About the Triads
Hong Kong's triads are more powerful than most people might expect. Like some of the biggest international drug dealers who have their own armed forces, Hong Kong triads pursue and maintain significant resources such as their own stockpiles of ammunition. Like Western Mafia, they usually limit violence to among themselves rather than inflict it on the public at large.
There is no father-figure in the Hong Kong triads to control all other members in illegal activities via a hierarchy. On the contrary, Hong Kong triads are generally composed of several independent groups. Although they form and organize themselves with similar ceremonies and hierarchical systems, they do not function under an absolute and strict dominion-and-compliance plan. For example, the "King Yee" is a subsidiary branch of the "Sun Yee On", but members of the King Yee do not take orders from the "supremacy".
The actual power of triads lies at the ground level of the hierarchy. Usually, a triad "official" ("Red Pole") leads a group of 15 active members (soldiers), and wields aggression on a turf, a leader with apparent hegemony may not be able to command other leaders; and leaders may sometimes wage war against one another for more benefits.
Triads also use numeric codes to differentiate the ranks and positions inside a gang. For example, 426 would mean "fighter". Another code 49 would denote a rank-and-file member. 489 is the code for "the mountain master", 438 for the "deputy mountain master", 415 for "the white paper fan", and 432 for the "straw sandal". The code 25, an undercover/spy of the gang, has entered common usage in Hong Kong to mean a "traitor".
As the Hong Kong economy progresses, triads barely provide "satisfying" social and pecuniary conditions to foster absolute loyalty among their members. One consequence is that the current triad structure has become more flexible: the customary eight-ranking system has changed into one that consists of four ranks (refer to the diagram below). Also, the sophisticated ceremonial rituals for new members have simplified: the most commonly practiced is "hanging the Blue Lantern" (i.e. following the leader), which is an oral agreement with little formality. The degree of autocracy within the organization has fallen; members have higher tendency to prioritize their personal interests. Should a member discover that there is little advantage in remaining in the group, he might transfer himself to another one which is more socially robust and potent: the traditional principles of triad moral beliefs have been disregarded under such personal benefits first stance.
The Ghost Shadows are one such Hong Kong triad that sprouted up in New York city in the 1970s. The Ghost Shadows activities include extortion, kidnapping, drug trafficking and gambling. They were nearly stamped out in the late 1990s due to corruption from within and complications with the NYPD and their rivals the Flying Dragons. However, in 2009, an alliance of convenience with Daniel Linderman allowed them to wrest control of the remaining disparate Triad in New York City, and crush the Flying Dragons, rising the Ghost Shadows to terrifying power and influence.
The boss of the Ghost Shadows, Robin Chee had been publicly identified as being a leader of the Ghost Shadows street gang, up through the 1990s. Robin Chee was arrested in the late 1990s along with many key members of the Ghost Shadows, leading to a near collapse of the organization. It was only the appearance of Wenzhuo Zhao that was the Ghost Shadows' saving grace.
It is believed that Zhao was a Triad officer embedded in the On Leong Chinese Merchants Association which, although legitimate in part, has been found by police authorities to be a significant criminally influenced tong engaged in various illegal activities including, among other matters, illegal gambling.
Little is known of Zhao, save that he is a shrewd and cunning strategist and managed to keep the weakened Ghost Shadows alive through the turbulent decade following Chee's arrest. Zhao's true skill for preservation and manipulation was realized in 2009, when he made an alliance of convenience with the Linderman Group, and took significant aid which allowed him to demolish the Flying Dragons Triad — the Ghost Shadows' primary rival — and usurp their operations and holdings.
Triad members are subject to initiation ceremonies, much like the Mafia or the Yakuza. A traditional ceremony would take place at an altar dedicated to Guan Yu, the Taoist god of brotherhoods, with incense smoke and a sacrifice of an animal, such as a chicken, pig, or a goat. After drinking a potion composed of wine and the blood of the animal or of the candidate, he would pass beneath an arch of swords while reciting the Triad oaths. The paper on which the oaths are written would then be burned on the altar, to confirm the duty of the member to perform his duty to the gods. Three fingers on the left hand would then be raised as a binding gesture.
In modern culture many of these esoteric traditions have fallen out of practice, the sophisticated ceremonial rituals for new members have simplified: the most commonly practiced is "hanging the Blue Lantern" (i.e. following the leader), which is an oral agreement to obey the triad and its brotherhood with little formality involved.
Joining the Ghost Shadows
The Ghost Shadows are a very closely-knit and racially select closed organization, and most Hong Kong triad still are. While outright refusing full membership to those not of Chinese descent, exceptions have been made for those of mixed heritage, and associations with the organization are common in foreigners.
Beginning in October of 2009, the Ghost Shadows are actively pushing a psychoactive drug known as Refrain on the streets, after having stolen operations from the Flying Dragons. However, they rely on the Linderman Group to produce the drug, and merely supply it and make considerably less profit off of the drug than the Flying Dragons did.