How Gangsters Smuggled Dozens of Students Out of China

How do you get out of a city on military lockdown?  (Image:  Arian Zwegers via  flickr  CC BY 2.0 )
How do you get out of a city on military lockdown? (Image: Arian Zwegers via flickr CC BY 2.0 )

How do you get out of a city on military lockdown? That’s exactly what a group of Tiananmen Square student activists were thinking after the bloody revolt almost 30 years ago.

Their solution? Meet with one of the biggest gangsters in town, Brother Six, and plan an escape. Brother Six ran an underworld triad gang whose network of speed boats and smuggling routes enabled at least 150 students to escape the communist borders. He spoke out about the escape to The Telegraph newspaper.

Lee Cheuk-yan, the Hong Kong Alliance chairman and supporter of the escape at the time, described the oddness of the partnership between the gangsters and the activists in an exclusive interview with The Telegraph: “It was a strange alliance, between the political activists and the underworld, but it worked.”

Brother Six ran an underworld triad gang whose network of speed boats and smuggling routes enabled at least 150 students to escape the communist borders. (Image: openDemocracy via flickr CC BY-SA 2.0)

Brother Six ran an underworld triad gang whose network of speed boats and smuggling routes enabled at least 150 students to escape the communist borders. (Image: openDemocracy via flickr CC BY-SA 2.0)

Brother Six owned a stable of speedboats with engines designed to evade authorities. The triads had developed a system of well-worn smuggling paths around the islands and waterways in the Pearl River Delta, as well as a network of alliances along the way, which aided the escape.

Known as Operation Yellowbird, the rescue mission involved Brother Six and nine other experienced smugglers. It ended up costing HK$10 million (about $1.3 million), which was raised mostly by activists from the Hong Kong Alliance.

Under the cover of darkness and carried by speed boats, the activists went island to island along the way, eventually being smuggled into Hong Kong, Britain, and France as political refugees. They all arrived unharmed, though most of their identities are still kept secret to this day for fear of reprisal by Chinese officials.

Please watch this video of how a triad saved Tiananmen Square students:

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