A Chinese Mafia association is commonly referred to as a triad. Most are based in Hong Kong but function as international organizations with many chapters around the world, including the United States.
The triads emerged out of benevolence societies known as tongs. These were clubs and secret societies that offered assistance to members of their community. These tongs were established in China as well as in cities abroad where there were large numbers of Chinese immigrants. Criminal elements within these tongs eventually evolved into what are now known as triads. Each triad functions with a defined hierarchical structure but offers a great degree of autonomy to its members. Triads enforce codes of conduct for their members and utilize ritualized initiation ceremonies.