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The Hidden History Of China’s Secret Societies

by Mehmet Sabeheddin

Thanks to the latest Hollywood martial arts blockbuster along with a steady stream of Hong Kong action films, audiences around the world have been entertained by wild and colourful portrayals of Chinese secret societies.

These extravagant fictional tales often obscure the plain truth that for at least two thousand years secret societies did play a vital part in the dynamics of China’s political, social and religious life. Right up to the birth of the People’s Republic in 1949, secret societies were a special characteristic of old China.

“The officials draw their power from the law; the people, from the secret societies.” This Chinese saying sums up the centuries-old conflict between rulers and ruled, privileged and oppressed in imperial China. Secret societies were directly involved in all the peasant rebellions in Chinese history. As early as the second century, the armed uprising that eventually overthrew the Han dynasty was instigated by a Taoist sect called the Yellow Turbans, whose leader was renowned for his gift of spiritual healing and supernatural powers. The Yellow Turbans in their mixture of religion and political dissatisfaction may be regarded as the forerunners of the secret societies that sprang up all across China.

By organising opposition to excessive taxation and the despotism of corrupt bureaucrats, secret societies gained widespread support. In the words of Chinese historian Teng Ssu-Yu, they were the “nerve centres” of opposition to the imperial government, “which profit from favourable circumstances to start insurrections and rebellions.” The secret society formed a hidden parallel empire, a state within a state, and this was a major source of its strength. Nocturnal initiation ceremonies, arcane teachings, secret signs, symbols and passwords, all helped bind a member’s loyalty to the fraternity. As China expert Jean Chesneaux explains:

The secret societies claimed a rival order to that of emperor and mandarins. Vis-à-vis established society they constituted an ‘anti-society’ in the sense in which modern physicists talk of an anti-matter or an anti-universe… Their rites, secrets, oaths of initiation, conventional ideograms – features of which the Triad has provided very typical examples but which are found also in all similar associations – made a powerful contribution towards the consolidation of this autonomous order. The discipline was extremely strict, and any violation, betrayal, or collusion with the authorities was punished by death.1

One of the most influential of China’s secret societies went by the name White Lotus. It often had to change its name in order to conceal its identity, and was associated with other groups, principally the Society of Heaven and Earth (also called the Hung society or Triad). The White Lotus functioned primarily as a spiritual body, but in times of political dissatisfaction and social upheaval it quickly took on the outer characteristics of a radical political movement. As a Chinese imperial decree written in 1813 points out:

In normal times the society was engaged in daily worship… and preached that by reciting scriptures and verses, one can escape the dangers of swords and arms, water and fire…. But in times of famine and disorder they might plot for the Greater Enterprises (the founding of a new dynasty).

The White Lotus society led one of the largest rebellions in the second quarter of the fourteenth century against the foreign rule of the Mongols. Known as the Red Turban Rebels (due to their distinctive red headbands) White Lotus members were behind the formation of the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) headed by former Buddhist monk Chu Yuan-chang, who assumed full imperial powers under the title Hung Wu. According to Professor Chesneaux:

Chu Yuan-chang [Hung Wu], the leader of a peasant rebellion against the Mongol Yuan dynasty in the fourteenth century, belonged to the White Lotus sect, of Manichaean origin, and the name of the new dynasty which he founded, the Ming (which means ‘light’ in Chinese), originated in the esoteric vocabulary of the Manichaeans.2

That the Ming emperor Hung Wu was both a former Buddhist monk and a Manichaean initiate is significant because the White Lotus teachings blended Buddhism and native Taoism with Gnostic elements which had entered China from Central Asia with Manichaean missionaries. Later secret societies venerated Hung Wu above all other historical figures and pledged their allegiance to the Ming dynasty that he established hundreds of years after its collapse. In 1644 the foreign Manchus, who had menaced the Chinese Empire for centuries, claimed the Dragon Throne and established the Ch’ing dynasty. The secret society networks were united in a common purpose: “Overthrow the Ch’ing and restore the Ming.”

By the nineteenth century the cruel and despotic misrule of the Manchus had resulted in nearly a century of political and religious turmoil, leaving China in chaos and unable to effectively confront Western incursions. In the history of all the popular rebellions the name of the White Lotus appears and disappears. They have been linked with the famous Shaolin Temple of Chan Buddhism, reputedly where Chinese martial arts originated, and the Shaolin monks who took a blood oath to resist the Ch’ing dynasty. After the failure of the two great insurrections of the late eighteenth century, the White Lotus was the victim of violent persecution. In 1813 White Lotus members called the Eight Diagrams (named after geometrical figures used in Taoist divination) nearly took over the Forbidden City in Beijing.

