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Secret societies in Singapore (Chinese: 公司, Pinyin: gōngsī) are generally Chinese in origin. They have been largely eradicated as a security issue in the city state. However many smaller groups remain today which attempt to mimic societies of the past. The membership of these societies is largely adolescent, and sometimes includes non-Chinese Singaporeans.

Despite fading from contemporary Singaporean society, these secret societies hold great relevance to Singapore's modern history. The founding of the city state in 1819 saw the arrival of thousands of Chinese, thereby transplanting to Singapore social systems already present in China itself. Although the secret societies were commonly associated with violence, extortion and vice, they also played a part in building a social fabric for early Chinese migrants in Singapore.


Ironically, they were given leeway to control the Chinese populace due to the hands-off policy adopted by the British colonials, who hoped to create stability.



Early origins

The concept of Secret societies came to Singapore with the arrival of the Chinese during the modern city's founding in 1819, although pre-existing Chinese, particularly the Peranakans, had been living in the area prior to that. These early groups, however, were largely assimilated into Malay society, and had abandoned many of the social structures of their origins.

The term for secret society, hui (Simplified Chinese: , Traditional Chinese: ), is often interchangeable with terms like kongsi (公司, Pinyin: gōngsī) or Chinese clan (会馆, 會館, Pinyin: húguǎn), all roughly translating to the meaning of "brotherhood". The term kongsi is more widely known in Southeast Asia, however, whereas in China, the secret societies were just simply known as hui or tong.

Over in China, the concept of brotherhood as a form of non-blood kinship has been a unifying force for centuries, with evidence of its existence dating back to the Warring States Period of 475-221 BC. Specific references are often made to the sworn brotherhood of Liu Bei, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

These forms of kinship were enforced through the taking of a blood oath, a process usually conducted only in times of strife, and therefore evokes a sense of rebellion against the wider social order. This sense of brotherhood is also associated with the concept of mutual aid, a key component dating back to the Tang Dynasty period from 618 to 907. Forms of aid often involved the pooling together of resources (including financial), or the loan of these resources, and were utilized for needs such as basic livelihood, the holding of a marriage, or financing and supporting political rebellion.

Individuals requiring such mutual aid were often economically or socially under-privileged. It was therefore common for these hui to be formed amongst the poorer, lower-class males of Chinese villages.


The first secret societies

The secret societies which formed in Singapore can be traced to mid-18th century Fujian province in China, with the local offshoots adopting an organizational structure mirroring the parent organization. The Hongman (洪門), the first secret society to be established in Singapore, traced its origins to the Heaven and Earth Society (Tiandihui) in Fujian.


Policing secret societies

Despite their founding principles of mutual assistance and bonding, secret societies have, over time, come to conjure up impressions of violence and disorder. This association, perhaps exaggerated, has been encouraged by law enforcement officers since their formation in the colonial era. This perception was strengthened by several factors, including the inability of the colony's administration to control their activities, the branding of arrested society members as "criminal gangsters" by the media and an upsurge in violent crime in the 1960s sparked by a few society members. These factors came together during the same period in which the country was trying to gain a foothold fresh from having attained political independence it did not foresee.

Several important riots in Malayan history prompted had earlier colonial government to respond unambiguously. These riots include the Penang Riots of 1867 (which involved the Ghee Hin) and the Post Office Riots of 1876. The Societies Ordinance of 1889 was introduced as an attempt at suppression.


List of secret societies

  • Ghee Hin Kongsi

  • Hai San Kongsi

  • Cho Koon Kongsi

  • Ghee Khee Kongsi

  • Ghee Sin Kongsi

  • Ghee Soon Kongsi

  • Chen Chen Kow (Tsung Peh Kongsi) 松柏公司

  • Ghee Hok Kongsi 義福公司, 义福公司

  • Ghee Khee Kwang Hok Kongsi

  • Hok Bing Kongsi (Hok Hin Kongsi) 福興公司, 福兴公司

  • Hen Bing Kongsi

  • Choo Leong Kongsi

  • Ang Bang Kongsi

  • 24 Ghee Hai Kim

  • Angsoontong

  • Sio Yi Ho

  • 21 Tong Meng Ge

  • Pa Hai Tong 21

  • Ang Meng Tong 21

  • Salakau

  • Hai Lo San

Ghee Hin Kongsi


The Ghee Hin Kongsi (Simplified Chinese: 义兴公司; Traditional Chinese: 義興公司; Pinyin: ýxīng gōngsī) is a secret society in Singapore and Malaya, formed in 1820. Ghee Hin literally means "the rise of righteousness" in Chinese. The Ghee Hin often fought against the Hakka-dominated Hai San secret society.

