Under Mao Zedong’s iron fist, organized crime in China was at an all-time low. However, it has made a resurgence starting in the late 1970s, coinciding with China opening its doors to the West to stimulate its economy. In recent years, organized crime has become a growing concern that is threatening social stability and worsening steadily. Official statistics show that there are currently 20,000 organized crime syndicates in China, with over 15 million members. Organized crime cases have ballooned to an estimated four million in 2005 from just half a million in 1974.
Chinese organized crime groups are often referred to as triads, or "black society." Chinese triads are heavily involved in illegal gambling, extortion, drug trafficking, smuggling, prostitution, illegal immigration, fraud, and the manufacture and sale of pirated goods. In some areas, these groups work through businesses that are often the home of drug trafficking and prostitution, and constitute a major part of the local economy.
China’s organized crime has its distinct features due to China’s unique social structure and rampant official corruption. It is no exaggeration to say that almost all the major organized crime groups have connections with government officials. The folk saying, "Police and bandits are the same family," has never rung more true. Indeed, despite numerous "Strike-Hard" campaigns to combat organized crime, only superficial, temporary gains were made in stopping organized crime, with the syndicates getting ever stronger and bolder.
At the same time, the authorities are increasingly employing triad-like groups to deal with various dissident groups and to quell civil unrest. In these cases, thugs are often hired through back channels by the authorities, or plainclothes police carry out attacks disguised as triad members. Afterward, the attacks are then attributed to unidentified criminal groups.
The current issue highlights the topic of organized crime in China. We also get into the Chinese scholars’ debate on the ongoing problems of economic and political reform, the impact of corruption, and other related issues.