You are on page 1of 12


Secret Societies and Politics in Colonial Malaya with Special

Reference to the Ang Bin Hoey in Penang (1945-1952)
by Leong Yee Fong



This paper is a preliminary survey of Chinese secret societies and their connections with the
Kuomintang and the Malayan Communist Party in Post World War Two Malaya. The period
under survey covers the immediate postwar period and the early stages of the
Emergency. It is specifically related to the resurgence of secret societies at a time when the
absence of law and order, the fluidity of the political situation, economic
shortages, inflationary prices and low wages provided a fertile environment for the
resurgence not only of secret societies but also political parties that were both radical and
moderate in nature. Historians have so far concentrated on the controlling forces of secret
societies over the Chinese community during the prewar period but little attention on the
political dimension of secret societies during the immediate postwar period. Although secret
societies were not politically inclined and tended to maintain their traditional roles in
running protection and extortion rackets, the profusion of KMT branches and the Malayan
Communist Party during the immediate postwar period invariably dragged the secret
societies 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, the
resurgence of KMT branches, MCP political dominance and the dynamism of Communist
sponsored General Labour Unions, KMT-MCP-Secret society connections, the Emergency
and MCP’s attempts to win the adherence of Secret Societies. The evidence is gathered
from police records, intelligence information and communist documents acquired by the
police. Speculations and interpretations certainly reflect the colonial point of view and, as
such, may not provide a balanced picture of the role of secret societies until further
evidence is available. The account also contains several background references which are
considered necessary to understand the role and position of secret societies in historical

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 and
Earth 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 and
Act 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 Hung
League 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, the League’s numerical
strength increased enormously expanding to the provinces of Kwantung and Fukien from
which the majority of the immigrant Chinese in Malaya were derived.

The Hung League supported the revolutionary efforts of Dr. Sun Yat Sen in the final
overthrow of the Manchu regime. Nevertheless, the Hung League did not associate itself
with any political party after the 1911 Revolution but persisted independently and retained
much of its revolutionary ideals in its ceremonial triad rituals. The ramifications of the Hung
League were never totally confined to China. The Hung League spread to many of the
countries outside China with the migrational tide of the Chinese. They took with them the
rituals 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 these

It was inevitable that once the Hung League was transplanted to overseas countries, it lost
its political significance and degenerated into an organisational machine for the oppression
and extortion of the Chinese communities. Its existence was sustained by its powerful
armour of secrecy, its ritualistic traditions and reinforced by its imposition of the death
penalty to protect itself against treachery from within and interference from without. Its
activities inevitably generated violence and turbulence which became a matter of much
concern to the ruling authorities.

In colonial Malaya, when the Hung League was transplanted, it became known as the Ghee
Hin Society. The principal lodge was in Singapore while the subsidiary lodges were
established in Penang, Malacca and the Federated Malay States. The influx of the Chinese in
mid 19th century also brought with them lodges other than the Hung League, one of which
was the Ko Lao Hoey. The lodges, in general, settled disputes by arbitration between
members in any dispute between members of different societies. Each society or lodge
controlled its particular area on the pretext of affording protection but in reality committed
criminal violence with impunity. Riots and large scale fights frequently occurred when
societies encroached on each others’ preserves. The Penang Riots of 1867 between the
Ghee Hin and the Toh Peh Kong was one such example that reached severe proportions. It
lasted for ten days during which period the contending parties obtained reinforcements from
the 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 societies
were required by law to dissolve and societies that practised triad rituals were declared
unlawful. Nevertheless the Ghee Hin and the other lodges continued illegally but through
vigilance and pressure by the authorities they had for the most part degenerated into
hooligan 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 the
Japanese surrender in 1945 provided an impetus to the recrudesence of triad activities in
Malaya. Penang, in this connection, was the centre for the resurgence of triads under the
name of Ang Bin Hoey (ABH). Under the impression that all societies whether triad or
otherwise were allowed to operate, the ABH functioned as a society openly. According to
police records, the ABH was purported to have been formed by a Phillipine-born Chinese
Hokkien by the name of Teoh Teik Chye, a small businessman. Its original headquarters
was 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 Society
moved to a larger premise at 55 Maxwell Road. It was then run on a more systematic basis
with an executive committee of 12 and a general committee of 22. The general committee
of 22 represented 22 cells established in various parts of Penang island. Each of the cells
was 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 Security
Service that membership ranged from 30,000 to 40,000. In terms of structure and
organisation, membership was categorized on the basis of senority and influence. There
were two main categories : the organisers who were the senior members while the rest
were the ordinary members. The organisers constituted the executive committee exerting
full control over the other members. On the basis of ascending senority, the Assistant
Superintendent of Police, Khaw Kai Boh provided the following list in 1949.[4]

