Du, the godfather of Shanghai

Shanghai Star. 2001-06-07

Du Yuesheng (1881-1951), the godfather of Shanghai, epitomized better than anyone the peculiarly Shanghai mixture of endless opportunities, shady speculation, political skullduggery and pleasure in swank.

THE colonial period of Shanghai was a time of paradox, a blend of elegant and vulgar, gentle and brutal. Foreigners living in the city at that time said that, "Shanghai has many worlds, it has the best and the worst of everything."

Among these many worlds, the underworld of that age was representative of the outrageous, brash and lawless life.

The name of Du Yuesheng is permanently linked to that world.

Du was the Triad King, the gangster chief of the Green Gang (the Qing Bang), one of the premier underworld societies of Old Shanghai, and one of the key characters in Shanghai from the early 1920's to the 1940s.

The Triad King was born in Pudong in 1887. He joined the
Huang Jinrong (1868-1953), nicknamed Pockmarked Huang, was chief of Chinese detectives in the French Concession's Garde Municipale and simultaneously a leader of the underworld Green Gang with interests in opium trafficking, gambling casinos, prostitution, bathhouses and protection rackets.

Green Gang as a young and greedy hooligan.

Within five years he rose to become the leader of the gang and in that sense was the ultimate Chinese godfather. He had his base in the French Concession and lived in the mansion which is now the Donghu Hotel on Donghu Lu for many years.

Du had a number of wives, many concubines and links to the highest levels of Chinese politics, especially those led by Chiang Kai-shek.

He also established a close relationship with the senior Chinese officer in the French police, Huang Jinrong. The two ran the whole underworld business in the concession.

The Green Gang handled those Mafia-like enterprises like opium dens, brothels, trade unions, hired killers, slave-girl trade, protection rackets, gold smuggling - nearly every kind of crime imaginable.

Opium dens were a major attraction of the French Concession, because of the lax supervision there, and the concession became the heart of the opium trade by the 1920s.

In 1927, Du ordered his Green Gang to fight with Chiang Kai-shek and his troops against the Communists. His thugs and Chiang's troops murdered more than 5,000 workers in their effort to expel the communists from the city. Du escaped to Hong Kong just ahead of the liberation in 1949 and died there in 1951.

(By Zou Huilin)


Copyright by Shanghai Star.