Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 天地會
Simplified Chinese 天地会
Literal meaning Heaven and Earth Society
Vietnamese name
Vietnamese Thiên Địa Hội
Traditional Chinese 洪門
Simplified Chinese 洪门
Literal meaning Hong Gate, Vast Gate, Floodgate
Traditional Chinese 三合會
Simplified Chinese 三合会
Literal meaning Three Harmonies Society

The Tiandihui ("Heaven and Earth Society")(Chinese: ; pinyin: Tiān Dì Huì) is a fraternal organization that originated in China. The Hongmen grouping is today more or less synonymous with the whole Tiandihui concept, although the title "Hongmen" is also claimed by some criminal groups.

As the Tiandihui spread through different counties and provinces, it branched off into many groups and became known by many names, including the Hongmen and Sanhehui.

When the British ruled Hong Kong, all Chinese secret societies were seen as a criminal threat and together defined as "triads", although the Hongmen might be said to have differed in its nature from others. The name of the "Three Harmonies Society" (the "Sanhehui" grouping of the Tiandihui) is in fact the source of the term "Triad" that has become synonymous with Chinese organized crime.

Because of that heritage, the Tiandihui is sometimes controversial and is illegal in Hong Kong.

In the Western world, the Tiandihui has sometimes adopted the name "Chinese Freemasons", on the basis of the strong superficial parallels between the two; both have quasi-religious aspects, make use of esoteric symbolism, and include many factions. However, they have different ethical systems, different origins, and different purposes.



According to Kelvin Bechkam Chow, a member of the organization, the Tiandihui was founded during the reign of the Kangxi Emperor (1654—1722). However, independent research concludes that the Tiandihui was founded in the 1760s[citation needed].

The founders of the Tiandihui—Ti Xi, Li Amin, Zhu Dingyuan, and Tao Yuan—were all from Zhangpu, Zhangzhou, Fujian, on the border with Guangdong. They left Zhangpu for Sichuan, where they joined a cult, which did not go well. Ti Xi soon left for Guangdong, where he organized a group of followers in Huizhou. In 1761, he returned to Fujian and organized his followers to form the Tiandihui.

A century earlier, the Qing Dynasty made membership in such societies illegal, driving them into the arms of the anti-Qing resistance, for whom they now served as an organizational model. The 18th century saw a proliferation of such societies, some of which were devoted to overthrowing the Qing, such as the Tiandihui, which had established itself in the Zhangpu and Pinghe counties of Zhangzhou by 1766. By 1767, Lu Mao had organized within the Tiandihui a campaign of robberies to fund their revolutionary activities.

The Tiandihui began to claim that their society was born of an alliance between Ming Dynasty loyalists and five survivors of the destruction of Shaolin Monastery—Choi Dak Jung (蔡德忠), Fong Daai Hung (方大洪), Ma Chiu Hing (馬超興), Wu Dak Tai (胡德帝), and Lei Sik Hoi (李式開)—by the Qing forged at the Honghua Ting (Hung Fa Ting, Vast or Red Flower Pavilion), where they swore to devote themselves to the mission of "fanqing fuming" (simplified Chinese: 反清复明; traditional Chinese: 反清復明; literally "Overthrow Qing and restore Ming")[1].

The merchant Koh Lay Huan (died 1826), [2] who had been involved in these subversive activities, had to flee China, arriving in Siam and the Malay States, to eventually settle in Penang as its first Kapitan China.[3]

During the late 19th century, branches of the Hongmen were formed by Chinese communities overseas, notably the United States, Canada, and Australia.

Following the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty of China in 1911, the Hongmen suddenly found themselves without purpose. They had managed to miss out on the actual uprising. From then on the Hongmen diverged into two groups. One group, with its membership base outside China, debatably became a Freemasonry-like fraternity, hence the term "Chinese Freemasons". The other group, which was based within China, could no longer rely on donations from sympathetic locals; being unable to resume normal civilian lives after years of hiding, they turned to illegal activities - thus giving birth to the modern Triads.

The Hongmen today

The Hongmen is believed to consist of about 300,000 members worldwide, concentrated in Taiwan, with other members tending to be found in China or the Chinese overseas communities. Membership is overwhelmingly ethnically Chinese (including Taiwanese) but there are also Japanese members and a few white American members. The Hongmen is divided into branches, of which there are believed to be approximately 180. The largest of the branches, Wu Sheng Shan, consists of perhaps 180,000 members. Membership is said to be primarily working class, and is also said to include a considerable membership in the armed forces of the Republic of China (Taiwan).

Hongmen members worldwide continue to observe certain common traditions: they all stress their patriotic origin; they all revere Guan Yu, a historic Chinese figure who embodies righteousness, patriotism, and loyalty; and they all share certain rituals and traditions such as the concept of brotherhood and a secret handshake.

Hong Kong

Today the Hongmen is an illegal society in Hong Kong, because of its links with the Triads, perceived or real.


In Taiwan, by contrast, the Hongmen is not only legal, but politically influential; this came as no surprise, since Sun Yat-Sen, founding father of the Republic of China, was a senior figure within the Hongmen, as was nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek. Moreover, the Kuomintang, or Chinese Nationalist Party, was formed from the Xingzhonghui and Guangfuhui, groups not unlike the Hongmen.

Because of the Hongmen's revolutionary character and mysterious quality, their future was unclear after the Republic of China central government moved to Taiwan. For a long time, the Republic of China on Taiwan did not openly allow the Hongmen to operate. After martial law ended in 1989, Ge Shan Tang formed and started exchange with the outside world.

Under the influence of Chiang Kai-shek, the Hongmen attempted to remain secretive (although not exactly secret), but in recent years the organization's activities have been more open.

The organization also has business interests, and is reportedly trying to open a martial arts school in Taiwan.

On January 1, 2004, Nan Hua Shan Tang was registered with Taiwan's Ministry of Interior.

People's Republic of China

In the People's Republic of China, the Hongmen is known as the Zhi Gong Party (致公党), a political party that participates in the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. Wan Gang, a vice president of the Zhi Gong Party, is currently the only non-Communist Party minister in the Chinese government.


The Hongmen continues to exist within numerous overseas Chinese communities, albeit with rapidly aging memberships; its main purposes today are to act as fraternities amongst overseas Chinese, and to participate in charitable activities. On July 28, 1992 in America, the Hongmen held their 3rd Worldwide Hongmen Conference. Over 100 worldwide representatives attended for two days of discussion and adopted organizational rules, proclaimed the founding of a worldwide Hongmen association. First session President Li Zhipeng announced the construction of the Hongmen headquarters in Honolulu.

Popular culture


  • The Deer and the Cauldron (鹿鼎記): a wuxia novel by Louis Cha. In the story, Tiandihui was prominently mentioned and played a major role in the story line. The protagonist, Wei Xiaobao, became the hall master of Tiandihui Qingmu Hall (青木堂) based in Peking (present day Beijing).

See also


  1. ^ http://www.wingchunpedia.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php?n=WCP.WingChunKuenAndTheSecretSocieties-CollectedInformationByReneRitchie
  2. ^ Rites of Belonging: Memory, Modernity, and Identity in a Malaysian Chinese Community By Jean DeBernardi, Jean Elizabeth DeBernardi Published by Stanford University Press, 2004; ISBN 0804744866, 9780804744867; p. 26
  3. ^ The Straits Settlements, 1826-67: Indian Presidency to Crown Colony By Constance Mary Turnbull Published by Athlone Press, 1972; p. 9, 420

External links

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