Rank Romanised Hokkien Duties

1. Ordinary Member Hoey-guan or Sin-beh

2. Horse Leader Tai-beh Recruiter

3. Tiger General Go Hor Cheong There were five of them. Served as

killer squads and carried out the orders
of the headquarters

4. Iron Plate Tee-pan Messenger

5. Grass Sandals Chou-eh Detective or agent

6. White Fan Peh-see Civil Affairs Officer and normally head of

a cell. Advised members on triad rituals

7. Cell Leaders or Pang Keng Chu Head of an area and represented the
Councillors area in a meeting held by the

8. Red Rod Ang Koon Executioner. Investigated any breach of

discipline, conducted trials, and passed
sentence ranging from fines to death.
Arranged armed guards for initiation
ceremonies. Organised fights and
conducted persecutions against the
enemies of the organisation.
9. Vanguard Sien-hong They were the armed guards for
initiation ceremonies and fighters.

10. Master of Incense Hioh-chu He acted as a clerk-in-council. Made all

arrangements and kept the accounts.

11. Master of Incense Lor-chu Patron of any initiation ceremony.


12. Master of Sia seh Koon Lam Grand Master of the Lodge. Supreme
Ceremonies manager on all matters and business.
Authority on rituals and conferred ranks
on all triad members.

At a time when the economy was in the doldrums, it was a wonder that the ABH could rake
in so much revenue to support its organisation. It was reported that the ABH managed to
collect in early 1946 an amount in the region of $100,000.[5] The revenue was derived
from entrance fees collected at the initiation ceremonies when new members were
recruited. Goods entering or leaving the harbour had to pay tribute and the situation in this
connection had become so bad that the Importers and Exporters Association in Penang had
to approach the ABH for negotiations. Some of the committee members operated gambling
syndicates dealing with the Hua Hoey of Chee Fah lotteries.[6] The gambling syndicates
were as a matter of fact a continuation of the gambling operations during the Japanese
Occupation. The usual sources of revenue also included protection money collected from
prostitutes and hawkers as well as extortion money from businessmen.

The ABH declared its own dissolution in May 1946 when its criminal and illegal activities
became a source of concern to the authorities. Nevertheless, despite its dissolution, the
ABH influence spread to other parts of the mainland. Traces of ABH influence were found in
Province Wellesley, South Kedah and the coastal areas of Perak. They were invariably off-
shoots of the ABH lodge in Penang but under the guise of various names, probably to
escape detection. In Perak at Kampung Koh, Sitiawan dan Pangkor Island, they
reappeared as clubs – the Sung Club in Kampung Koh and the Ek Ching in Pangkor
Island.[7] Triad documents had been found in these clubs and in the possesion of
individuals in Sungei Patani, Kulim Ipoh and Bidor but there was no explicit reference to the
ABH. Nevertheless, documents recovered from the premises of the MCP controlled Perak
Fedaration of Trade Unions referred to the ABH’s interference in the Perak Disturbances in
October 1946.[8]

The tendency for the ABH to the function under the guise of recreational clubs or benevolent
societies was a normal trend in postwar Malaya. It was probably a means for members to
meet openly without attracting the attention of authorities. A case in point was found in the
document issued by the Selangor Branch of Malayan Communist Party dated November
1952. The MCP stated that the Wah Kee Secret Society in Selangor existed under the cloak
of benevolent and provident associations. The associations were registered with all the
office-bearers and the members being members of Wah Kee.[9]

Although the ABH was dissolveed in May 1946, it continued to retain its illegal existance
underground. Inevitably, it had to scale down its operations as a controlling force over the
Chinese community but its existance was complicated by the rising dominance of postwar
MCP and the resurgence KMT branches in Malaya. In order to examine the connections of
the ABH and the other secret societies with the MCP and the KMT, it is necessary to provide
a brief survey of the rise of those two political organisations in postwar Malaya.

