| || Juji's fine. He comes back to life in the end when the doomsday device shifts the polarity of the Earth. Oops. Spoiler. Sorry.
Warning! This page contains spoilers for.
|By Manzai||Part of thecontinuity.|
Various competing clan leaders (, Tong Suei Sing, Du Jungshi)
Several anti-Ao Dynasty revolutionaries
None collectively (operates in Ba Sing Se)
The Hei Chaoliu is a term referring to several organized crime societies which operate mainly out of Ba Sing Se and certain other areas of the Eastern Earth Kingdom, although since the founding of the United Republic, some Hei Chaoliu groups have appeared in Republic City. Their history dates back thousands of years, and are considered by some to be so entrenched in the day-to-day commerce of Ba Sing Se as to be an integral part of the city's economy. They have shifted and adapted over the years, but over that time their activities include or have included several forms of racketeering, drug trafficking, gambling, extortion, contract murder, money laundering, smuggling, counterfeiting and distribution of bootleg intoxicants.
The origins of the Hei Chouliu, (sometimes called simply "The Chaoliu") are shrouded in mystery. It is known that they grew from, or were somehow related to, the revolutionary societies that sprang up when the Ao Dynasty took over rule of the Earth Kingdom. These groups made several attempts to depose the Ao and restore the previous dynasty, but they were unsuccessful every time. Over time, as their failures stacked up, they were increasingly forced to resort to illegal activities to fund the rebellion. Slowly, over many years, these groups became fully criminal organizations, and reorganized into a number of family-based "clans" competing for illegal commodities and territory.
Their power and influence in the city grew slowly but surely. In the highly-stratified city of Ba Sing Se, the poor residents of the Lower Ring lead rigidly controlled lives, scrounging out a living with little hope of anything better. Left with no other options, many of the poor of Ba Sing Se turned to crime just to get by. Over time, the Hei Chaoliu solidified a near-monopoly on crime in Ba Sing Se, so that any peasant trying to undertake a life of crime had to operate within the Hei Chaoliu. Over the years, their collective ranks swelled to tens of thousands.
According to legend, there were originally five clans, but these very quickly grew into dozens and dozens of groups. The time of the final Earth King of the Ao dynasty, Jinling, was considered a golden age for he Hei Chaoliu. Jinling attempted to ban any intoxicants or vices in his city, including alcohol, betel nuts, and gambling. He also went to war with Omashu, which had broken off into a separate political entity at that time. The ban did nothing to decrease demand for alcohol and gambling; all it did was drive formerly law-abiding citizens into the arms of the Hei Chaoliu to get their fix. Furthermore, as a result of the war a new type of exotic hybrid plant, called , had been discovered. Dai zhiwu was the most powerful narcotic that had yet been seen in the World of Avatar, and it was soon banned in Ba Sing Se as well. However, it was extremely addictive, and constituted the bulk of the Hei Chaoliu's income for several years during Earth King Jinling's reign. These circumstances generated record revenue for the Hei Chaoliu, so much so that the top gangster of the time, of the Ban clan, became the richest man in the Earth Kingdom other than the King himself. However, Wu also wiped out several rival clans during this period and nearly took control of the entire Hei Chaoliu. Only five were left by the time Jinling was deposed, so in many ways it was a difficult time for the Chaoliu as well.
After Avatar Zhengyi
Although Avatar Zhengyi did his best to clean up Ba Sing Se following the Earth Kingdom Civil War, and managed to greatly cut down Hei Chaoliu ranks, they persisted and after several years they reemerged. Though they never regained the power and prestige the Hei Chaoliu had enjoyed during the war, and by all accounts used more subtle and less violent tactics, they remained a part of life in Ba Sing Se. Several clans even turned into legitimate commercial ventures or entered charity work, though they usually had an ulterior motive for these things.
After Zhengyi's reign, many Chaoliu members tried to go straight. In fact, several even joined the city guard to help them bring other clan members to justice. Many others joined the military. A thousand years later, when Kyoshi created the Dai Li, a large portion of were recruited from these same military and police forces. The Dai Li "rock glove" technique is a more advanced version of a technique that was commonly taught in the Hei Chaoliu around Avatar Zhengyi's time.
