White Wolf

Who is White Wolf?  This is a man whose real name is Chang An-Lo (張安樂) who is/was a member of the United Bamboo gang of Taiwan.

If you have never heard of White Wolf, I recommend that you read these two recent blog posts on him:

Just when you think that you have a fix on the character known as White Wolf, I am going to tell you that it does not match my knowledge.

Why should you care about my knowledge?  Who the hell am I anyway?  I have spent a grand total of less than one week of my life in Taipei and I have never personally met Chang An-lo or any other United Bamboo member in my entire life.

However, I know a lot more about White Wolf than most people on this planet.  In Translation and its Discontents, I recounted my career as a translator for the Joint Task Force of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the New York Police Department in the investigation of Chang An-lo (aka White Wolf) and his associates.  Thus, I have spent several months of my life listening to audio recordings of White Wolf talking about his business and more generally about his personal history.  To this day, if you let me hear his voice again, I will probably recognize it immediately.  

Here is one anecdote: Why is this gang named the United Bamboo?  According to what I heard, a group of teenage students of mainland origins gathered in a bamboo garden in a Taipei neighborhood and swore that they were tired of being bullied by indigenous Taiwanese students all the time and therefore they would form a band (or gang) of blood brothers to defend themselves.  In unity, there is strength.  Such was the myth that I heard. 

With due respect, my knowledge base does not remotely match what the two above blog posts suggested, at least as far as the historical epoch that I was familiar with was concerned.  Of course, White Wolf could have been self-serving when he spoke to the CI (=confidential informant).  Still, I frankly don't give a damn about reconciling multiple versions of stories.  He said, she said, whatever ...

I am more intrigued by the book that I picked up today from the local bookstore.  This is the book titled Black Gold (黑金) by Kolin Chin (陳國霖), a Rutgers University professor.

Can I trust this author?  It so happened that Kolin Chin wrote Chinatown gangs: extortion, enterprise, and ethnicity (Oxford Univ. Press, 1996) about the Ghost Shadows, Flying Dragons and United Bamboo gangs in New York City Chinatown.  Based upon my knowledge as the translator of those cases, I can say that he was accurate and thorough because he had obviously reviewed the court trial transcripts quite thoroughly.

So what is in Black Gold?  This book is a review of the triangular relationship among government, businesses and organized crime in Taiwan.  You are unlikely to find regular coverage at any of the major media on this subject in any detail, because the reporters are aware of the potential consequences to themselves.  Anyway, that is not what I want to deal with.  Rather I want to focus on the section about what Chang An-lo (White Wolf) is up to nowadays.

[in translation; page 312 in Black Gold]

Shenzhen is regarded as "China's Hong Kong" and the government hoped that it could develop into a commercial center that connects China with Hong Kong and other industrialized countries of the world.  For many young Chinese females, if they want to work in the sex industry, Shenzhen is a major destination because there are hundreds of adult entertainment centers for the many business people from Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Shenzhen is regarded as the principal operations base for the United Bamboo gang in China, primarily because this is where Chang An-lo resides.  The fact that Chang An-lo resides there has become a topic for Taiwan media reports.  The focus of those reports is usually about the influence of Chang An-lo in Shenzhen, his close ties with local government officials and his rice business.

During my two trips to Shenzhen, I held four interviews with Chang An-lo.  He said, "Basically, I'm doing fine here.  This is after all a society of Chinese people.  China is like Taiwan ten or fifteen years ago.  I can observe the improvement in livelihood in Shenzhen each day, and I'm am very content."

On the second time that I visited Shenzhen, Chang An-lo took me to Chang'an, an industrial town with many brothers and not far away from Shenzhen.  In my first meeting with Chang An-lo, he said, "You should really go to Chang'an and Houjie because there are many brothers over there living in a typical Taiwan gangster lifestyle.  Their money is mostly spent on two types of people: the local girls and the local leaders."

The local gang leader that I interviewed in Chang'an said: "Over here, we listen to White Wolf because of his exceptional leadership.  He is the man in charge of this district, and this shows that United Bamboo is the most influential gang here."

A very influential person in Chang'an named Mr. Lin is an associate of the United Bamboo gang, and he is a consultant to the Chang'an Taiwan Chamber of Commerce.  He said: "Over here in Chang'an and also in Dongguan and Shenzhen, we respect White Wolf because of his leadership and reputation.  No matter what he says whenever, everyone will obey."  He continued: "In Taiwan, because I made friends with United Bamboo gang members, everybody thought that I was a member of the United Bamboo.  Actually, I have never ever formally joined the United Bamboo gang.  I am the consultant for the Chang'an Taiwan Chamber of Commerce.  Prior to that, I was the president of the Houjie Taiwan Chamber of Commerce.  As a consultant, I was responsible for solving problems for Taiwan business people.  I don't really want to assume this post, because it is hard work which does not get appreciated."