The Emergence of the MCP and the KMT in Postwar Malaya.

The resurgence of the secret societies was accompanied by the proliferation of Chinese
political organisations. Apart from the KMT and the MCP which were the two main Chinese
political parties, there were also other organisatons, albeit insignificant , that sought the
allegiance of the Chinese. The Review of the Chinese Affairs in November 1947 referred to
three such organisations, the Chi Kung Tong, the China Democratic League and the New
Democratic Youth League.[10] The Chi Kung Tong had two rival divisions – the communist
oriented half that was linked to the MCP and inclined towards supporting the Chinese
Communist Party(CCP) and the nationalist half that backed the KMT in China. Both the New
Democratic League and the China Democratic League supported the aspirations of the MCP
and the CCP. It was apparent that Chinese politics in postwar Malaya reflected the sharp
division between the two political camps – the KMT and the MCP. Manifestations of the
rivalry between the KMT and MCP supporters were often related to the China – oriented
political issues. By the end of 1947 it had reached a stage that was described by the
Chinese consul in Malaya as “social disintegration of the Chinese community” in Malaya.[11]

Although the KMT had been banned before the War, the political confusion that followed the
Japanese Occupation saw the revival of the KMT branches under auspices of the Chinese
consulate. In many centres of Chinese population, it was known that wherever MCP
branches were set up, the KMT would follow suit immediately. These branches were initially
subsidised by the Chinese Nationalist Government. To win over the Chinese youth to the
KMT, San Min Chu I Youth Corps were also set up. They were eventually amalgamated with
the KMT in November 1947.[12] The KMT District Branch in Penang, located at 29 Carnavon
Lane, controlled 20 other sub-branches. 16 in Penang and 4 in Province Wellesley with a
total membership of 3,360.[13] Even in backward town of Balik Pulau in Penang, there was
a KMT branch. This was known as the 16th branch of the Penang KMT. It was declared open
in November 1947 by the Chinese consul in Penang who administered the oath of allegiance.
The KMT members were mostly drawn from the merchant and business class who formed
the backbone of the Chinese Chambers of Commerce. They maintained a close relationship
with the Chinese Consul and provided the leadership to many of the Chinese associations.
They constituted the upper class of the Chinese Society and invariably were at odds with the
labour unions sponsored by the MCP.

The MCP, on the other hand, emerged as the champion of labour interests. Under the
hegemony of the MCP which operated openly for the first time, labour unions appeared all
over Malaya and Singapore. These were the General Labour Unions(GLU) the membership of
which was drawn from various industries and trades, In effect, they were political
organisations manipulated by the MCP to gain mass labour support. It was MCP’s strategic
move to force the Government to give political concessions such as recognition,
representation in govenrment bodies and particition in mainstream politics.[14] The GLUs
were coordinated by State Federations of Trade Unions which in turn were centrally
controlled by a Pan Malayan Federation of Trade Unions(PMFTU). The aim of the PMFTU was
to mobilise labour support for the political consolidation of the MCP. During 1946 and 1947
the PMFTU literally extorted the employers by their persistent strikes to gain economic

The PMFTU, in this respect, had developed a formidable coercive machine which caused
considerable industrial disruption. Between April 1946 and March 1947 the PMFTU’s
unionisation campaign unleashed a proliferation of strike activity causing huge losses to
both employers and workers. Invariably, the employers especially the Chinese who were
largely pro-KMT were soon caught up in bitter conflict with the GLUs.

MCP-KMT Rivalry and the Role of Secret Societies.

MCP-KMT rivalry in postwar Malaya was in reality a continuation of a prewar phenomenon.

