Open main menu

Chinese Life in the Tibetan Foothills/Book 3/Chapter 1. Secret Societies




Secret Societies

During the past twenty years the writer's calling has often brought him into close contact with and even into sharp opposition to secret society organizations in Ssŭch'uan. The chief difficulty in studying such societies is, of course, that they are secret, and the divulging of details is likely to be severely punished.

The difficulty all missionary societies have had in getting a foothold in Ssŭch‘uan is due to the Tang Tzŭ Hang (黨子行), or Confucian Society. The plots of the literati culminated in the riots of 1895. From that year till about 1902 new influences were brought into play by bringing the more lawless elements of society into action. This period might be called the Hypnotic Period; it includes the Yŭ Man-tzŭ rebellion of 1898, the Boxer upheaval of 1900, and the local Boxer trouble of 1902, when the Boxer bands even entered the provincial capital.

From 1902 a new phase begins, when the Ch‘ien Tzŭ Hang (㡨子行), or Tally Society, made a movement toward the Church to capture it for political purposes, both protective and aggressive. The period ended in the Revolution of 1911.

To be clear, it may be stated here that the Tally Society is the same as the Han Liu (漢流), or Ko Lao Hui (哥老會), and the period may be named the Han Liu period.

After 1911 those who had entered the Church for political reasons tried to get possession of Church property or to start self-governing causes of their own; but always for political or personal advantage. This might be called the Self-government Period.

The first three of the above periods exhibit phenomena important not only now, but acting even in remote antiquity.

The writer believes that this ancient West China fraternity originated in the Totemistic age. That age, which was one of magic, has left many traces, especially in these sodalities. The frequent mention of the dragon in the organization of the brotherhood abundantly proves its Totemistic origin. The leading Elder Brother is spoken of as the "Dragon's Head." The baser sort, who make a living by roving, are called "Rolling Dragons." And a score of similar instances might be given.

Not to go further back than the end of the Chou (周) dynasty, we may divide the society of the time into three classes: (i), followers of Confucius—the reform party; (ii), followers of Lao-Tzŭ—a mystical party; (iii), followers of Nature—a reactionary party that developed into the Han Liu fraternity. These three schools of thought can be distinctly seen in the secret society organizations of West China to-day.