The Society of Heaven and Earth or Triads absorbed much from the White Lotus tradition, and is sometimes regarded as its successor. Persecuted and hunted down by government forces, White Lotus initiates either organised new societies under new names or assimilated with the Triads. All these secret fraternities while clearly united in one political aim summed up in the slogan, “Overthrow the Ch’ing and restore the Ming,” also had their core mystical elements and ceremonial rites. They believed in, and taught, occult techniques to their members, among them the use of ‘magic amulets’ and numerology. J.S.M. Ward, an early twentieth century British expert on secret societies and bishop of an esoteric Christian community, concluded that, “the Hung or Triad Society seems justly entitled to claim that it is a lineal descendant of the Ancient Mysteries. Its signs are of primeval antiquity…” Bishop Ward published an exhaustive study of Triad practices, documenting the striking similarities to those of many other secret organisations.

At this point it is worth commenting on a strange connection between the secret societies of the Far East and Western esotericism. In the 1880s a young French aristocrat deserted the Foreign Legion in Indochina to join a network of secret societies, the T’ien-ti hui and the Bac Lieu. These Triads were of Chinese origin and viewed as Taoist societies. Count Albert de Pouvourville (1861–1940) thus described his membership in the Triads as a “Taoist initiation.” On his return to Paris, de Pouvourville became a successful writer and journalist, publishing under his Taoist initiate’s name Matgioi. In his writings he condemned French colonial policy in Southeast Asia and explored Chinese and Vietnamese history. He also undertook important translations of Taoist texts. At the same time Albert de Pouvourville, the Taoist secret society initiate, joined the Gnostic Church in Paris and was consecrated a bishop with the spiritual name of Tau Simon. Around 1904 he launched the journal La Voie, and published Les Enseignements secrets de la Gnose (The Secret Teachings of Gnosis). Stanislas Guaita, another French writer and occultist, was strongly influenced by de Pouvourville, as was Rene Guenon who acknowledged him as “one of my Masters” in 1918. Through Count de Pouvourville, Guenon received a Taoist initiation and was led to write his own studies of the metaphysics of the Taoist tradition.

By the start of the twentieth century China’s secret society networks had grown into a considerable force. They had long experience of resistance to the imperial bureaucrats and could rely on the support of the peasants and the poor. Writing in 1908, a young Chinese radical living in exile in Paris noted how throughout the Chinese Empire there existed, “secret revolutionary associations whose importance in the history of China has been great and whose activity in the contemporary [revolutionary] movement is considerable.”

The hated Ch’ing dynasty continued on until 1911 when it was overthrown by Dr. Sun Yat Sen’s Republican Party, with the considerable aid of the Triads. A Triad member of long standing, Sun Yat Sen had made use of the secret society networks to recruit supporters, raise funds, and disseminate propaganda on behalf of the Republican cause. The 1911 Revolution fulfilled one of the Triad’s traditional aims – “Overthrow Ch’ing.” On a visit to the tombs of the Ming emperors, China’s first president declared that the Ch’ing had finally been dethroned.

Mao Zedong is known to have been a keen student of Chinese history particularly China’s numerous peasant uprisings. Mao studied the structure and role of secret societies in these tumultuous events, and used this knowledge in building the Chinese Communist Party and waging a successful guerrilla war against both the Japanese invaders and the right-wing forces of Chiang Kai-shek. In these struggles Chairman Mao appealed directly to the ‘revolutionary spirit’ of the secret societies, urging them to join the ant-Japanese resistance and work for the liberation of China.

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Footnotes:

1. Jean Chesneaux, Secret Societies in China in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

2. Jean Chesneaux, Peasant Revolts in China, 1840-1949

.

MEHMET SABEHEDDIN is a researcher, writer and global traveller. He is a longtime contributor to New Dawn magazine. His areas of interest are wide ranging and include Sufism, Islam and esoteric Christianity. He can be contacted c/- of New Dawn Magazine, GPO Box 3126, Melbourne VIC 3001, Australia.

 

© Copyright New Dawn Magazine, http://www.newdawnmagazine.com. Permission granted to freely distribute this article for non-commercial purposes if unedited and copied in full, including this notice.

© Copyright New Dawn Magazine, http://www.newdawnmagazine.com. Permission to re-send, post and place on web sites for non-commercial purposes, and if shown only in its entirety with no changes or additions. This notice must accompany all re-posting.

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Underworld

Yes, fear is the power of control

“… The young devil to the old:

– How did you manage to send so many souls to hell?

Old devil:

– Through fear!

Young:

– Well done! And what were they afraid of? Wars? Hunger?

Old:

– No … Disease!

Young:

– They weren’t sick? Weren’t they dying? Wasn’t there a medicine?

Old:

-….. got sick. They died. There was a cure …

Young:

– I do not understand…

Old:

– We accidentally decided that the only thing that needs to be preserved at any cost is LIFE !!!

They stopped hugging … They stopped greeting each other !!! They left all human contact …. They left everything that made a person human!

They were left without money. They lost their jobs.

But they chose to fear for their lives, even if they didn’t have bread to eat.

They believed what they heard, read the newspapers and blindly believed everything they read.

They gave up freedom.

