Let’s have a look at the Mafia in the United States, Italy, China and Japan. There is a direct connection between the worldwide changes and the adaptability of these criminal organizations.


Those organizations can be referred as Mafia

Four of them are Italian:

  • the Camorra in Campania,
  • the Sacra Corona Unita in Apulia,
  • the ‘Ndrangheta in Calabria,
  • and the Cosa Nostra in Sicily.

The American Mob used to be a branch of the Sicilian Cosa Nostra, but is independent today. In China are the Triads (三合會) active and in Japan the Yakuza (ヤクザ).

To refer a criminal organization as Mafia, it has to fulfill the following requirements:

To refer a criminal organization as Mafia, it has to fulfill the following requirements:

  • It has to have a regional base. For example is the American Cosa Nostra at home in Chicago and New York. The Japanese Yakuza has its home base in Tokyo and Osaka.
  • The Mafia differs from other criminal organizations through its long history. Most mafia structures are older than 200 years.
  • Another point is the Mafia’s principle of secrecy. The less outsiders know about the organization, the less is the organization vulnerable.
  • The Mafia has also a hierarchical organizational structure, which you can see at the example of the Sicilian Mafia:
  • The organization has a pyramidal structure. At the bottom are so called families with around 30 members. Each family controls a city or in the case of Palermo a city district. Several families are affiliated and led by a boss. And this bosses are traditionally led by the boss of the family, which controls Palermo.
  • Another point which differs the Mafia from other criminal organizations are the large number of criminal activities: extortion, gambling, smuggling, usury, manipulation to get public contracts, product counterfeiting, human trafficking, prostitution, cigarettes and drug smuggling of course.

Development of the Mafia

Formation of the Yakuza (Japan)

The Japanese Yakuza accrued during the time of the Tokugawa clans in the 17th century. To that time were 10% of the population samurai. The samurai had loosed their warlike duties and therefore offered the townspeople their protection or the samurai became bandits, which developed later to the Yakuza.
After the second world war relied the American military government under General Douglas MacArthur on the Yakuza. They served as anticommunist militia, as strikebreakers and as security service for the liberal democratic party.

Formation of the Cosa Nostra in Sicily

The formation of the Sicilian Mafia dates back to the 19th century. The system of large landowners was challenged in the region around Palermo. The aristocratic landowners hired private gangs of mercenaries to protect their property from the revolting peasants. Those mercenaries enriched themselves and became independent. They called themselves from then on “Cosa Nostra”, which means “our thing” or “our cause”.
After the second world war was the Cosa Nostra able to spread, because the American occupying power appointed people to mayors, who had connections to Mafia clans. They hired them to guard the region against communism and so told the Cosa Nostra the population to vote for the Christian democratic party.

Spread of the Mafia

As soon as a mafia organization is established, it starts to spread out like a spider web, which is another characteristic of the Mafia. So relied the Cosa Nostra on Sicilians, who searched for work in Northern Italy during the 50s and 60s. Then immigrated Italians to other countries like Germany, France, the United Kingdom or Spain and with them came the Mafia.
And remember the 4 Million Italians, which immigrated to the United States during the 19th century. 80% of those immigrants came from Southern Italy.

On this breeding ground arose the American Mob. They were mainly active in north east of the United States, mainly between New York and Chicago, in the same region where most Italian immigrants found a home.

The Triad in China

The Chinese Mafia, the Triad, was active during the 19th century especially around Hong Kong and the province Fujian. They also followed the Chinese emigrants later. After the takeover of the Communist Party of China (CPC) moved the Triad to Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macao, Singapore and Thailand.
They were active in the regions where Chinese lived. They followed the Chinese emigrants to Japan, Southeast Asia, Australia, Canada, the United States and Western Europe. Recently managed the Triads to establish in China again. Especially in the province Guangdong and Shanghai after China started to open their economy and after the return of Hong Kong and Macao to the People’s Republic of China in the 90s.

The vitality and resilience of the Mafia

Never was a mafia Organization destroyed. Its vitality is based on a high talent for corruption. The Mafia infiltrates political parties, economy, the building industry, waste industry , the actors guild, the hotel sector, real estate industry, casinos and gambling.

The Mafia gets also stronger through regional integration, by free trade zones like the NAFTA, Mercosur, the European Union and the ASEAN. They also use money laundering and reinvest their profits from illegal activities to legal companies. The Mafia makes a lot of money, but they also produce a lot of poverty. They don’t create jobs and don’t share their profits.