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Secret Societies and Politics in Colonial Malaya with Special Reference to the Ang Bin Hoey in Penang

Secret Societies and Politics in Colonial Malaya with Special Reference to the Ang Bin Hoey in Penang



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Published by goldenscreen
By Leong Yee Fong for The Penang Project - details relationships between triads, Kuomintang and communists in post-war Malaysia
By Leong Yee Fong for The Penang Project - details relationships between triads, Kuomintang and communists in post-war Malaysia

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Published by: goldenscreen on Apr 29, 2007
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Secret Societies and Politics in Colonial Malaya with SpecialReference to the Ang Bin Hoey in Penang (1945-1952)
 by Leong Yee FongEmail: yfleong@usm.my  ABSTRACTThis paper is a preliminary survey of Chinese secret societies and their connections with theKuomintang and the Malayan Communist Party in Post World War Two Malaya. The periodunder survey covers the immediate postwar period and the early stages of theEmergency. It is specifically related to the resurgence of secret societies at a time when theabsence of law and order, the fluidity of the political situation, economicshortages, inflationary prices and low wages provided a fertile environment for theresurgence not only of secret societies but also political parties that were both radical andmoderate in nature. Historians have so far concentrated on the controlling forces of secretsocieties over the Chinese community during the prewar period but little attention on thepolitical dimension of secret societies during the immediate postwar period. Although secretsocieties were not politically inclined and tended to maintain their traditional roles inrunning protection and extortion rackets, the profusion of KMT branches and the MalayanCommunist Party during the immediate postwar period invariably dragged the secretsocieties into the rival conflicts between the two organizations.It is the intention of this paper to examine the rise of the Ang Bin Hoey in Penang, theresurgence of KMT branches, MCP political dominance and the dynamism of Communistsponsored General Labour Unions, KMT-MCP-Secret society connections, the Emergency
and MCP’s attempts to win the adherence of Secret Societies.
The evidence is gatheredfrom police records, intelligence information and communist documents acquired by thepolice. Speculations and interpretations certainly reflect the colonial point of view and, assuch, may not provide a balanced picture of the role of secret societies until furtherevidence is available. The account also contains several background references which areconsidered necessary to understand the role and position of secret societies in historicalperspective.
The Hung League in China and Malaya: A Brief Historical Survey
 The Hung League was of great antiquity in China. It was also known as the Heaven andEarth League or the Three United League and it is from the latter that the popular English
usage “Triad” is taken.
Its origins were shrouded in mystery and antiquity but it was
generally deemed to be a religious society with lofty aims which included “Obey Heaven andAct Righteously” with its ritualistic ceremonies associated with the journey of the human
soul from Heaven to Earth and back through the underworld to Heaven.[1]  With the collapse of the Ming Dynasty in China in the hands of the Manchus, the HungLeague changed its religious complexion and became primarily a band of political and
revolutionary crusaders and took up the cause of overthrowing the Manchu Dynasty. It
adopted the slogan “Drive out the Ching Dynasty. Restore the Ming”. Under the Manchus it
became a prosecuted organisation but despite Manchu suppression, th
e League’s numerical
strength increased enormously expanding to the provinces of Kwantung and Fukien fromwhich the majority of the immigrant Chinese in Malaya were derived.The Hung League supported the revolutionary efforts of Dr. Sun Yat Sen in the finaloverthrow of the Manchu regime. Nevertheless, the Hung League did not associate itself with any political party after the 1911 Revolution but persisted independently and retainedmuch of its revolutionary ideals in its ceremonial triad rituals. The ramifications of the HungLeague were never totally confined to China. The Hung League spread to many of thecountries outside China with the migrational tide of the Chinese. They took with them therituals and ceremonies to countries in Southeast Asia, India, Australia and Britain.