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In White Wolf's Lair

This article originally appeared in the April 1997 issue of ASIA, INC.

The plot involves a Western journalist, played by Irons, covering the June 30 handover. Some of the filming was done in the Foreign Correspondents' Club and another bar, Petticoat Lane, where Asia, Inc.'s real-life journalists occasionally congregate.

Directors -- in this case Hong Kong-born Wayne Wang -- love to make movies about journalists. And little wonder. Ours is often an exciting, some might even say romantic, profession. It is certainly one that has captivated me since my student days, when I worked as a reporter on The Daily Bruin newspaper at the University of California at Los Angeles.

Occasionally, of course, Hollywood over-glamorizes the journalist's life. But just as often, there is no need for exaggeration. Take, for instance, the recent adventures of Asia, Inc. Senior Writer Allen T. Cheng.

Late last year Cheng, 34, marched into our Hong Kong editorial offices and announced he had the chance of an exclusive interview with one of Asia's most powerful triad bosses, Zhang An-lo, alias White Wolf, leader of the notorious United Bamboo gang.

Such a story might not have interested more traditional business magazines. But it was clear to us that the activities of the United Bamboo and other triads were having a major impact on business in Asia. After all, in Taiwan alone, the triads and their corrupt cohorts in government have siphoned off an estimated $26 billion from public-works projects in just six years.

Cheng's proposal was doubly topical because the Taiwan government had just declared war on the gangs, setting a February deadline for them to disband.

Given the go-ahead, Taiwan-born, Hong Kong-based Cheng set about using his network of family and professional contacts to get in touch with White Wolf's lieutenants.

Arranging meetings with people who don't want to be found can be one of the trickiest aspects of journalism. But Cheng was familiar with the machinations required. A journalism graduate of Washington State University, he had once worked briefly as a crime reporter on a U.S. daily before specializing in business reporting. And since joining Asia, Inc. in 1992, he has become adept at gaining access to tycoons who normally avoid reporters like the plague.

After weeks of furtive meetings in Hong Kong, Taiwan and the mainland, Cheng was cleared to meet White Wolf. The rendezvous took place in total secrecy in a five-star hotel in a Chinese city Cheng still declines to identify, even to his closest colleagues. The two-day interview was conducted in Mandarin.

Cheng describes White Wolf as courteous and intellectual, a self-styled Chinese patriot who clearly believes in the right of triads to exist in Chinese society. Officially, the United Bamboo has been forced to disband following Taiwan's crackdown on triads. "Don't you believe it," says Cheng. "The United Bamboo may be scuttling for cover now, but they're likely to re-emerge as strong as ever."

© 1997 by Asia Inc. Ltd.

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