Blood Brothers: Crime, Business and Politics in Asia

Blood Brothers: Crime, Business and Politics in Asia

Blood Brothers: Crime, Business and Politics in Asia

Blood Brothers: Crime, Business and Politics in Asia

Excerpt

It was execution day in Shanwei, an isolated town on the rugged, pirate-infested coast of China's Guangdong province. Thirteen men, handcuffed and shackled, had already been herded into the town's courtroom on charges of piracy. They staggered out soon after with their fates sealed: death by firing squad. ‘Doomsday arrives for ’evil monsters ‘ of the sea’ declared the local authorities with medieval relish, although afterwards they mellowed somewhat, and allowed the pirates to drink a large amount of wine, ‘to help take away the tension of being executed’ as one official put it. Thousands of people gathered outside the courthouse for a glimpse of the damned men as they were led away to the execution grounds. By then, most of the pirates were profoundly drunk and singing loudly.

To the people of Shanwei—indeed, to anyone familiar with the dark traditions of the South China Sea—there was nothing unusual about this scene. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, hordes of men and women were organised in confederated fleets of thousands of junks which dominated the entire coastal region of southern China. They were at one and the same time immortalised in local folklore— which often depicted them as Robin Hoods who stole from the rich and resisted the oppressive authority of the Emperors—and, less romantically, feared by their victims, most of whom were actually ordinary people living along the coast.

The spectacle in Shanwei, however, was not taken from ancient history. It happened in January 2000—as was obvious to anyone who heard the drunken pirates sing. Jumping up and down in his rattling chains, Yang Jingtao, a 2 5-year-old pirate, led the chorus with a boisterous rendition of Ricky Martin's theme song for the 1998 World Cup, ironically called ‘The Cup of Life’:

Go, go, go! Ole, ole, ole!

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