[2] Their primary aim initially was to acquire hegemony over the Chinese communities in thesecountries.It was inevitable that once the Hung League was transplanted to overseas countries, it lostits political significance and degenerated into an organisational machine for the oppressionand extortion of the Chinese communities. Its existence was sustained by its powerfularmour of secrecy, its ritualistic traditions and reinforced by its imposition of the deathpenalty to protect itself against treachery from within and interference from without. Itsactivities inevitably generated violence and turbulence which became a matter of muchconcern to the ruling authorities.In colonial Malaya, when the Hung League was transplanted, it became known as the GheeHin Society. The principal lodge was in Singapore while the subsidiary lodges wereestablished in Penang, Malacca and the Federated Malay States. The influx of the Chinese inmid 19
century also brought with them lodges other than the Hung League, one of whichwas the Ko Lao Hoey. The lodges, in general, settled disputes by arbitration betweenmembers in any dispute between members of different societies. Each society or lodgecontrolled its particular area on the pretext of affording protection but in reality committedcriminal violence with impunity. Riots and large scale fights frequently occurred when
societies encroached on each others’ preserves.
The Penang Riots of 1867 between theGhee Hin and the Toh Peh Kong was one such example that reached severe proportions. Itlasted for ten days during which period the contending parties obtained reinforcements fromthe mainland. Buildings were burnt and hundreds either perished or injured. The severity of the clashes attracted the attention of the ruling British authorities and in 1890 the societieswere required by law to dissolve and societies that practised triad rituals were declaredunlawful. Nevertheless the Ghee Hin and the other lodges continued illegally but throughvigilance and pressure by the authorities they had for the most part degenerated intohooligan gangs which continued to use the jargons and symbolic rituals of the triads.
Resurgence in October 1945: The Ang Bin Hoey in Penang
It was known that the prevailing chaotic political and economic situation that followed theJapanese surrender in 1945 provided an impetus to the recrudesence of triad activities inMalaya. Penang, in this connection, was the centre for the resurgence of triads under thename of Ang Bin Hoey (ABH). Under the impression that all societies whether triad orotherwise were allowed to operate, the ABH functioned as a society openly. According topolice records, the ABH was purported to have been formed by a Phillipine-born ChineseHokkien by the name of Teoh Teik Chye, a small businessman. Its original headquarterswas located in Sandilands Street and founded in October 1945.[3] The founding of the ABH
was given favourable media coverage. Towards the end of December 1945 the Societymoved to a larger premise at 55 Maxwell Road. It was then run on a more systematic basiswith an executive committee of 12 and a general committee of 22. The general committeeof 22 represented 22 cells established in various parts of Penang island. Each of the cellswas run by a supervisor.
With a Hokkien majority in Penang’s population, it was inevitable that its membership
consisted largely of the Hokkiens. In view of the frequency of initiation ceremonies,membership increased rapidly and by May 1946 it was reported by the Malayan SecurityService that membership ranged from 30,000 to 40,000. In terms of structure andorganisation, membership was categorized on the basis of senority and influence. Therewere two main categories : the organisers who were the senior members while the restwere the ordinary members. The organisers constituted the executive committee exertingfull control over the other members. On the basis of ascending senority, the AssistantSuperintendent of Police, Khaw Kai Boh provided the following list in 1949.[4] 
Romanised Hokkien
 1. Ordinary Member Hoey-guan or Sin-beh2. Horse Leader Tai-behRecruiter3. Tiger General Go Hor Cheong There were five of them. Served askiller squads and carried out the ordersof the headquarters4. Iron Plate Tee-panMessenger5. Grass Sandals Chou-ehDetective or agent6. White Fan Peh-see Civil Affairs Officer and normally head of a cell. Advised members on triad rituals7. Cell Leaders orCouncillorsPang Keng Chu Head of an area and represented thearea in a meeting held by theheadquarters8. Red Rod Ang Koon Executioner. Investigated any breach of discipline, conducted trials, and passedsentence ranging from fines to death.Arranged armed guards for initiationceremonies. Organised fights andconducted persecutions against theenemies of the organisation.

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