Triad (also called Tong) is a term that describes many branches of Chinese underground society and organizations based in Hong Kong and also operating in Macau, Taiwan, mainland China, and countries with significant Chinese populations such as Malaysia and Singapore and also Chinatowns in Europe, North America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
Their activities include drug trafficking, money laundering, illegal gambling, prostitution, car theft and other forms of racketeering. A major source of triad income today comes from the counterfeiting of intellectual property such as computer software, music CDs and movie VCDs/DVDs. They also trade in bootleg tobacco products.
In the United States, organizations called the Tongs are effectively the heirs of the Triads. While the names are often used interchangeably by non-Chinese, tongs are a more Chinese-American phenomenon, born out of disenfranchised immigrants.
Triads in Curious Notions
When Imperial Germany completed its conquest of the world in the late 20th century, it attempted to eradicate the Triads. The Feldgendarmerie executed Triad leaders out of hand whenever catching them. However, the Germans only succeeded in driving them further underground.
The Triads returned closer to home, China, where Germany was not able to exercise absolute control. Beyond their normal criminal activities they became increasingly political, having a major role in a conspiracy aimed at overthrowing Germany from its dominant position in the world and placing China in that role. It was not known if the Emperor of China was himself involved, though the conspirators hoped to eventually see him take the position presently held by the Kaiser of Germany. The existing Triad networks were well fitted to the role of espionage.
In the late 21st century, Crosstime Traffic established an outpost in San Francisco called Curious Notions. The Triads became very interested in the technology Curious Notions sold, which was far more advanced than anything available. Though not aware of the existence of alternate timelines, they correctly suspected that the shop was the tip of a much bigger iceberg and that an entity with such resources might also possess similarly advanced weapons, and could become a valuable ally in overthrowing the German global power.
The Triads first contacted Lucy Woo, who'd had some encounters with Curious Notions, and its proprietors, Lawrence and Paul Gomes. Very quickly, all parties found themselves pursued by both the Triads, and the Feldgendarmerie. After falling in and out of the hands of both, Lucy Woo, her family, and the Gomeses fled to the home timeline.
In the home timeline, Triads operated more or less openly, involved in (mostly) legitimate activities and not considered a major threat by law enforcement agencies. Nobody in the home timeline thought of the possibility of the Triads infiltrating Crosstime Traffic in order to establish contacts with their counterparts in alternates. However, Lucy Woo, having witnessed the cunning and patience of Triads in her timeline, thought that they might well do just that.