The History of Gangs.
Crime Goes Global.

Our history of gangs begins with the Chinese Triads and Japanese Yakuza which came to prominence in the mid-1700's, and the Italian Mafia which began asserting itself a century later in the mid-1800's.

Definition: "gang"... A group of criminals or hoodlums who band together for mutual protection and profit.

The History of Gangs...where it all began.

All three gangs took root in societies thrown into turmoil centuries ago.

chinese triads

The Triad tradition started in the 1760's as the Heaven and Earth Society which was formed to restore Han rule and overthrow the Manchu rulers of the Qing Dynasty who were looked upon as foreign invaders.

The rebel influence soon spread throughout China as several discrete groups all of whom adopted the triangle as their emblem.

When the Communist Party seized power in 1949 these criminal organizations were forced to flee. Many found their way to British colonial Hong Kong with an estimated 300,000 present by the 1950's.

yakuza crest

The Yakuza evolved in the 1600's when hundreds of thousands of samurai were forced into unemployment and lost possession of their lands after the Tokugawa Shoguns pacified the feudal warlords and united the nation.

Many samurai went "ronin" (having no master) and became mercenaries, bandits, or worked as enforcers for the gangs present in the cities.

The Italian Mafia sprang up in the lawless and impoverished western regions of Sicily in the early 1800's.

mafia brotherhoods by Letizia Paoli

The end of the feudal system saw vulnerable land owners at the mercy of wandering bandits due to a lack of police and authority. In desperation they were forced to pay for protection and help in settling disputes by turning to tough, armed enforcers (who were often criminals themselves).

By 1864 the head of Palermo's National Guard warned that a "sect of thieves" comprising bandits, smugglers, criminals and wealthy farmers with private armed guards was operating across Sicily... a phenomenon which was soon officially called a "Mafia" (ref: Wikipedia).

The Mafia, Yakuza, and Triads have each existed for hundreds of years as secret criminal societies and have deeply infiltrated every sector of the societies where they began.

They first systematically put into place a network of organizations and umbrella groups all bound by rigid rules which were ruthlessly enforced.

History of Gangs... The Globalization of Crime.

Then in the 1900's they began exporting their model of "Crime Inc." around the globe when millions of their people were forced to emigrate to foreign countries because of wars, famine and poverty.

The expansion of crime gangs accelerated later in the 20th century when borders between countries became easier to cross. As trade increased between nations and overseas travel, and communication and migration became easier, these criminal gangs spread their tentacles out around the globe.

russian mafiya

Dramatic political upheavals like the collapse of the Soviet Union (the U.S.S.R.) in 1991 changed the course of the history of gangs and added to the growing problems.

Hundreds of thousands of hard-core criminals were released from Russian jails, while battle hardened soldiers were thrown into unemployment, giving rise to new criminal gangs in the form of the Russian Mafiya.

Meanwhile, political and economic turmoil in Central America from Bolivia to Mexico saw drug cartels emerge as major threat, while wars in Africa and the Middle East added to a deadly mix of terrorism and criminal activity with repercussions around the world.

The history of gangs was being re-written. The globalization of crime had begun.

History of Gangs... Trans-National Gangs.

The Wikipedia List of Criminal Enterprises, Gangs and Syndicates provides a history of gangs around the world and prints out to nearly twenty A4 pages.

A most impressive but disturbing list:

  • Mafia... up to 80 sophisticated crime syndicates spread across Italy, Canada and the U.S.A. alone.
  • Triads... over 108 major crime syndicates.
  • Yakuza... over 270 major crime syndicates.
  • mafia guns Russian & Balkan... over 40 major crime syndicates.
  • Britain... around 20 major crime syndicates.
  • Latin America... around 40 major drug cartels.
  • In American prisons... 17 major crime syndicates.
  • U.S. Street Gangs... over 100 major crime syndicates.
  • United Kingdom... 2,800 gangs identified.
  • Cyber-Crime Networks... up to 20 major crime syndicates.

