Despite the cosmetic and cultural differences that separate the varied multitudes of this earth, some basic precepts hold at the core of nearly all modern civilizations: a distribution system of goods and services, a military, a ruling elite. The presence of secret societies can also be considered among these standards: the banding of individuals to provide support and strength against the competitive wiles of foreigners and mutual enemies. The names of these secret societies--Freemasons, Illuminati, Mafia, Yakuza--are enough to inspire envy and respect and fear and hatred and lust among those not included in their exclusive ranks, thus the popularity of fringe-writers and conspiracy theorists. The Chinese Triads are perhaps the least documented and possess the greatest potential threat of all these myriad societies, for while the others concern themselves with the manipulation of economy and politics, the Triads have of late become steeped in all manners of vice, including the supply of that most insidious and destructive of painkillers, herion.
The Triads originally began as political resistance to the upstart Manchu Q'ing dynasty, then altered their goals in the 20th century to undermine/suppress the spread of the Communist agenda. In the last fifty years these patriotic intentions have been almost totally corrupted by the drive for monetary gain via extortion, kidnapping, graft, prostitution, gambling, drag trafficking, ect. The influence of the Triads is worldwide and they are now branching out into the lucrative possibilities of the Internet's dark underbelly, including child pornography and technologies fraud.
In his book 'The Dragon Syndicates', Martin Booth traces the history of the Triads, chronicling with equal import the legends, rituals, ranks and motivations of these particular secret societies. The task of the author-historian is to combine the political, cultural and social aspects of an era and present these tangled elements in a lucid, flowing format; Booth succeeds admirably in this book, especially considering the elusive nature of the subject. I read this as research for a science-fiction book I'm writing, but found it to be an enjoyable, if ultimately disturbing, read. Well worth the time and money.