The story appears on

Page B4

October 19, 2013

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Feature » Art and Culture

Colorful gangsters ruled the underworld

To Shanghainese who know their history, Huang Jinrong (1868-1953) is a household name, ironically the most powerful Chinese detective and at the same time one of the most notorious gangsters in the first half of the 20th century.

Even Chiang Kai-shek (1887-1975) paid allegiance to him in a gang ceremony and sought Huang’s protection when he worked in the city’s stock exchange. Chiang was heavily in debt and his debtors threatened to kill him unless he paid.

After Chiang rose to power as leader of the Kuomintang regime, Huang returned the initiation paper that proved him to be a “disciple.” This act reinforced his connection with Chiang, as well as his status in the Green Gang, which was famously allied with the Kuomintang.

Huang, together with Du Yuesheng (“Big-Eared Du”, 1888-1951) and Zhang Xiaolin (1877-1940), are called the “three bosses of Shanghai.” Du worked for Huang as a servant before he made his own fame and became Huang’s partner and a major force in the former French concession. Zhang was the biggest gangster in the former British concession.

Huang started as a cop in the former French concession police station and many small-time gangsters tried to make friends with him because of his concession connections. Huang exploited his ties with both gangsters and concession police. He solved many big cases through his mobster friends and quickly climbed the ladder.

Huang was born in a longtang (lane) in Shanghai, while Du and Zhang were among the refugees from nearby areas who flooded into Shanghai seeking opportunities. Many worked in factories but many couldn’t find permanent work and turned instead to the city’s vast underbelly..

Despite the defeat of the nationalists in the civil war, Huang remained in Shanghai after 1949 and kept a low profile. After many people demanded his death, Huang wrote a public confession. It was published in local newspaper, along with a photo of him sweeping the grounds of the Great World, a property that his gang once “protected.” He was never imprisoned and died at the age of 86.

From 1930 to 1936, around 20 percent of the city’s three million residents were jobless and many men joined criminal gangs. Most rickshaw boys and dock workers belonged to a gang for their own protection.

Gangs had a strict hierarchy, but there were many loosely affiliated sub-gangs that paid allegiance to powerful crime lords. The famous Green Gang was divided into five big sub-gangs. Many gangs were organized according to hometowns since migrants from one place usually lived together in Shanghai.

Some of the biggest gangs drew members from Ningbo in Zhejiang Province and northern Jiangsu Province. They were bitter rivals and often engaged in bloody battles in Shanghai.

Gangs were into all kinds of business, including trading and shipping opium, extortion and protection, arson, running brothels, dives, theaters, gaming and other pursuits.

Huang once had more than 1,000 direct “disciples,” including successful businessmen, doctors, policemen, journalists, actors, painters, among others.

Today, people still call tricksters chai bai dang (拆白党), which means divide and eat without paying. The term refers to gangsters who divided the take from their crimes and went to restaurants without paying. They were sometimes called the naked gang, since the pronunciation is similar to chi bo (赤膊) in Shanghai dialect. Tricksters’ main business was to seduce and trick young men or women so that they could be sold into prostitution or blackmailed.

Another common term was he zha dang (呵炸党), which means threaten and bomb. Gangsters often targeted large venues such as parks, theaters and restaurants, and threatened to bomb them if they did pay “ransom.”


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend