The Triads descend from the anti-Manchu secret societies of the 17th century during the Qing Dynasty, established by five Shaolin monks who survived the destruction of the monastery by imperial forces. Legends say that the Triads actually descend from the Red Eyebrows Society of the 1st century, which helped overthrow an usurper thereby contributing to the restoration of the throne to the Han Dynasty.
Hong Kong used to be the center of their world but ever since the Chinese regime turned inward in the 21st century and became isolationist (the Bamboo Curtain), the new defacto headquarters of the Triads is Singapore. It is a worldwide criminal network. In Southeast Asia, the Triads dominate the underworld. China used to be a stronghold of the Triads, now that the Bamboo Curtain is up, the status of the Triads in mainland China is unknown. Wherever the Chinese Diaspora exists around the world, the Triads are likely to have established a stronghold in their communities.
Australia is one of the countries where they have a presence, where they compete with the Russki-Yak (merged Japanese & Russian underworld, led by the Yakuza). In Europe they compete with the Corsican Union. Over in North America, it's the Mafia who is their competitor. Since they control the drug trade coming out of the Golden Triangle, they are major suppliers of illicit controlled substances to various markets around the world.
There are approximately a dozen powerful Triads who create broad policy for the Triads. Each Triad has anywhere from a few dozen members to thousands. One of the most powerful Triads is the "Wo Shing Wo Society" which is based in Southeast Asia, but has operations in North America.
Triads vary greatly in how organized they are. Some Triads are loosely organized, more like coalitions of gangs. Other Triads have a structured hierarchy, with specified ranks and perhaps even a council or a board of directors. Numerical codes that are based on Chinese numerology are assigned to members to identify what rank they have.
Members of a Triad are taught the centuries-old hand signals of the Triad and undergo initiation ritual based on Daoist and Buddhist traditions / beliefs which ends with a loyalty oath. Communication among Triad members may include the use of a numbered code.
- At the top of the Triad hierarchy is the Shan Chu (Lodge Master / Dragonhead - 489). He or she has very little contact, if any with the rank and file members of the Triad. Dragonheads are quasi-legitimate businessmen.
- In the level below, are the "483"s. The top ranked 483 is the Fu Shan Chu (Deputy Lodge Master, the top ranked 483) who manages the day-to-day operations of the Triad. Below him are two 483s of equal rank; the Heung Chu (Incense Master) who is in charge of enforcing the traditions of the Triad, and the Sin Fung (Guardian) who is in charge of recruiting. Last is the Sheung Fa (Double Flower), whom are the ones who establish new branches of the Triad.
- Below the 483's are the Triad's officers. The military commander in charge of the gangs is the Hung Kwan (Red Pole, 426) who may be a cybernetically enhanced killer, a top-notch hacker, or an efficient business manager. In charge of accounting is the Pak Tsz Sin (White Paper Fan, 415). The public face of the Triad who collects and pays the bribes and graft from the businesses and gangs is the Cho Hai (Grass Sandal, 425), who is usually an attorney.
- Last of all are the rank-n-file members, all of whom are Sze Kau (49). They are the soldiers of the Triad who provide security, act as muscle, run a business, supervise a safehouse, or work as hitmen for the Triad.
It is a criminal organization that is involved in a wide variety of criminal activities. One of their major enterprises is drug trafficking as they are a major supplier of both opiates and designer drugs, competing with the Corsican Union in the Netherlands and the Mafia on the American West Coast. Another major revenue stream is illegal gambling which consist of lotteries, casinos, bookmaking, and floating card & dice games. Other types of operations include credit crime, protection rackets, and illegal body banks (in which victims are kidnapped and/or killed for their body parts).
The Triads are famous for using operatives who use only martial arts to kill a target. Organizations who love a big, bloody show and reward the recklessly courageous which has resulted in the Triads having a reputation on the streets of being a bit crazy. It's a smoke screen, for when secrecy truly matters the Triads can have people killed as quietly as anyone else.