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Super Wok Explosion

Animated series about Chinese tongs and triads. Click for more information ›
October 2022

Big Circle Gang

In the past, tongs were the centerpiece of Chinese organized crime in the United States. They ran gambling dens and whore houses and hired Chinese gangs to protect these establishments. These gangs faced much internal strife, terrorizing the streets of Chinatown.

At the present, a trend of internationalization of crime groups hits domestic Chinese OC too, with mainland influences having become increasingly more relevant in the past decades, and domestic Chinese OC embedding itself within the global web of stakeholders. Chinese criminal groups are active across Canada and the United States, specializing in white-collar crime, and gambling, and dominating the synthetic drug trade. The youth don’t fall into the clutches of tongs anymore. And the criminal culture is hardly as traditional and rigorous as it used to be. It’s time for the new generation to flourish, and like most nascent organized crime groups, it’s all about money now. Chinese organized crime groups learned the limits of race, tradition, and culture as the focal point of criminal organizations.

A “big circle gang” is often mistaken to be a uniform organization, when in reality it refers to a new “type” or “genre”.

A “big circle gang” is a type of transnational Chinese organized crime group. They are a triad depending on how the ‘triad’ is defined. In some instances, triads are simply a catch-all term for mainland Chinese criminal organizations. Sometimes, the word ‘triad’ refers to individual black societies that operate in mainland China. Most triads are age-old secret fraternal organizations with deep roots in Chinese history. For ‘Big Circle Gang’ this is not the case. They are a relatively young type of Chinese criminal organization founded only in the 1970s. A “big circle gang” is therefore often mistaken to be a uniform organization, when in reality it refers to a new “type” or “genre” of Chinese organized crime.

In the ‘60s, in China, Mao Zedong mobilized students into paramilitary groups known as the ‘red guards’. When these groups became too powerful to control, they were squashed by the Chinese government and deteriorated into criminal cells. They became known as ‘Big Circle Gangs’, and were primarily active in Southern China. Their name derives from the cities they were most active in, forming a circle on the map.

Contrary to ordinary triads, Big Circle Gangs don’t follow any hierarchy. They don’t have any central leadership figures. They don't follow any traditions, ceremonies, inductions rituals, or rites, and follow no criminal codes. They are a network of local “cells” that operate independently from one another and work together only when absolutely necessary. Present-day, groups have formed all over the world.

Asian groupings are more like a network of mutual interests than a hierarchy

Among organized crime researchers, there is a discrepancy in nomenclature that makes it hard to see the true scale of big circle gang operations. When Chinese criminals are arrested in the United States, they are not automatically labeled as members of ‘big circle gang’. This prevents law enforcement from tackling these groups effectively. A certain faction of established Chinese organized crime researchers in the US believe that most of these arrested criminals are actually part of big circle gang networks around North America.

These traditionally restrained and cultural criminal groups face the challenges of evolving into modern criminal organizations.

Super Wok Explosion is a unique animated web-series about Chinese organized crime. The project is funded entirely by its audience. On this website, animator Tony Cheuk likes to share information about Asian organized crime—and world-building of the universe of the series, Chinese tongs and triads. If you're interested in learning more about the project, you can click here.

Further reading