Blood Brothers. The Criminal Underworld of the East


“Blood Brothers; The criminal underworld of Asia” by Bertil Lintner. First published by Allen and Unwin (2002)

Product Details

Another comprehensive work from an author whose books are always rewarding to anyone with an interest in the illegal drug trade. In contrast to the title and the dust jacket on my copy the book covers wide horizons just like the organizations it describes. In 2015 it has aged a little in its coverage of current affairs but it still holds up as a first rate reference book through its rigorous attention to the historical, social and political factors which so often make for a captivating story and are indispensable for a thorough understanding of the topic.


The author spares no effort in seeking out representatives and experts of the organizations, business associates,government and police officials and academics most of whom are listed in the Chapter Notes and Bibliography providing a rich supply of valuable references. The book is not a dry reference volume however, it comes complete with fascinating examples of exploits perpetrated by the various organizations. Beginning with a description of the execution of a gang of pirates operating in the South China Sea which could be an account of an event more than a hundred years ago that ,in fact, occurred in January 2000. China today leads the world in the number of executions performed each year but the upper ranks of organized crime usually manage to escape such a fate. Many of them are citizens of other countries where the death penalty no longer exists but still provide attractive opportunities for organized crime.


Appropriately enough the book opens with a chapter on the Chinese gangs generally referred to as Triads or Hongs which have a long history going back much further than the heady says of colonial Shanghai where the opium trade had reached its peak under the influence of wealthy and respectable western trading companies predominantly but not exclusively from Britain which were making huge profits by selling Indian opium to the Chinese against the wishes of China's Government. The strength of the British Navy was brought to bear and ensured the establishment of a lucrative business which has outlasted Britain's colonial foothold as well as more than a century of political upheaval in China. Even the success of the Communist Revolution which is strongly opposed to the drug trade and presides over the aforementioned executions has been unable to eradicate such activities. The most significant change has been in the nature of the commodity; opium now mostly stays in the areas where it is grown and heroin, the value added product is transported around the world. The money generated by this trade furnished capital to support the nationalist Chinese Kuo Min Tang during the civil war which ultimately saw the communist Peoples Republic of China achieve a final victory. The resultant migration of Chinese around the world had been going on long before this and the emigrant communities were perhaps the last strongholds of the nationalist cause but this is no longer the case and the communist sympathizers have taken the major role here as well. Lintner manages to give a detailed account of this process in the USA which gives considerable insight into the political operations of the Triads.


The drug trade isn't the sole source of wealth of course and the reader is treated to an intriguing account of the fate of a large proportion of the gold which NAZI opportunists had managed to accumulate at the expense of Europe's Jews. The disposal of this gold is still a matter of much speculation and debate even today. The accepted fate of the bulk of this gold involved the Portuguese colony of Macau. Portugal was neutral during WW2 and was ruled by a fascist government when the Peoples Republic of China took power in 1949 but despite the political disparities major criminals and corrupt officials manged to collaborate in a scheme which enabled the gold to make its way from Europe via Bangkok to Macau where it was laundered. The bulk eventually going to the Peoples Republic. Ian Fleming worked for British Naval Intelligence when a lot of this was taking place and his novel 'Goldfinger' borrows from these events for its plot and a leading protagonist. These events have only recently been revealed, long after Fleming could publish a factual account based on his own knowledge. Lintner has been able to talk with people who are no longer involved in such activities and there are other researchers who have shed light on the affair which adds up to a prime example of the secrets buried for half a century after WW2.


A region that has developed a rather unique regime since 1860 is the far western region of Russia with its capital in Vladivostok. In the modern era a large part of Siberia north of Mongolia and east to the Pacific coast had been populated by people who for various reasons were seeking refuge from persecution for various reasons. A schism in the Russian Orthodox Church in 1658 caused many of the 'Old Believers' to cross the Urals and settle where they could worship in freedom. There were also non-conformist Christians from Germany who made their way to the region north of Mongolia but the majority of settlers were largely Cossack soldiers and peasants looking for land. “By 1880 Old Believers accounted for half the population of Amur district, which had more religious sectarians than any other province in the Empire. The long trek to the east could take more than a year, with entire families moving in convoys of horse drawn carts driving their cattle in front of them.”(Blood Brothers; p189). From the early nineteenth century there was an increasing proportion of political exiles beginning with the 'Decembrists' who were aristocratic army officers who took part in a revolt against the Tsar. “More than a hundred of Russia's finest minds were sent to rural parts of the East for Hard labor. Having served their sentences they were allowed to move to the towns, where they had a substantial influence on the educational and cultural life in an area that in many ways resembled the American West.”(ibid). Failed uprisings against Russian rule in their homelands provided many Poles, Ukrainians, Finns, Estonians and Lithuanians who were exiled to the shores of the Sea of Okhotsk. Officials who had fallen from favor were sent to administer the new territories. The growing demand for the resources which were abundant in the East coupled with a growing list of offenses punishable by banishment. The death penalty was abolished for many offences to encourage the flow to the East and “Scores of people were sent to Siberia without even a trial. By 1890, more than 3000 exiles a week were marched in shackles to Irkutsk by Lake Baikal. Only one in ten would survive the journey.”(Blood Brothers; p190).