With the assistance of Mr. Lin, I interviewed several 'brothers' in Chang'an.  Some of them are wanted by the Taiwan authorities.  One of Mr. Lin's subordinates said: "I am in flight, because I got into trouble in Taiwan.  I wanted to open a shop in Pingtung in Taiwan, but the police notified that I was a regular hooligan.  Therefore, I had to flee to China.  Actually, I wanted to leave Taiwan before, because the brothers in Pingtung were really out of control.  Their method of settling business was becoming increasingly violent."

Another one of Mr. Lin's subordinates said: "I go back to Taiwan once a month.  I am not wanted by the Taiwan authorities.  I came here through the encouragement of my family.  They didn't want me to stay in Taiwan, because they were worried about my personal safety.  It is a lot safer here than in Taiwan."

A young brother from Chianghua told me: "I am not a wanted criminal.  My big brother isn't either.  We can go back to Taiwan anytime.  My big brother takes care of all my living expenses.  If I need money, I ask him for it.  Sometimes, I work with other brothers to make money."

In Chang'an, the principal activity of the brothers is to 'take care of business' (橋事).  This is a Taiwanese phrase.  It means to settle disputes and solve problems.  Over here, most of the influential brothers say that they settle disputes among Taiwan business people, just like the American mafia have to "sit down and have a talk" whenever there is a conflict.  A United Bamboo gang member said: "When we try to settle disputes, we will attempt to understand the rights and wrongs and we will try to settle the case amicably because the brothers on both sides know each other.  Most of the disputes among Taiwan business people are about how A owes B money and refuses to pay, or A bought something from B but did not pay.  There are many disputes among Taiwan business people.  Whenever there is a dispute, they want to get us to help because they don't have any confidence in the Chinese legal system."

Apart from settling disputes, the second most common activity for the Chang'an brothers is to operate gambling dens.  A brother form Pingtung said: "I operate a gambling den in Chang'an, and I also operated illegal gambling in Pingtung.  It is easier to operate an illegal gambling den here than in Pingtung, because most of the gamblers here are business people.  In Taiwan, a high proportion of the gamblers are gangsters and most of them do not bring cash when they come to gamble."

Based upon what I learned from my Chang'an interviews, it is very easy to operate a mahjong den in China because there is no need to re-locate regularly.  The Chinese authorities do not pay much attention to small gambling operations.  In Taiwan, it would be necessary to re-locate frequently to avoid police raids.

In Chang'an, some brothers run night clubs.  A Chang'an gang leader told me in the interview that he was planning to start a Taiwan-style nightclub:

I had no choice but to come here.  If I stayed in Taiwan, I would end up serving five to six years in jail.  I have no intention of returning in the near future.  I am trying to assess the feasibility of starting a night club here.  I want to transplant the Taiwan system here, including requiring the workers to wear uniforms.  Also, if the girls don't want to, they don't have to go out to spend the night with the customers.  These girls can live off their wages and tips comfortably.  I will personally recruit and train these girls.  This proves that my night club does not need any mama-sans, because you know that mama-sans only care about making money and will encourage their girls to go out with the customers.  I want my customers to enjoy themselves thoroughly when they come here, without the pressure of taking the girls out for sex-related transactions.  In other words, my girls only need to create a great atmosphere in the nightclub.  This will not only make the customers happier, it will also decrease their spending.

Some gangster run restaurants.  Here is how a restaurant operator described how he entered the business:

I am running a snake meat restaurant in Dongguan.  I opened the restaurant for business two weeks ago.  A Taiwan businessman named Tse lent me the restaurant for free because I helped him settle a business dispute worth over 10 million RMB in debts.  A group of brothers from Tainan came over to Chang'an to deal with the affair, with the possibility of taking over Mr. Tse's business.  Mr. Tse asked me to help and I interceded.  Finally, Mr. Tse only had to pay the other businessman NT$7 million and the matter was settled.  At first, Mr. Tse prepared only NT$5 million but the other businessman and his associates would not accept.  So I asked Mr. Tse to come up with more money and the deal was settled at NT$7 million.  It was very worthwhile for him.

In Chang'an, the situations among the brothers are not clear.  Some interviewees said that they got along well, but other brothers said that the opposite was true.  For example, one Chang'an interviewee said: "Enemies in Taiwan become friends once they arrive in China, because we all realize that we must co-exist in this new environment.  Therefore, we get along very well."  Another brother told me: "Chang'an is very peaceful without any gang rivalry.  This is all due to Mr. Lin.  He guranteed that there would be no major conflicts between gangs and he will not permit rash actions by the brothers."  On the other hand, a United Bamboo gang member said: "The brothers in Chang'an are not united and we often have conflicts.  The principal reason is that brothers often use the name of their companies (=gangs) when in fact it was only their personal actions.  This can easily lead to misunderstanding."

Shocking?  No, not at all.  It is just business as usual ...  This was what I heard twenty years ago from White Wolf in the United States, and this is what is happening in China all over again.