Chinese Gangs and Collective Action: The Triads Tradition as a Source of Meaning Attachment and Definition of Situation

Hua-Lun Huang, University of Louisiana, Lafayette

By focusing on the cultural, organizational, psychological, sociobiological, demographic, socioeconomic, and learning aspects of adult/juvenile gangs, few, if any, modern criminologists and sociologists consider gang behaviors as collection actions. This paper argues that we should examine gang behaviors in the context of collective actions. This is due to the fac tthat the course of gang behaviors (no matter which behavior is/are concerned: assault, robbery, vandalism, rape, burglary...), in numerous circumstances, are determined by two things: the way utilized by gang members to perceive the outside world and the manner employed by gang members to interpret the meaning of a certain situation. That means gang behaviors are far from being random, disorderly, and unpredictable, as some law enforcement officials claim. instead, this research believes that it is possible for criminologists to identify (or even predict) the regularity of gang behaviors. in other words, the content and direction of gang behaviors, to a considerable extent, are influended by two group processes: dyadic and triadic dominance. These two processes, by allowing gang leader's/leaders' specific perspective and action orientation to become dominant and controlling, serve as the behavioral guideline for gang followers/associates.

By using the Chinese Triads tradition as an example, this article will first discuss four different (but interrelated) types of the Chinese juvenile and criminal gang. Then the defining characteristics of the Chinese Triads tradition will be addressed. The third part will examine the relation between the Chinese Triads tradition and the two group processes of dyadic and triadic dominance. The final portion will explore the possible connection between certain types of the Chinese gangs and the action/crime in which such gangs may get involved.

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Updated 05/20/2006