During the Hundred Year War
As Ba Sing Se remained untouched for most of the Hundred Year War, the Hei Chaoliu generally operated as it always had. However, things changed following the Coup of Ba Sing Se. Even though they lived outside the law of the land, Hei Chaoliu members very much identified themselves as Earth Kingdom citizens. When the Fire Nation occupied Ba Sing Se during the Hundred Year War, the Chaoliu largely put aside their rivalries and joined the resistance, providing soldiers, smuggling weapons and food in past the wall, and robbing Fire Nation storehouses.
Being one of the most well-organized criminal groups in the Earth Kingdom, and having largely survived the war due to their location in Ba Sing Se, the Hei Chaoliu was in a good position to expand geographically in the aftermath of the Hundred Year War. Although their influence had spread outside Ba Sing Se over the years, they were still almost exclusively present on the eastern continent of the Earth Kingdom. Ambitious clan leaders, or underlings looking to start their own gangs, left Ba Sing Se along with a general wave of migration of citizens looking for opportunities following the war. In some cases Chaoliu members successfully filled the vacuum left by bandit groups or small-time street gangs which had been disbanded or destroyed under the tight-fisted rule of the Fire Nation. However, a more common situation was for these migrant Chaoliu members fall in with disaffected and now unemployed soldiers from the Earth Kingdom, Fire Nation, or both. Soldiers who had no family back home, or were very poor and relied on the fighting to give them income as well as a sense of purpose, often just settled wherever they found themselves when the war ended and resorted to criminal behavior to make a living. Since the soldiers had formerly been authority figures of a sort, they established a presence more quickly than Hei Chaoliu members arriving in the former Fire Nation colonies from Ba Sing Se. Discovering this situation, and being nothing if not practical, many Hei Chaoliu members simply joined up with these groups, creating more informal criminal organizations with various cultural and regional influences. Eventually Fire Nation solders and Earth Kingdom soldiers who found themselves in this situation, alongside criminal civilians of both nations who had either migrated to the western Earth Kingdom or had lived there throughout the Fire Nation occupation, began to band together as international hostilities faded, giving rise to inter-ethnic criminal groups such as the Triple Threat Triad.
In Republic City
As Republic City grew, so did criminal opportunities there. By Avatar Korra's time, a bit of the old Hei Chaoliu customs could be found in the culture of the earthbending-based triads, but these were generally more informal organizations that had no affiliation with the true Hei Chaoliu clans that continued to exist in the eastern Earth Kingdom. Most often, they borrowed Hei Chaoliu trappings to lend themselves more credibility by linking to an established criminal tradition. For example, one earthbender triad active in the Black Quarry district called themselves "The Mountain Masters," after the term for a Hei Chaoliu boss, but had no particular relationship to any Hei Chaoliu clan in Ba Sing Se and did not observe any other Hei Chaoliu customs (indeed, in the true Hei Chaoliu, the Mountain Master was a highly venerated position, and multiple people in one clan attempting to claim it was usually cause for an intra-gang war).
A few earthbender gangs in Republic City at this time did consider themselves fully-fledged Hei Chaoliu clans and continued to observe all the associated traditions. These were generally made up almost entirely of immigrants from Ba Sing Se, or their descendants, and operated in areas of the city where people of Ba Sing Se extraction had settled, so their ties to the true Hei Chaoliu were probably legitimate. Although the Chaoliu clans in Republic City considered themselves more "noble" and heirs to a longer and more "legitimate" tradition of organized crime than the other Triads, the police and media of Republic City made no such distinction.