Ghee Hin was initially dominated by the Cantonese, although Hokkiens formed the majority by 1860. Teochew, Hainanese, Hakka and Foochow form smaller minorities. Their main lodge was located in Lavender Street, which contained the ancestral tablets of important ex-members, before being donated to the Tan Tock Seng Hospital when it was torn down in 1892, following the Suppression of Secret Societies Ordinance.

The Ghee Hin were notorious for riots against Catholic Chinese in 1850 (killing over 500), as well as post offices in 1876, against a new, and more expensive, monopoly on post and remittances. The colonial government began to move towards surveillance, control, and finally suppression from 1890s onwards.

Ghee Hin and Hai San were the two secret societies that were involved in Perak civil war in the 19th century.


Ang Soon Tong

Ang Soon Tong is a secret society based in Singapore. According to a former police officer, the society was active as early as the 1950s, mainly in the Sembawang area. In 1998, a 19-year old youth was arrested for setting up a website dedicated to the society. As recently as 2007, Ang Soon Tong was still active, with one of its members sentenced to reformative probation that year for clashing with members of another secret society.




The gang was formed during the early 1960s in the early years of Singapore's Independence when the police force was more relaxed in its enforcement. 369 recruited members mainly in prisons and ex-convicts who wanted to belong to the most powerful gang. Until recently, 369 was a group of the '18' (Chup Pueh Sio Kun Tong in Hokkien) secret society.


It has since declared its independence from the '18' group and has opened its own branches in many parts of Singapore. Places like Tanjong Rhu, Kallang Airport, Teck Whye Lane, Clementi, Tanglin Halt, Mei Ling Street, Joo Seng, Bishan, Thomson, Geylang and places like Yew Tee are the main branches in which many members are recruited.

Member identification
Members of this secret society often tattoo lines of dots called 'tiam' in Hokkien on their foreheads or even five dots on each knuckle on their fingers to identify themselves as 'fighters'. Teardrops on the cheeks are also quite common to signify they have recently lost a 'brother' due to a gang attack or have no more tears to cry, or blood drop below their lips to signify that they won't bleed during a fight.


369 members have been known to dress in a predominantly black outfit and usually taunt rival gang members into a fight with their myriad of gang chants and poems. Gang signs and gang symbols are a few ways gang members use to exhibit their association with this secret society.

Gang violence in Singapore
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the gang furiously attacked rival gangs and started many turf wars. It also started recruiting many members from the Indian & Malay community after relaxing the only-Chinese rule. It also made profits from the sale of illegal and pirated VCDs, narcotics and prostitution. Attacks on rival gangs such as the '303' gang (Sakongsa in Hokkien), the Omega gang and other independent branches of the '18' group were somewhat of a routine occurrence.


The police cracked down on gang activity in the early 1980s and gang wars came to a screeching halt as many of the leaders were jailed. Many other notorious 'headmen' fled to neighboring countries or were killed in gang attacks. However, in the late 1990s and early dawn of the millennium, the gang gained strength as many of the jailed leaders were released and several of the members had succeeded in scaring off many rival gangs from territories. Gang attacks once again became common and rioting cases shot up.


Cases of murder involving gang attacks and riots were steadily increasing and the police force tightened its noose on the gangs. Singapore's Secret Society Branch dedicated most of its resources to halt the gang violence and managed in netting in a considerable amount of members. Slowly but surely, the gang violence receded and many members were put in prison.

Recent activity
Salakau has predominantly held the territories as mentioned but gang activity has been brought to a standstill as the laws are stricter. The Singapore Police Force has a better understanding of the gang networks and ample resources to stamp out further violence. The gang situation in Singapore has been officially described as 'an unorganized network of street corner gangs with no centralized leaders' and the Secret Societies Branch (SSB) of the Singapore Police Force relentlessly pursues and keeps a staunch vigil against any gang undertones related to any criminal act.


The SSB regularly conducts surprise raids or checks on nightspots and public places known to be gang territories to deter any potential offenders. Anyone found guilty of being a member of an unlawful society may be punished up to a minimum of five years imprisonment and five strokes of the cane. Sentences are usually doubled or even tripled for anyone with significant leadership authority in any unlawful society in Singapore.