Siberia as a whole covers 10% of the Earth's surface, much of it still sparsely populated and largely unexplored. Vladivostok was founded in 1860 by a small group of 28 soldiers under the command of Warrant Officer Komarov built the first buildings. China, which had recently lost the Opium War with Britain was unable to back any claim to this new presence militarily. The Manchu emperors of China at the time had banned Han Chinese from most of Manchuria including Primorsky Krai as the territory administered by Vladivostok is now called so by default, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, this far flung part of Russia has had to rely on its own resources to prevent any incursions by China or Japan. It wasn't until 1905 that the Trans-Siberian Railway was built which brought the area into closer contact with Moscow but there have been occasions when the region was under attack after the October Revolution of 1917 by an alliance of powers including Britain, USA, Canada, Japan, Czechoslovakia, a few lesser powers from Europe and White Russians. Czechoslovakia managed to invade Vladivostok but the remote location made it impossible to provide reinforcements and after trekking across Siberia the Czech fores were eager to go home and by 1920 the western powers had withdrawn and the Japanese left a couple of years later.


The industrial development of the Soviet Union created new interest in Siberia as a source of oil, coal, various metals, fish, timber, military bases and somewhere to dispose of those elements of the population that were not so keen on embracing the Soviet system and resisted giving up their traditional habits and beliefs. These elements had little in common to facilitate a unified force emerging and the Soviet forces used Siberia as the primary region for banishing those who didn't fit in, sometimes entire ethnic populations were consigned to the what is still one of the remotest places on Earth. After WW2 with the proliferation of aircraft and the discovery of large deposits of oil and other resources necessary for an industrial economy Siberia is more settled and exploited. This process has included the spread of criminal enterprises with influence in the Red Army and the KGB. The Soviet military apparatus has undergone significant changes and so too have the criminal organizations. These criminal organizations have managed to adapt to the changing economic climate quite successfully with opportunities expanding in the arms trade, drugs, prostitution and people smuggling. Russian crime gangs have made significant inroads into western European countries with a ready source of recruits from the significant growth in unemployment in private industry, the military and Government apparatus. Primorsky Krai, as the Administrative Region with Vladivostok as its Administrative Center is unique in that it is so remote from Russia's capital and the borders with Western Europe and Central Asia that organized crime is looking at different business associates in other countries and less scrutiny and control from Moscow. This, along with its history over the past few centuries has produced a regime unique in the world for many reasons. Criminal ties exist with the Yakuza in Japan, Triads, North Koreans and Russian crime gangs in 'Little Odessa'; Brighton Beach in New York's Brooklyn which have expanded to other cities in the US. Even Australia gets mentioned over 6 kilos of heroin smuggled from Vladivostok. Lintner writes “The entire Russian Far East has become so volatile that it might even break away from the rest of Russia to become the world's first truly criminal republic.”


The Yakuza which originated in Japan has an interesting history both inside Japan and as the country has expanded its interests overseas so to have the organizations which have developed to further their interests. 'Blood Brothers' provides a credible and authoritative description of how the gangs which make up this underworld have been able to increase their influence in the aftermath of WW2 and as the Japanese economy rapidly expanded into a major player in world economics. While existing within the mainstream society they have engaged in a variety of criminal activities such as extortion and real estate deals. In the US both in Hawaii and the mainland as well as in Australia and elsewhere they have engaged in real estate speculation and gambling.


Of lesser but equally interesting horizons are the activities of criminal organizations in the peninsula containing Vietnam, Kampuchea, Thailand and Myanmar (formerly Burma). The last two particularly have been involved in the production and distribution of heroin and more recently amphetamines. Since the unrest which has plagued the peninsula in the wake of WW2 there has been great deal of migration, particularly since the end of the Vietnam War but also from Kampuchea, Laos and Myanmar have seen civil wars which have prompted migration to more stable countries in the west. It is under such circumstances that criminal enterprises have been able to expand and increase their interests both at home and in the countries where they settle. 'Blood Brothers covers all these in detail.


In all the book is a compendium of criminal enterprises which have their roots in the east and the activities of those which have expanded their activities in other parts of the world. Primarily an academic work it is of value to anybody who is interested in or entertained by the intrigue of this world.


Bertil Lintner
Year Published: