By David Amoruso for Gangsters Inc.
Triad boss Chang An Lo went from rags to riches. From street thug to Triad leader and from prison to becoming involved in the political chess game between China and Taiwan. Known as the White Wolf, he claims to have retired from the underworld, yet his critics say he remains very much involved. Regardless, he transcended the world of crime the minute he got involved in the world of politics.
Chang An Lo (張安樂 or 张安乐) was born on March 13, 1948, in Nanjing, China. At the time of his birth, a decades-long civil war was ravaging through the country. It was fought between the Kuomintang (KMT)-led Nationalist government of the Republic of China headed by Chiang Kai‐shek and the Chinese Communist Party led by Mao Zedong and went on – with some pauses – from 1927 to 1949. Mao’s forces won and on October 1 of that year the People's Republic of China was founded.
After his defeat, Chiang Kai‐shek fled to Taiwan, an island country in East Asia. He established his government in Taipei and continued to wage a war against those who dethroned him. In Taiwan he resumed his duties as, self-proclaimed, President of the Republic of China.
United Bamboo Triad
Countless Chinese fled the war in their home country and many of them came to Taiwan. Among them members of organized crime, known in China as the Triad societies. In his book The Dragon Syndicates: The Global Phenomenon of the Triads author Martin Booth wrote: “Many of the Triad officials who remained in China, or could engineer no escape, were executed. Of those who fled, a large number followed their leader, Chiang Kai-shek, to Taiwan, where for the remainder of his life he relied upon them to keep him in power. Because they were from a number of separate societies, once they reached Taiwan they formed their own society, the Chu Lien Pang, or United Bamboo Society.”
The United Bamboo Society, also known as the Bamboo Union, became Taiwan’s biggest and most powerful Triad group with thousands of members operating around the world.
Street fights in Taiwan, studies at Stanford
Of course, there were also plenty of poor Chinese who fled the mainland’s bloody war. Among them Chang An Lo and his parents, who settled in Taipei in 1950 after a 2-year journey. As newly arrived refugees they could count on no support and little in the way of making a decent wage.
Growing up, Chang quickly learned how to use violence to get what he wanted. His ability to use his fists in street fights between former mainland Chinese gangs and local Taiwanese gangs got him noticed by the Triad. At the age of 16, he became an initiated member of the United Bamboo Society.
After that, Chang was on the fast lane and moving on up. In 1968, he moved to the United States and began studying philosophy at the University of Nevada. He then went to Stanford University near San Francisco and went on to run a restaurant in Monterey Park, a suburb of Los Angeles.
All the while, he was involved in the United Bamboo gang’s activities in the United States. The Triad is alleged to have been involved in gambling, prostitution, extortion, and drug trafficking. Its members could count on the loyalty of Chinese immigrants, one United Bamboo boss was recorded saying by U.S. law enforcement.
“If you drive from Los Angeles to Florida on Interstate 10, every town where you see a Chinese restaurant, you walk in and tell them you are with the United Bamboo, they will take care of you,” he said. Adding that this meant anything from money to food or a place to stay.
Chang had a different perspective on his own arrival in the United States, however. In a telephone interview from prison with the New York Times, then 38-year-old Chang said: “I was a gang member in Taiwan. But when gang members like me came to the United States, we came as individuals, to be students or businessmen, not with a criminal purpose.”
Still, his gang had a clearly criminal function. And Taiwanese officials knew how to use it.
Assassinating a journalist on orders from political leaders
Once the political leaders of a country begin recruiting crime groups to handle assassinations it is clear that the two entities have become way too intertwined. Also, that said crime group enjoys way too much influence.
By the early 1980s the United Bamboo Society had become so powerful that its leadership was asked by senior KMT officials in Taiwan to carry out the murder of Taiwanese American journalist Henry Liu. After writing a critical and unflattering biography of Taiwan’s president Chiang Ching-kuo and scathing articles, he was placed on a hit list.
The United Bamboo Triad was led by Chen Chi-li at the time. Chen was one of Chang’s closest friends, a man he had known since childhood and had come up with in the gang. Chen received orders from the head of the Kuomintang's Military Intelligence Bureau, Vice Admiral Wang Hsi-ling, to teach Liu a lesson.
- READ: Asia’s Most Wanted Drug Lord - Profile of Triad boss Tse Chi Lop, nicknamed “Brother Number Three”
That lesson was planned for October 15, 1984. A day before, Liu’s wife had noticed two Asian men riding bicycles near their house in Daly City, California. That morning she saw them again. Around 9 a.m. she heard a ruckus in the garage.
The two men had confronted Liu there and a struggle ensued. It ended when one of the assassins shot Liu in the head. The other gunman shot Liu twice in the abdomen.
Chen had planned the murder and used Wu Tun and Tung Kuei-sen to carry out the hit. Both men had been trained and briefed by Taiwanese military intelligence. Chen and Wu Tun fled to Taiwan after the assassination, but once there they did not find the safe haven they had hoped for.
Instead, they were sentenced to life in prison. As was the one official involved in handing out orders, Admiral Wang Hsi-ling. Hitman Tung Kuei-sen was later found by the FBI hiding out in Brazil and was brought back to the United States to face punishment.