The History of Gangs... GDP of Globalized Crime.

No wonder then it's been estimated that globalized crime now accounts for almost 10% of World GDP... over $6 trillion (World Economic Forum Report 2010).

To put that in perspective... in 2010 China's GDP in 2010 was $5.9 trillion, the USA $14.5 trillion, European Union $16.2 trillion.

So in 2010 Organized International Crime GDP was bigger than that of China, then No.3 in the world.

The History of Gangs... 21st Century Franchising.

"Organized crime has globalized and turned into one of the world's foremost economic and armed powers... Crime has internationalized faster than law enforcement and world governance."

"The underworld has become inextricably linked to the global economy... transnational crime (has become) one of the world's most sophisticated and profitable businesses."

Executive Director Antonio Costa, June 2010
United Nations Office on Drugs & Crime.

We now see that the history of gangs has been radically transformed.

Once they were breeding grounds for disenfranchised and marginalized individuals desperately looking for a place to fit into when society had ostracized them; looking for a culture and a peer group where they could belong; where they could rise up through the ranks earning respect, power and wealth on their way up.

The history of gangs has changed.

Rather than being just a temporary law and order issue that authorities can stamp out, they have now become a multi-generational, permanent way of life for present and future generations of those socially excluded.

Unprecedented global urbanization and an increasing disparity between the rich and the poor has seen these smaller, localized gangs morphing into a world-wide phenomenon of hundreds of powerful syndicates with possibly tens of millions of gang members.

Syndicates that are becoming so powerful and institutionalized that they can now exert influence over governments and policies.

Syndicates that have gone global and diversified into areas such as:

Drug Trafficking

Illegal Immigration

Human Trafficking

Weapons & Firearms Trafficking

Cyber Crime

Illegal Logging

Organ Trafficking

Counterfeit Goods

Corruption & Bribery

Environmental Resource Trafficking & Pollution

And now they are exporting their business model around the globe. "They are franchising... Like McDonald's using the same bread, same hamburger, (the 'Ndrangheta) use the same way of operating, the same way of putting people together in Calabria as they do elsewhere in the world"... Antonio Nicaso, TIME, March 2011.

And when the formal economy falters into recession or worse, then the underground economy is ready to step right in and take its place.

The History of Gangs... Facts & Figures:

Gang Membership:

  • Chinese Triads... is one of the world's largest criminal organizations with around 1.5 million members in China and 2.5 million world-wide.

  • Yakuza... currently around 105,000 members (down from almost 200,000 in the early 60's when they outnumbered the Japanese Army) and 1,440 clans.

  • One FBI estimate of several years ago put the strength of the Italian Mafia at around 25,000 members with some 250,000 affiliates worldwide.

  • The Moscow Times (March 2010) estimated "Russian Mafia Abroad Now 300,000 Strong... (and) dominating the criminal world in many countries".

Yet even as these long established crime syndicates embraced globalization and exported their franchises around the globe, new players were emerging ready to challenge and compete ruthlessly for a piece of the action. The history of gangs was about to be rewritten.

Mexican drug crime goes global.
Uploaded on 31 Mar 2011 by AlJazeerEnglish:
Drug gangs in Mexico fuel the violent trade in narcotics around the world, affecting populations in West Africa, Europe, Afghanistan and Australia.

A history of gangs... from local to global.


A 303 page report by the
United Nations Office On Drugs & Crime.

"A ground-breaking assessment of transnational organized crime activities that INTERPOL will use in its work."

... Ronald Noble, INTERPOL Secretary General.

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by Eugene Roberts

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The Internet Revolution, Globalization, and the Global Financial Crisis created the perfect storm... Old Business models are being destroyed and jobs are disappearing offshore at an astonishing rate. Analysts warn that "China and India are poised to out-think us and out-compete us by their sheer numbers" and that "there is no job security now".

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