indeed, but it was not repeated for months, hour by hour, all over Greece.

The authorities, even more terrified than the populace, since they had the Emperor to fear as well as the devil, were at their wits end. Proclamations, threats, appeals to Heaven and man, were issued daily, and without effect. English and other foreign residents of unquestionable veracity published the evidence of their own eyes. They themselves saw the tails of servants and clerks drop off in their presence; or, visiting a wealthy customer on business, beheld the same phenomenon. A file of the Shanghai papers for the year 1876 is mighty droll to read. Human ingenuity had never a more open field in which to disport itself.

But the trick was carried on too long. over too much ground. Wonderfully clever and audacious as the operators were, they could not reasonably hope to preserve their secret among such accumulating risks. Probably a large proportion of the police and of the myriad spies employed were in league with them, but they could not control accident. Two men were caught in the very act of snipping off a tail, whilst accomplices held the doomed possessor thereof in earnest converse. The spell, once broken, gave way all round, as so commonly happens. The men arrested had a very small pair of scissors so small that it was hidden in the palm of the hand and keen as a razor. With this they did the work, aided by ingenious contrivances, either severing the tail, or leaving it attached by a few hairs, which gave way shortly afterwards. They were proved to belong to a secret society; but on ascertaining this fact the authorities closed their public investigation abruptly. It is known, however, that the society was the Wu-Wei Keaou, which perhaps desired to recall itself to memory. In that design it was quite successful. The scissors are forgotten already, but the horror and the panic have spread far and wide, and the reputation of the society accompanies them to its great profit, no doubt. As for the means of advertisement employed, everybody is aware that the tail of a Chinaman is the mark of his subjection to the Tartar, as has been mentioned before. To cut it off or leave the head unshaven is a protest against the hated Ching.

Another powerful society is the Ko-Lao Hwey, or League of the Elder Brother. It dates only from the time of the Taiping rebellion, when, as report goes, General Tseng-Kuo-fan himself established it during the siege of Nanking. This is a very dangerous association, said to be growing in strength continually. As the T'ien-Ti has its home in Hok-Kien and the Wu-Wei Keaou in Nanking, so the Ko-Lao makes its headquarters in Hunan and Honan, the central provinces. It claims to represent the pure Chinese race, the sons of Han, to whom the inhabitants of the south and west are almost as much foreign as are the Tartars. These malcontents look behind the Ming dynasty, as the name Elder Brother implies, to the imperial line of Tang, which is supposed to be extinct long ago, but doubtless a scion will be forth-coining when the throne is vacant. The society consists of soldiers mostly, but it is understood that some affiliates occupy very high positions indeed, as we should expect when they advocate such a policy. A very desperate and disreputable band they are by all accounts, numbering a large proportion of the bad characters in those districts where they have influence. Mr. Balfour says, however, "There is not the slightest doubt that if one of their old generals were to raise the standard of rebellion, he might have a hundred thousand men about him in the time it takes to spread the news from Nanking to Han-kow".

The Ko-Lao is, in fact, a military conspiracy. Its agents commonly travel as doctors, carrying news from one centre to another, and making proselytes as they go. The ceremonial of initiation is said to be elaborate, but I have heard no details. An association of old soldiers designed to overthrow the civil power is naturally turbulent. The Ko-Lao has broken out several times during its brief existence. In 1870 and 1871 it raised serious disturbances in Hunan, but the grand movement was disconcerted by a lucky chance. A secret letter containing the plan for blowing up the powder-magazine at Hukow was delivered to the wrong person. It named several of the chief conspirators, who were seized and promptly executed. In that neighborhood the society was suppressed for a while. But its attraction for the men of the central provinces, who hate their kinsfolk all round, must be very strong.

Many other societies are known, but I must dismiss them briefly. The Mohammedans, who number not less than twenty millions by official report perhaps twenty-five millions, or even more have a secret league, the Hwuy-Hwuy Jin. A neophyte must be purified before initiation, and this is done by thrashing him heartily. Afterwards he is put to the question a l'eau made to drink a prodigious quantity of soap and water which scout-s the pork out of him, if any. But since the awful massacres of Kashgar these sectaries have been intimidated. Tien-Tsin has the Tsai-li Hwuy apparently a religious association. Members dress in white alone, even to their hats and shoes; they abstain from alcoholic drinks, opium, and tobacco, and fall into ecstasies when praying. They have been much persecuted of late, being easily distinguishable. Other societies, of which the secret is utterly unknown, are the Tsze Twan Keaou and the Tan Pei Ke~ou. The single fact ascertained touching the former is the practice of eating small dumplings, doubtless symbolical. The latter kneel upon a large carpet and pray; at a certain moment the four corners of it are raised and fastened above their heads, when the heap of devotees inside fall into a trance and prophesy. But our information on these points is suspect, coming from their enemies the Mandarins. As for semi-secret associations for good works, they are legion.


  1. Bolton et al in their book Triad Societies: Western Accounts of the History, Sociology and Linguistics of Chinese Secret Societies (ISBN 0415243971) suggest that Boyle seems to have got his facts mixed up. They go on to reiterate that Chang Ah Kwi was the head of the Hai San (Tokong) in Penang and Larut and not of the Ghee Hin (Triad).
  2. Here Bolton et al suggest Boyle is confusing Ah Kwi and Ah Yam with Khoo Poh (Tokong) and Boey Yu Kong (Triad), who together with Khoo Thean Teik who were committed to trial in the Penang Riots of 1867.