They never left the house again. They never went anywhere. We never visited friends and family again. The whole world has turned into a huge prison with convicts – volunteers.

They accepted everything !!! All this to live another miserable day …

They didn’t live, they died every day!

It was too easy to take their pitiful soul … “

Clive Lewis “Letters from a Senior to a Junior Devil”.

From the book “Balamut’s Letters” (1941)

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Underworld

Havana Syndrome again? CIA officers are mowed down by a mysterious disease

A CIA officer in Moscow experienced symptoms of the so-called “Havana syndrome” in 2017. This became known to The New York Times with reference to sources in diplomatic circles.

CIA officer Mark Polimepulos, who helped lead covert operations in Russia and Europe, complained about the manifestation of mysterious symptoms. According to the newspaper, in December 2017, he felt severe dizziness, which later developed into a prolonged migraine, forcing him to retire. At that time, Polymerpoulos was 48 years old.

It is noted that such a case was not the only one. Similar symptoms were experienced by the staff of the American ambassadors in Cuba and China in 2016-2018. However, the exact number of cases and the place where this happened is not named. It is alleged that the US diplomats have tried to influence in a similar way around the world.

At the same time, the US State Department was unable to establish an unambiguous reason that caused the “Havana syndrome.” Among other things, it was assumed that the diplomats may have been exposed to an unidentified sound effect.

In 2017, it was reported that, beginning in late 2016, American diplomatic officials and their relatives in Cuba began to complain of symptoms such as hearing loss, nausea, headaches and balance disorder. 

The Associated Press received audio footage of the attack and described the harassing sounds as “the high-pitched sound of crickets combined with fingernails scratching on a board.” Then the American government suggested that Russia or China could be the culprit.

Many victims are still undergoing rehabilitation. Specialists from the University of Pennsylvania performed magnetic resonance imaging and revealed visible changes in the structure of the brain in the diplomatic missions.

Differences were found in 23 men and 17 women who complained of health problems while on diplomatic duties in Havana. Scientists have yet to figure out what causes the unusual symptoms.

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Underworld

How Russia and the United States nearly started a nuclear war in 1995

The Norwegian meteorological rocket incident remains the only time in history that the Russian president has activated his nuclear briefcase.

On January 25, 1995, Doomsday could have come in the world: the Russian Federation was preparing to launch a nuclear strike on the United States. How did it come about that the states that left the confrontation of the Cold War in the past and had just normalized relations with each other found themselves on the verge of mutual destruction?

The beginning of the war?

The cause of the crisis was an ordinary Norwegian meteorological rocket. Its launch from the small island of Anneia at 7 am local time (10 am Moscow time) towards Spitsbergen caused a stir in Russia. 

Black Brant XII.

Black Brant XII. Legion Media / ZUMA Press

Equipped with scientific equipment to study the aurora borealis, the Black Brant XII was similar in size to the nuclear-powered American Trident D-5 ballistic missile, intended for launch from submarines. In addition, it flew along a trajectory along which, as the Russian Defense Ministry believed, American missiles would fly in the event of a nuclear war. 

In December 1994, Norway informed 28 states, including Russia, about the planned launch, but did not give a specific date, limiting itself to specifying the period: from January 15 to February 10 of the next year. Due to bureaucratic delays, this information did not reach the Russian Missile Warning System, which sounded the alarm.

Decisive minutes

An emergency meeting with the country’s top political and military leadership was convened in the Kremlin. Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, Chief of the General Staff Mikhail Kolesnikov and President of the Russian Federation (as Supreme Commander-in-Chief) Boris Yeltsin had three strategic missile forces control terminals activated – the so-called nuclear suitcases.

Vladimir Sayapin / TASS

The military believed the lone missile could have been fired to create an electromagnetic pulse that knocked out Russian radars and communications systems. Following it, a massive blow could be expected.

For several tense minutes, as leaders watched it flight, it was decided whether Russia would launch a nuclear strike against the United States. 

“Little is known today about what Yeltsin said at the time, given that it could have been some of the most dangerous moments in the entire history of the nuclear era,” The Washington Post journalist, David Hoffman wrote three years after the incident : “They make it clear that the Cold War nuclear readiness system continues to operate, and how catastrophic its consequences could be, despite the fact that the feud between the great powers is already over.”   

The situation was discharged only when it became clear that the rocket had gone towards Spitsbergen (not far from which it fell into the ocean). The nuclear cases have been deactivated. Russian President Boris Yeltsin (center) and Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev (right).

Russian President Boris Yeltsin (center) and Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev (right). Igor Mikhalev / Sputnik

The incident with bringing Russia’s Strategic Nuclear Forces to combat readiness, soon became the property of the world community. When, four years later, the Norwegians were about to repeat their launch of Black Brant XII and reported this to the Russian Foreign Ministry, the US additionally warned all key Russian military departments about it through their channels. As a result, this time there were no unpleasant surprises. 

Source: rbth.com

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