The strict laws serve as a deterrent to potential gang members and has successfully decreased the number of gang-related street fights and attacks although gang-related violence occurs sporadically but remain no cause for alarm in the interest of public safety. The most recent case was when '369' gang members launched a premeditated attack with machetes and other weapons against a rival gang outside a 7-11 convenience store at Central Mall which left a 46-year old rival gang member dead.


The culprits have since been arrested and imprisoned due to the swift action of the authorities. Recent cases of fighting in popular nightspots such as Ministry of Sound and Club Momo have been attributed to '369' gang members but the situation remains under control by law enforcement agencies.




Reasons for the decline

In the early 19th century, secret societies posed a significant threat to law and order in Singapore. The early Chinese immigrants' clandestine activities and occasional turf wars proved too much of a problem for the British authorities. The British authorities were therefore obliged to curb the growing problem. They employed a number of methods, both on purpose and not, to check the growth of secret societies. This resulted in the decline of secret societies


Singapore becoming a Crown Colony

The transfer of authority over Singapore from the Indian Government to the colonial office in London is considered by most to be the most important factor that helped the British authority check the growth of secret societies. Elevation of Singapore to a crown Colony meant that London was willing to spend money and resources, and provide proper administrators that it was previously unprepared to do. Thus, Singapore was given a significantly larger priority and only with the transfer of power, could the authorities initiate the following changes.


Legislation of strict laws

The legislation of strict laws had an enormous effect in checking the growth of the secret societies. Two significant laws were passed in the 1860s.

The first was the Peace Preservation Act (also known as the banishment act) of 1867, which gave the colonial government the power to detain and deport Chinese immigrants who were convicted of crime. This was a major weapon against the secret societies members as it created fear and deterred the immigrants from joining the secret societies. With this law, the power of the secret societies was significantly curtailed.

In 1869, The Peace Preservation Act was amended, and the Dangerous Societies Suppression Ordinance was also enacted. This required that secret societies be registered. By requiring only the societies, and not the individual members, to be registered, the police attracted people to go to provide insight on the actual strength of the societies. 10 societies, 618 office bearers and 12371 members were registered in the first round of registrations.


This Ordinance also accorded the colonial government the power to inspect any society that was deemed dangerous to public peace. This way the colonial government could monitor the activities of the secret societies closely. This prevented the Chinese immigrants from joining the secret societies, causing it to reduce in influence in Singapore in the 19th century.


Improvements to police force

In 1843, there were only 133 police personnel. Even if the army of 595 men was brought in, they were still no match for the Chinese Community consisting of 32132 people (most of whom were secret society members). Thomas Dunman, the first Commissioner of Police, wrote that his police force was underpaid and drew salaries lower than the average coolies. By 1865, there were 385 policemen to 50043 Chinese, but the ratio of policemen to Chinese was still too few to be effective. This was compounded by the fact that no one in the police force was qualified to deal with the Chinese.


The officers' posts were held by Europeans while Indians made up the rank and file. No Chinese were employed because of their possible dealings with secret societies. Thus, the police force was ignorant of the language and ways of the Chinese, which was also the most volatile community. So ineffective was the police force that the wealthy had to hire private watchmen and carry personal arms to ensure their own safety.

However, after Singapore became a Crown Colony, large improvements made to the local police force. This was an important factor that helped check the growth of secret societies. The police force started to receive more funding, better equipment and proper training. All these made the police force a much more effective force than it previously was under the East India Company. Even more significant was the hiring of Chinese police officers who could understand and deal with the problems associated with the secret societies.


Establishment of Chinese Protectorate

The establishment of the Chinese Protectorate is yet another factor that led to the societies’ growth being checked. The first Chinese Protector, William Pickering maintained close contact with the Chinese immigrant community, and provided them with assistance. Being fluent in written and spoken Mandarin as well as in various Chinese dialect, Pickering looked after the welfare of the newly arrived coolies, prevented coolie abuse and kept track of the numbers of coolies leaving and arriving.


Pickering also licensed coolie depots. To qualify for a license, the depots required a constant and plentiful supply of water and good ventilation. He also visited the coolies to ask them in person what their connections in Singapore were, making sure they had someone to turn to during their stay.

This establishment of the Chinese Protectorate let the British sustain, for the first time in history, a satisfactory relationship with the Chinese community. Pickering was know affectionately to the Chinese as daiyan (大人), Cantonese for 'great man'. The Protectorate effectively became a legitimate alternative where migrants could come and try solve their problems, putting it forward to the societies for a normally violent conclusion.


It thus helped to deter many new immigrants from increasing the membership of secret societies.