The killing, subsequent testimony by Chen, and leaks by his own Triad about how this all happened sent shockwaves through the Taiwanese community in the United States and Taiwanese living outside of Taiwan. Would their leaders actually order their deaths because of simple words?
Meanwhile, back in Taiwan, citizens were shocked to see their government work side by side with a criminal organization in order to shoot an innocent man to death in his own home. Trust in the country’s leading party sunk to record lows and it set the nation on a path towards a more democratic political system.
Some of the men directly involved in the killing of Liu, however, enjoyed somewhat of a happy ending. Chen, Wang, and Wu were given clemency by the Taiwanese government. In January 1991 they were released from prison.
Heroin from the Golden Triangle
By that time, Chang wasn’t so lucky. He had been caught in a huge New York bust in the summer of 1986 and was among 11 members of the United Bamboo gang indicted and convicted on drug charges. The FBI came upon a plot to import 300 kilograms of pure heroin from the Golden Triangle, a region where Thailand, Burma and Laos intersect and opium and heroin of superior quality are produced.
Chang was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Rather than waste away behind bars, he studied. Hard. He earned five bachelor’s degrees and two master’s degrees while imprisoned in penitentiaries in the United States.
Upon his release from prison in the 1990s, he returned to Taiwan. There he found himself atop the United Bamboo Triad and becoming one of the most powerful mob bosses on the island.
But Taiwanese officials weren’t as welcoming as he might’ve hoped. When authorities were seeking his arrest in connection to the killing of a Taiwanese legislator, construction fraud, and a debt scandal, Chang decided to flee Taiwan and settle in Shenzhen, China in 1996.
His close friend and Bamboo Union boss Chen was also on the run. He had settled in Cambodia where he continued running his criminal enterprise.
With these two powerful Triad bosses removed from the underworld in Taiwan, people began to test the power of those left behind. In April of 1998, after a night out at a karaoke bar in Taipei, Chang’s eldest son Chang Chien-ho got into a fight with a member of the Four Seas gang and was stabbed to death.
Thousands of gang members, celebrities, politicians, and businessmen came to the funeral to pay their respects. It was like something out of The Godfather or a Mafia funeral back during the days of Prohibition. But this wasn’t 1930s America, this was Taiwan in the late 1990s.
“I cannot deny I have influence,” Chang boasted at the time, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
Getting into politics
Influence is something he has in abundance, indeed. While in China, Chang began getting involved in politics to exploit his connections and make a few more. In 2004, he founded the Unification Party (also known as the Chinese Unification Promotion Party or Chinese Unity Promotion Party), which advocates unification between China and Taiwan, which the Chinese government regards as a renegade province.
Chang added a Taiwan branch of his party a year later. It has between 20,000 and 40,000 members, including a large percentage of Triad gangsters and those with organized crime ties. This adds to rumors that the party is nothing more than a front for criminal activities. Others claim it is a party used by China to influence politics in Taiwan.
In a move indicating his growing influence, Chang came back to Taiwan in 2013. Despite a warrant out for his arrest, he felt he had enough backing to return safely. He was arrested upon arrival at the airport, but was released on bail and in the years since was able to establish himself as a political figure.
Though he frequently found himself in trouble with the law, Chang remained a free man. He claims he has stepped down as boss of the United Bamboo Triad, but police disagree. His focus is on his political work, he says. In a recent interview with British reporter Jane Corbin for her BBC documentary Inside Taiwan: Standing up to China, Chang talked about his political work.
“Unification is the only way we can keep a peace between both sides,” he says. “But the problem is the Taiwanese people have been brainwashed they hate China even though they are Chinese.”
Photo: Chang's son Chang Wei (in gray shirt) pushing a protestor at a rally.
That his underlings engage in violence against pro-democracy protestors is not Chang’s or his party’s fault, he says. His people show up at protests and have attacked students and protestors. Though they claim they were just defending themselves, Chang’s men can be seen using baseball bats to beat protestors. One protest resulted in four students being taken to the hospital. Chang’s son Chang Wei and a man armed with a bat were charged and convicted of assault charges.
The fact that Chang has financial interests in China makes some people wonder about his motivations. Is he a Chinese agent bought by China? Asked by BBC reporter Jane Corbin about his business interests there, he says: “Our factory is in mainland China but lots of Taiwanese people have a business in mainland China. So I make my money, but nothing to do with China, Chinese government. No nothing to do with them.”
In an earlier interview with the Financial Times, he admits frequently traveling to China and having dealings with Chinese officials, mostly in Shenzhen. “We have contact, yes. Sometimes we talk about policy.”
He is often asked about his current ties to organized crime, but he denies involvement in the underworld. “I tell you the truth. I don’t care whatever you want to write,” he told the Financial Times. “I spent 10 years in prison. People say I’m a drug dealer. I don’t care. I know if I deal drugs or not.”
In an interview with the Washington Post, he said: “Some officers try to look into my financial situation. They think I have made money here. There have been too many rumors. They think I deal drugs or smuggle.”
In the end, things are simple for Chang. “Chinese people say: if you don’t bother me I won’t bother you. But if you bother me, I will bother you back.”
- Back to the Triads section on Gangsters Inc.
- Check out the latest news on organized crime and the Mafia at our news section
- Check out our social media channels
- About Gangsters Inc.
Copyright © Gangsters Inc.