Death of a Triad Boss

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The death of Chen Chi-li, leader of the Bamboo Union (竹聯幫), Taiwan’s biggest gang, drew more than 10,000 mourners to a grand funeral procession in Taipei last Thursday. Some 1,000 police were also on force to control the crowd of Bamboo Union members, members of other gangs, politicians and celebrities. (see the impressive pictures of men in black here) Chen, who died of cancer last month, helped found the Bamboo Union in a Taipei suburb in the late 1950s as a way to protect KMT-affiliated mainland youth from local Taiwanese youth. The gang soon became involved in gambling, prostitution, extortion, and murder. Court records show that in 1984, Chen and other gang members–on an order from the KMT military intelligence chief–flew to San Francisco and murdered Henry Liu (pen name 江南), a writer who was completing a critical biography of Taiwan’s former president, Chiang Ching-kuo. Chen was sentenced to life in prison for the crime, but was released after serving just six years. He had been living in a mansion in Cambodia since 1996. Widespread media coverage in the weeks since Chen’s death has given the public a glimpse into Taiwan’s underworld and served as a reminder of the Bamboo Union’s strength (it has 10-20,000 members worldwide). With just four months until presidential elections however, Chen’s death has also brought the KMT unwelcome attention, as people remember the brutal martial law era (1949-1987) which stifled any criticism of the ruling party.