In the 1920s conflict was centred on the rivalry between the left-wing and right wing KMT at
a time when the CCP functioned as a block within the KMT in China (1924 – 1927). In the
1930s the Anti-Japanese National Salvation movement provided the backdrop in that both
established rival organisations for the collection of relief funds and the boycott of Japanese
goods in Malaya. The postwar period saw the revival of rivalry when both endeavoured to
win the allegiance of the Chinese community over issues pertaining to the civil war between
the KMT and CCP in China.[15]

In this respect, the Double Tenth Anniversary in October 1947 was a clear manifestation of
the KMT-MCP rivalry which was reflected in the acute polarisation of Chinese political
opinion.[16] Separate celebrations were held by right and left-wing sympathisers. Rightist
functions were dominated by the KMT and the San Min Chu I Youth Corps. Speakers by
Chinese consular and KMT officials eulogised the foundations of the Chinese Republic, urged
support for the Chinese Government and despatched congratulatory telegrams to Chiang
Kai Shek. Leftist functions, on the other hand, were dominated by the MCP, the Pan
Malayan Federation of Trade Unions and other left-wing organisations. Fiery speeches were
made condemning the totalitarian and oppressive regime of Chiang Kai Shek. The Chinese
were urged to call upon the whole Chinese nation to overthrow the KMT Government and to
form a democratically constituted coalition government.

With reference to Penang, it was significant that the MCP organised function was attended
by various labouring groups including harbour labourers, factory workers, shop employees
and a few cabaret girls. Speeches, in particular by the Penang Federation of Trade Union
officials, condemned the KMT regime. A telegram was addressed to various papers in China
condemning the KMT Government for negotiating treaties with the United States which
undermined the sovereignty of China.[17]

It was within the context of this political rivalry that Blythe, the Secretary of Chinese Affairs
discovered that Secret Societies had established connections with the KMT. Initially, in
September 1945, it was reported that the ABH was seemingly on the side of the MPAJA. It
shared the same premises of the MPAJA and that several members of the MPAJA had joined
the ABH. Nevertheless, when the ABH realised that the MPAJA had encroached on its sphere
of influence, it became increasingly anti-communist.[18] This was not necessarily related to
any ideological dispute but due to the fact that both pursued the same objective – control of
Chinese population. The leaders of the Penang ABH who were arrested in 1947 categorically
remonstrated that the Government should suppress the communist activities instead of the
ABH. The communists were regarded by the ABH as the “apotheosis of evil” and had no
right to exert influence on the Chinese.[19] The anti – communist stance of the ABH
invariably brought about a reorientation of its attitude towards the KMT.

Apart from its anti-communist orientation, there could be other reasons behind the forging
of a closer relationship between the ABH and the KMT. It is difficult to ascertain these
reasons but speculating from the remarks provided by the committee members of the ABH
arrested on warrants issued under the Banishment Laws, it could be said that the ABH, after
its dissolution in May 1946 desired to enhance its standing and influence by persuading
Chinese merchants not only to join the ABH but also to become high office-bearers in the
ABH’s committee.[20] Some of the merchants who joined the ABH were also members of
the KMT and might have been influenced to join by their sheer antagonism towards the

The existence of merchants in the ABH was supported by evidence from communist
documents acquired by the police. The communist document issued by the State Secretariat
of the Selangor Branch of the MCP stated that the ABH leaders consisted of “proprietors of
mediocre and small business shops, kepalas(contractors) and proprietors of mediocre and
small estates. It further claimed that a minority of them were pro-KMT but their attitude
towards the communist revolution was one of neutrality or sympathy.[21]

It was evident that there was no direct linkage between the ABH and the KMT organisations
and that members of the latter as well as pro-KMT sympathisers joined the ABH as
individuals. It was possible that pressure from the communist labour unions and MPAJA
intimidation had forced them to join the ABH for the purpose of protection. As Chinese
employers were not effectively organised as the Europeans or had any assistance from the
Government to counteract the communists, they had perforce to resort to extra-legal
methods to counteract that excessive demands of the communist –controlled unions. The
use of force to counteract force was no more that a traditional method of the Chinese.
Finally, W.L. Blythe claimed in his memorandum on “Triad, Ang Bin Hoay and Kuomintang in
Malaya” that the KMT branches in Malaya turned towards the ABH upon receiving
instructions from China in November 1946.[22] This was in keeping with the KMT line of
thinking upon the revival of the Hung League in Shanghai in August 1946. The ABH, in this
respect, was regarded as possessing powerful potentialities which could be utilised to
sustain the existence of the KMT in Malaya, As such, it was considered favourable to
cultivate friendly relations with the ABH.