The Hei Chaoliu functioned based on a relatively strict dominion-and-compliance system in the time of Aang their structure had loosened considerably. In Zhengyi's time the Hei Chaoliu clan hierarchy was modeled on a military system, with officers and levels of command, as a holdover from the group's past with the insurgent armies. Hei Chaoliu clans were typically founded by one or two individuals when they organized enough people, and these individuals would assume leadership of the organization, and subsequently pass control down hereditary lines. Clans were named for the founding family, as in "The Tong Clan," "The Ban Clan." The "clan" was distinct from its leading family, however. Anyone could apply to join a clan, but no matter the rank they might achieve, the top place in clan hierarchy was always reserved for the eldest of the leading family., though by the time of Avatar
For example, the Er Shi Wu. Regardless of whatever Wu's actual intentions were, during his rule most of the members of the clan believed this was only a pro tempore situation, and that he would pass control of the clan to Ti Xi's son Zhengyi when the boy came of age.Clan was founded by the great-grandfather of Avatar Zhengyi. He passed control to his son, who passed it to his son, . Ti Xi's father had a lieutenant named Xin Kao, who was several years older than Ti Xi. Though Cao had been Ti Xi's father's second-in-command and had seniority over Ti Xi, the leadership position still passed to Ti Xi upon Ti Xi's father's retirement or death. Due to Ti Xi's death when his son was only a few months old, control of the Ban Clan was assumed by the most senior surviving officer,
Given their violent lifestyle, it was not uncommon for Hei Chaoliu clan heads to die with unready heirs, in which case interim control would pass to the ranking clan officer, to later be returned to the heir when he was old enough. If a clan head died with no heir, control would pass to his next-of-kin, or to the ranking clan officer, and leadership would then pass down that person's family line. This hereditary leadership role is believed by historians and sociologists to be a consequence of the stratified, monarchic society of Ba Sing Se. Although they nominally disdained the government, the Hei Chaoliu clans apparently could not rid themselves of the influence of a larger aristocracy-centered culture. In fact, Hei Chaoliu clans are sometimes compared to kingdoms, with the clan heirs sometimes called wangzi ("princes").
The Hei Chaoliu had formal titles for the various positions and ranks in the clan. The clan head, the head of the ruling family, was known as the "Mountain Master." The Mountain Master had between two and five top lieutenants or advisers, depending on these lieutenants' skills and the size of the clan. The lieutenants usually had specialized duties to the clan: one might plan and lead in combat with other clans, one might keep track of the clan's finances and income, and another might have diplomatic or public-relations duties. However, there was always one lieutenant who was the Mountain Master's designated deputy. This person would lead the clan in the Mountain Master's absence. In many cases this deputy was the clan heir, but it was also common for the deputy to be an unrelated senior lieutenant. Though a lieutenant in charge of something like accounting might have few to no men under his command, the lieutenant in charge of combat could have hundreds, in some cases thousands, of clan members under him, since combat (or at least dangerous activities) constituted the vast majority of a clan's operations.
Below this top lieutenants, officers usually no longer specialized in any particular task, but simply carried out whatever orders came down for them. The hierarchy was based only on seniority, with the senior members having command of more underlings. As in the military, there were several levels of command based on the number of men in the unit, ending with the rank-and-file members.
Anyone could apply to join a clan at this level, but they were usually tested beforehand to ensure they were tough and savvy enough to carry out their duties as clan members. Despite the strict hierarchy, this structure appealed to the poor peasants of the Ba Sing Se, because, (with the exception of the leading clan family), it was a meritocracy, it allowed for upward mobility, and it provided a fraternal support structure.
Each clan was ostensibly based around the structure of a family. The Mountain Master was considered the "father", while the members below him were referred to as "brothers", and very new clan members were sometimes called "children". Although not considered strict decorum, the proper way for a clan member to address a superior officer (other than the Mountain Master) was to call the superior "older brother."
Rituals and Customs
The Hei Chaoliu--in their own imagination, at least--were not common street gangs. Though their ancient origins are now forgotten, even by the vast majority of their own members, the Chaoliu had many ornate ceremonies and societal norms within their subculture which deviated from those of Ba Sing Se as a whole.
