The Triad. Use that term around most westerners and the reaction is a blank, questioning look. About the only analogous term here in the west is the Mafia, but that so understates what the Triad is. It is organized crime, yet not really with a central organization. The Triad has its secret ceremonies of initiation, yet only of a generally agreed upon form. It has a sort of a pyramid scheme of power, yet it is more like a three dimensional web, without any clearly defined core or origin. The Triad is shrouded in secrecy, yet young punks on the streets often have identifying tattoos. And all through the story of the rise to power of modern Chinese leaders such as Sun Yat Sen, Chiang Kai-shek, and Mao Zedong, there are whispers of Triad connections and rallying support, both financial and physical.
Westerners have often had this vague feeling that something unfathomable, perhaps a bit sinister was going on in Chinese culture. Call it because it is xenophobic, call it because of cultural ignorance, but some of it can be called for what it is, the pervasiveness of the effects of the Triad.