The resort to extra-legal methods involving violence and strong-arm tactics was clearly
shown in the occurrence of what was known as the “Sitiawan Incident” in October 1946, the
anniversary of the foundation of the Chinese Republic. A circular issued by the Perak
Federation of Trade Unions lamented that the Government did not take effective measures
to suppress the ABH thugs from destroying labour union premises, kidnapping and
assaulting GLU personnel in Sitiawan, Dinding, Simpang Empat, Taiping and Pangkor Island.
The outrages were said to be the work of careful planning which implicated the ABH, the
Sam Min Chi Yi Youth Corps and another third Party presumably to be the KMT. The PKM
exhorted the members of the Perak FTU to be more vigilant and to be more aware of “those
cunning, shameless murderous elements” who were all out to strike a fatal blow at the
labour unions.[23]

The MCP and the Secret Societies, April – June 1948

In March 1948 the MCP had committed itself to a policy of industrial disruption at the Fourth
Plenum of the Central Executive Committee(CEC). It called for a “people’s revolutionary war”
and preparation of the masses for an all out struggle for independence. Shortly after the
CEC meeting the PMFTU staged a conference during which labour unrests and strikes were
planned to disrupt the country and to bring industry to a stand-still. The conference was
followed by a resurgence of militant and violent strikes in Singapore and Malaya in April
1948. Letters of intimidation were sent to Chinese contractors and estate managers while
labourers were forced to join the labour unions.[24]

By June 1948 the situation had deteriorated into a state of terrorism when MCP “killer
squads” carried out a campaign of not only extermination European managers of estates
and mines but also pro-KMT proprietors, schools teachers, labour contractors. In Rengam
Village, Johore, the vice-president and secretary of the KMT local committee were
assassinated. Similarly, the president of Layang – Layang Village KMT branch was murdered.
Significantly, secret society members were also targets of the MCP assassination campaign.
By then, the focus of MCP attention had turned from the ABH in North Malaya to the Wah
Kee in Selangor. The ABH was said to be less a rival to the labour unions than the Wah Kee
organisation which was controlled by the KMT proprietors and, significantly labour
contractors who were attempting to form employer-sponsored unions to divert the workers
away from the communist-controlled unions. According to the MCP released circular, “The
Wah Kee is in the hold of the KMT in Malaya, and hence it is pro-British, anti-communist,
anti-revolution and anti-democracy”.[25] They had body guards to force the masses to join
the organisation and to exert control over associations and societies which operated openly.
The MCP claimed that the Wah Kee elements had “submitted themselves to the British
Imperialists and openly became the running dogs to oppose the Revolution and secretly to
betray the Revolution”.[26]

The MCP and the Secret Societies during the early stage of the Emergency

With the outbreak of the communist armed revolt and the declaration of the Emergency in
June 1948, the Colonial Intelligence Committee reported that KMT influence over the ABH
had virtually disappeared for the simple reason that the MCP was able to exert pressure on
the ABH elements. The Anatomy of Communist Propaganda, a compilation of communist
propaganda documents acquired by the police, did not reveal any reference to the secret
societies as targets of communist propaganda.[27] There were no MCP policy statements or
directives on MCP relationship with secret societies until October 1951. In that month, two
directives pertaining to secret societies were issued. The first instructed that secret society
elements should not be liquidated and that liquidation should be confined to those who were
opposed to the MCP or were government spies. The other was an emphasis on the necessity
of forging a united front which should include “irregular forms of mass organisations”.[28]
The secret societies, in this respect, were considered one of the irregular mass organisations.
It was apparent that based on these directives, the Selangor Secretariat of the MCP issued a
pamphlet in November 1952. The pamphlet entitled “The Question of Secret Societies” was
exclusively for party consumption. It was basically an appeal to the secret societies to join
the MCP in a united front against British imperialism.