The Hei Chaoliu initiation ceremony was a closely-guarded secret for many years. It was more or less sacred to the Hei Chaoliu, and was extremely formal. In fact, some clan heads considered performing it incorrectly a personal insult punishable by death. It was practiced without deviation among every clan, and all of the clans universally believed that these ceremonies connected them to the anti-Ao revolutionary outlaws of the past, and therefore afforded dignity and legitimacy to their illegal activities. Their elaborate and ceremonial nature also helped instill respect for the organization in new recruits. The ceremony itself contained an oath against revealing any secrets about the ceremony, but during the One-Eyed Wu was consolidating his control over the other clans, these clans were forced to increase recruitment by as much as ten times what it had been. Consequently, membership became more casual, and this lead to the secret details of the ceremony disseminating and eventually reaching the records of historians, as well as the Ba Sing Se City Guard. It is believed the initiation ceremony has mutated significantly since then, but the following is an account of how it would have been carried out around the time of Avatar Zhengyi., when
First of all, anyone could informally request to join a clan, but only the Mountain master decided who could be allowed in and who could not. Usually the prospective member was asked by a mid- or low-level officer to work for the gang for a certain period, or otherwise demonstrate fighting ability or some skill that would be useful to the clan. If the prospect did have such skill, the officer would bring them to the attention to the Mountain Master and vouch for their ability. Mountain Master deemed that the person was worthy, he could be formally sworn in. The difficulty of this preliminary screening varied depending on the clan's need for personnel.
Before the ceremony, incense and statues would be set up in very specific locations around the throne room, in accordance with feng shui. An altar was set up before the Mountain Master's chair, with one bowl of wine and one bowl of water. Between the entrance to the room and the altar three "gates" were set up. One was two clan officers standing with knives crossed, the next was earth from two pots that had been bent into an arch, and the last was a bamboo hoop painted yellow.
The initiates then entered and stripped down to their trousers, as the ceremony dictated. The Hei Chaoliu did allow women to join, and when they were sworn in they were allowed to wear their breast bindings, though the men had to be bare-chested. The initiates assembled before the first gate and all kneel on one knee. Another high-ranking officer, the ceremony master, made the first of a series of formalized warnings to the initiates: "Proceed no further if you are not loyal." Another retainer clapped a set of wooden blocks once. The initiates would then pass through the gate one at a time, each swearing "I am loyal," before crossing the threshold.
When each initiate had passed through the first gate, they all assembled before the second gate. The ceremony master then said, "Before the Gate of Earth, all are brothers," and the wooden blocks were clapped again. Each initiate passed through this gate, saying "We are brothers."
The initiates assembled before the third gate, and the ceremony master said, "Through the Gate of the Spirit are born the children of the Hei Chaoliu." The blocks were clapped again and each initiate said, "I take the [name of clan] family as my own. Mountain Master [name of clan] is my father."
By now the initiates reached the altar before the Mountain Master's chair. They washed their faces in the bowl of water on the altar and were given new white robes to wear, symbolizing their rebirth. They then swore thirty-five ritual oaths each initiate was required to affirm, all written out on a yellow scroll, which the ceremony master placed on the altar for the initiates to read. They recited the oaths about loyalty and courtesy toward their new "family," that they would help their sworn brothers in any situation, that they would never sell out the clan to the law or to rival clans for any reason. Each oath also mentioned a specific form of punishment for the swearer, should it ever be broken.
When the oath-swearing was done, the ceremony master burned the scroll and sprinkled its ashes into the bowl of wine on the altar. All of the initiates drank a sip of wine, and when they were done it was passed to the Mountain Master. To symbolize their bond, he drank as well. He drained it and then held the bowl out before them. "I treat my children justly," he recited. "Loyalty will be met with rewards." He turned the empty bowl upside-down. "Disloyalty will be met with vengeance." Finally, he threw the bowl to the ground, shattering it.
Tattoos and Mascots
The different clans had no "colors" or any kind of uniform, but they did have various identifiers particular to the individual clans so that they could be differentiated. Clans often had an animal mascot which reflected the values of the clan in some way. For example, the Ban clan had originally only had a small number of retainers, and the men of the Ban family were known to be somewhat short, so they chose the small but tough pygmy puma as their mascot. Theclan had the elephant-mandrill because it connoted strength and power. The clan had the viper-mink because it connoted swift and silent death. The clan either kept specimens of their mascot animal at their headquarters as a type of pet, or at least got tattoos in the animals' likeness. The mascot animals were often treated as a second thought by the clans though. They sometimes were left to hunt for their own food or made to fight for sport.
Besides the animal tattoos, many clan members chose to have their bodies extensively tattooed with other symbolic things. Tattoos, in the culture of the Eastern Earth Kingdom, were almost exclusive to the Hei Chaoliu, and were considered "the mark of an outlaw." Other common tattoos included badgermoles (which meant the wearer was an earthbender), bamboo stalks (symbolizing a leader or superior), coins (symbolizing wealth), clouds, waves, flowers, and more.
Clans also had weapons particular to each. Often, once someone joined a clan, senior members gave that person some form of additional, semi-formal combat or bending training, and over time the fighting styles of various clans became more and more distinct. Eventually, different clans adopted different weapons that were more suited to their particular style. However, virtually all the clans favored small weapons, like knives and darts, because these could be easily concealed. The Ban clan was known to favor kukris, while the Lui clan favored meteor hammers. Like the mascot animals, the clan's favored weapons was another thing that differentiated it from other clans, and could be a source of pride and identity for clan members.
Attitudes Towards Women
Ba Sing Se, like most of the Earth Kingdom, was a patriarchal society in the past, although even by the time of the Hei Chaoliu's formation women were gaining a modicum of respect. Although men and women have equal roles in the Earth Kingdom today, at the time of the, the presiding philosophy on the subject was that men and women had separate areas of life to which they were each better suited. It was considered improper, for example, for a woman to serve in the army or do manual labor, just as it was considered improper for a man to do domestic chores. However, the Hei Chaoliu was concerned with profit and merit, not decorum. Like all good businessmen, the clan heads put people where their skills were needed. They allowed women to join and women were generally promoted over men when they were more qualified. There were even one or two instances of female Mountain Masters. It was accepted practice among all the clans, and in this way the Hei Chaoliu ight be considered somewhat ahead of its time.
However, this was the exception, rather than the rule. The Hei Chaoliu was largely a "boys' club". Most estimates say women only made up about 15% of the total population of the Hei Chaoliu. Because the people in the Hei Chaoliu, by virtue of their being in the Hei Chaoliu, could not get along well in society at large, were usually aggressive, and almost always had little education. The men were very uncouth and would often harass their female counterparts. This often lead to physical conflicts, and though it was often said that Hei Chaoliu women gave as good as they got, they still had to constantly keep their guard up and be ready to defend themselves.
Virtually all Hei Chaoliu clans found it beneficial to be well-liked by the communities in which they existed. The people in a clan's territory were essentially the clan's customers, as well as their prospective retainers, and alienating these people would only hurt business. Hei Chaoliu clans often tried to put up a kind facade, giving money to children at New Year, or giving food to the poor. Often people who were too maladjusted or undereducated to find any other jobs were allowed to work for the Hei Chaoliu. In most cases, a clan's only concern was profit, and for them this sort of public outreach was only for show. However, some clans sincerely tried to help their communities. Though they still engaged in illegal activities, these clans put money back into the community and defended their people against more unscrupulous clans. Attitudes about this issue varied from individual to individual within a single clan. The Hei Chaoliu constantly blurred the line between criminal gang and community service organization.
The Hei Chaoliu had a monopoly on crime in Ba Sing Se, and consequently made huge sums of money. The amount of money a Mountain Master made was unheard of, at least among the other Lower Ring residents. High-ranking lieutenants also made a great deal of money, but after that the pay rate for clan members dropped off considerably. As much money as Chaoliu clans made, they had hundreds or thousands of members to pay, and there usually wasn't much left to go around after those at the top got their cut. Still, the residents of the Lower Ring were locked into desperately poor circumstances, and the majority of them were more than willing to join a clan and put up with a violent lifestyle in hopes of one day making it to a top position in a clan. Many Lower Ring citizens had a romantic notion of the Hei Chaoliu as a fraternal order who helped the poor, and upheld tenets of honor and loyalty, though this was very untrue in most cases. Still, these factors explain why Hei Chaoliu membership was consistently high for centuries.