At the same time, another pamphlet was also issued in October 1952. this pamphlet entitled
“An Announcement to the Brethren of the Various Secret Societies” was specifically
addressed to the ABH members. The MCP according to the pamphlet, admitted that it had
clashed with the ABH because the latter was opposed to the trade unions.[29] This was an
obvious reference to the clashes between the ABH-KMT coalition and the Perak Federation
of Trade Unions in October 1946 and the assassination of ABH members on the eve of the
Emergency. Nevertheless, in view of the fact that the situation had changed, the MCP was
prepared to overlook the “misunderstanding” and to call upon the ABH members to join the
MCP united front since there could be no “fundamental differences” between the working
class membership of the ABH and the MCP.[30]

The following is an extract from the document on “Secret Societies and the Malayan
Communist Party” released on 31 December 1054. It contained a summary of the approach
adopted by the MCP to win over the secret societies.

“…the secret societies were a greater and more deeply rooted force amongst the mass of
the Chinese people than was communism, and that the previous approach by the MCP to
the societies had been too uncompromising and that therefore it failed. The statement
(Question of Secret Societies) explained further that the party should not aim at replacing
the present leadership of the societies with its own men, but at gradually winning over as
many of the societies’ members as possible, thus making the societies its allies in the
revolutionary war. This, the statement admits will be a long term project and any attempt
to accelerate it would lead to conflict and possibly the failure of MCP. The MCP’s policy
towards the secret societies in future should therefore be guided by the following

(a) Winning the sympathy of members who are not reactionaries

(b) Winning, uniting and organising the large mass of workers and peasants who form the
lower strata of the societies, but guarding against infiltration of undesirable elements into
the masses organisations so formed.

(c) Eliminating reactionary members of the societies, only if they are spies.

(d) Non-interference with benevolent societies as long as there was no compulsion to induce
the masses to join them; such societies should be penetrated and eventually controlled by
masses executives. This however will be a long process.

(e) No direct attacks should be made against the secret societies when they perform
criminal acts but the masses encouraged to resist them with party backing.”[31]

Response to the MCP Directives.

It is difficult to gauge the success of the MCP in recruiting the secret society members. The
recruitment exercise, in any case, was a long term project based on MCP’s intentions to
penetrate mass organisations which included trade unions, student organisations and
political parties. Secret societies, in fact, were given a lower priority than trade unions. The
Registrar of Trade Unions in 1956 indicated that MCP interests were centred on trade union
subversion A case in point was the Pan Malayan Rubber Workers Union which was
organised by Tan Thuan Boon, a labour Party leader and a leading trade unionist who had
connections with Lim Chin Seong, the founder of the Singapore Factory and Shop-Workers
Union. It was reported that 13 branches of the PMRWU were managed by office-bearers
from the masses executives of the MCP, active communist sympathisers and even members
of secret societies.[32] It was not certain whether the involvement of secret societies was
through the influence of MCP or they were union members who were also secret society
elements. A police report indicated that the Union was highly regarded by the MCP as the
reactivation of the pre-Emergency rubber workers union which was an integral part of the