The various Hei Chaoliu clans constantly fought one another for dominance, all constantly trying to drive others out of business. Sometimes clans used economic or political manipulation to harm rivals, but more often they simply stole each other's property and killed each other. Clans usually fought for either resources or territory. Violent as their conflicts were, they were usually kept between clans. Clans rarely harms civilians who did not offend them or owe them some kind of debt.
Each clan controlled different sections of Ba Sing Se's Lower and Middle Rings, and kept other clans out, so that the controlling clan had a monopoly on illegal business in their area. The more territory a clan had, the more customers and transactions they handled, the more money they made, so territory or "turf" was at a constant premium among the clans. Boundary lines between territories were constantly shifting. Since clan members usually only crossed boundary lines to raid resources or fight over more territory, any Hei Chaoliu member caught in a different clan's territory could be killed on the spot. The only criteria most prospective members used when deciding which clan to join was which controlled the area that person happened to live in, for two reasons. The first was the obvious danger of living in another clan's territory, but because of the Hei Chaoliu's frequent attempts at positive public relations, the prospective member most likely grew up with a good impression of the clan who ruled his native neighborhood.
Clans also often fought over resources and illegal commodities, which was possibly their most profitable activity. During thethe fighting over , for example, was fierce. If one clan controlled a supply of a certain illegal good, they could expect another clan to find out and attempt a raid. Clans often used members as guards at storehouses or along smuggling lines. In some cases, a few hundred pounds of dai zhiwu could pass back and forth between clans dozens of times, with as many Chaoliu members killed over it.
List of Known Clans and Members
- "Lucky" Cho
- Shi Hua
- Xin Kao
- Du Jungshi
- Du Huang
- Du Tuo Da
- "Big-Eared" Sheng
- Zai "the Pirate"
- Heung Sai
- Tong Suei Sing
Behind the Scenes
"Hei Chaoliu" is Mandarin Chinese for "Black Current". The Hei Chaoliu was created by fanfiction author manzai as part of the backstory for a con-artist OC named Ging Lai, who was only used for a writing contest. Later on, however, manzai returned to the idea of an organized crime group while searching for a serious, large-scale threat an Avatar could face other than war. This idea eventually became the story.
The Hei Chaoliu is based heavily on real Asian organized crime groups, like the Triads and Yakuza, but also to a lesser extent on the American Mafia and American street gangs. The origins and detailed initiation ceremony of the Hei Chaoliu are based closely on those of the Triads. Triad bosses are actually called "Mountain Masters" (or sometimes "Dragon Heads"), and in China, one name for the Triads is the Heishehui, meaning "Black Society." However, the Triads (as well as the Yakuza and mafia) generally do not allow women.
The Triads also do not pass leadership down hereditary lines (in most cases). In fact, the Yakuza also rarely does this anymore, though they once did. The "family" concept that is married to the Hei Chaoliu also derives from the Yakuza. The organization of the Yakuza is based on an "oyabun-kobun" in which the kobun ("foster-child") owes allegiance to the oyabun ("foster-parent"). The head of a yakuza group is called a kobun or kumicho ("family head"), and members refer to themselves as a family. Some American street gangs also preach similar "second family" ideas to their members. Hei Chaoiu tattoos are based on yakuza irezumi-style tattoos.
The constant fights for turf and drugs are most closely based on American street gangs, although such wars occur among all criminal groups. Some of the public relations practices of the Hei Chaoliu are also based on American criminals, such as the Wikipedia:Vice LordsVice Lords or Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson's practice of giving out free turkeys on Thanksgiving.
Despite all this detail, presenting organized crime as an urban phenomena is largely a historical misrepresentation. In pre-industrial times, crime was much more common in unpoliced rural areas, such as Fujian Province in China or the Old West in America. Organized crime only moved to the city after the industrial revolution, when there was an urban population explosion. However, for narrative purposes, showing urban crime may be better because modern readers can connect to it more readily, it can be sociologically/historically justified, and it allows for greater exploration of a well-liked setting from the Avatar series, Ba Sing Se.
It is particularly appropriate that the Hei Chaoliu is based in the Earth Kingdom, since the Triads and Hung Gar style are both purported to descend from refugees of the destruction of the Shaolin Temple by the Qing Dynasty.
For the collective works of the author, go here.