The involvement of secret society members in the PMRWU could not be interpreted as a sign
of positive response to the MCP’s directives. Secret society collaboration with the MCP
occurred only in a few isolated instances and collaboration with MCP personnel in the
PMRWU was one such isolated occurrence. Even then, where collaboration was known, it
was largely on an individual basis and available evidence indicated that it was mainly for
“the purpose of collecting subscriptions, extortion or assassination with financial gain the
principal motive”.[34] The only instance of collaboration on an organisation to organisation
basis was in Penang where a branch of the MCP’s Penang Anti-British Alliance Society was in
league with a local unit of the ABH. In this instance, ABH members were collecting funds in
the name of the Anti-British Alliance, probably showing ABH’s intention to bolster its
coercive influence to extort money from the Chinese Community.[35] It could be said that
the ABH turned to the MCP whenever it was to its advantage. It was not in any way
politically attuned to the aspirations of the MCP. MCP-ABH relationship lacked any
consistency of purpose and frequently deteriorated into mutual enmity, fights and
assassinations. In 1952 it was noted that the Anti-British Alliance was instructed not to
enlist any more ABH members as they could not be trusted, and the MCP committee
members who had arranged the collaboration was removed from office.[36] In conclusion, it
could be conjectured that the tenuous relationship between the MCP and the secret societies,
in particular the ABH was partly due to intensive police surveillance over the secret societies.
The Banishment and Restricted Residence Enactments were frequently used against leaders
of secret societies, particularly the ABH, to remove the menace. Since July 1953, sixty-six
members of the ABH and twelve members of the Wah Kee were arrested and deported. [37]
Most of these operated in Selangor while some were active in Negeri Sembilan, Perak and
Penang, albeit on smaller scale. Nevertheless, the police admitted that it was difficult to
identify whether those arrested were secret societies, communist sympathisers or
communist terrorists. This was largely because both operated in a clandestine fashion and
membership was secret.


[1] There are a few standard histories of Chinese secret societies in Malaya among which
are: Blythe W.L. The Impact of Chinese Secret Societies in Malaya: A Historical Study, UOP,
London, 1969 and Wynne M.L. Triad and Tabut: A Survey of the Origins and Diffusion of
Chinese and Mohammedan Secret Societies in the Malay Peninsula, 1800-1935, Singapore

[2] Dobree C.T. Notes on Secret Societies (undated)

[3] Ibid p.10

[4] Ibid pp.13-17

[5] Ibid p.10

[6] Chee Fah was a popular gambling game during the Japanese Occupation. It was based
on literary flower puzzles involving riddles with allusions to Chinese classical literature. Chee
Fah is still popular among the Chinese in Kuala Lumpur.

[7] Triad, Ang Bin Hoey and Kuomintang in Malaya, Labour Department, Selangor, ACA

[8] Registrar of Trade Union Files (RTU) 128/46.

[9] “The Question of Secret Societies”, inssued by Selangor State Secretariat, MCP, Nov.

[10] Review of Chinese Affairs, Nov. 1947, Pahang Secretariat Files 195/46.

[11] Ibid

[12] Ibid

[13] Ibid

[14] For a more detailed account of GLUs, see Leong Yee Fong, Labour and Trade Unionism
in Colonial Malaya, 1930 – 1957, USM Press, 1999.

[15] For a more detailed account of KMT-MCP rivalry, see Chui Kwei-Chiang, The Response
of the Malayan Chinese to Political and Military Developments in China, 1945-1949, Institute
of Humanities and Social Sciences, Nanyang University, Oct.1977.

[16] Review of chinese Affairs, Oct. 1947

[17] Ibid

[18] Triad, Ang Bin Hoey, and Kuomintang in Malaya

[19] Ibid

[20] Ibibd

[21] “Question of Secret Societies”

[22] Triad, Ang Bin Hoey and Kuomintang

[23] “An Open Letter to Compatriots of Various Nationalities in Malaya Regarding the
Sitiawan Incident”, RTU (MU) 128/46.

[24] Labour and Trade Unionism in Colonial Malaya, 193-1957

[25] “The Question of Secret Societies”

[26] Ibid
[27] J.N. McHugh, The Anatomy of Communist Propaganda, July 1948 – December 1949,
Published in December 1949)

[28] Chinese Secret Societies and the MCP, prepared under the Instructions of the
Federation Intelligence Committee, 31 Dec. 1954.

[29] Ibid

[30] Ibid

[31] Ibid

[32] “Memorandum of Reply by the Registrar of Trade Unions to Memorandum of Appeal on

behalf of the Pan Malayan Rubber Workers Union, 10 July 1956, RTU 10/56.

[33] Ibid

[34] “Chinese Secret Societies and the MCP”

[35] Ibid

[36] Ibid

[37] Ibid

You might also like