A few years ago, the police in Buenos Aires busted a Chinese mafia group known as the Pixiu Triad. I wrote about this group and its activities in my article published in the LA Review of Books, China Channel. Inspired by those real events, I chose the xiezhi to be the symbol of the Chinese triad gang that plays a central role in my crime novel ‘Buenos Aires Triad’.
Pixiu? Xiezhi? What the hell are those?
Both are mythical Chinese beasts.
The Pixiu: The legend goes that Taoist masters sealed off the rectum of the pixiu so that when it eats gold, silver and precious stones – its favoured diet – it takes them in but doesn’t pass them. Therefore, the pixiu is a symbol of wealth generation and an appropriate mascot for a criminal gang. Chinese supermarkets in Buenos Aires protected by the Pixiu Triad apparently have a poster of a pixiu on the wall. I never saw such a poster.
The Xiezhi: These creatures look pretty much like Chinese lions. They have the head of a lion, the body of a dog and the claws of a dragon. A symbol of honesty, the xiezhi has a horn on its head for butting liars. Is it a good mascot for a criminal gang? Well, maybe for a boss looking to promote loyalty among their followers. The bronze statue of a xiezhi at the Forbidden City in Beijing is the most famous representation of this creature.
A Chino in San Telmo
The photo at the top of this blog post shows the front of the Jia Yuan ‘chino’ in the touristic neighbourhood of San Telmo in Buenos Aires. In Argentina, a Chinese supermarket – supermercado chino, súper chino, argenchino or even just chino – is not a store catering to Asian expats. The target market of these shops is the general population. In addition to several aisles of food and alcohol, there is usually a counter to buy meat, cheese and cold cuts, and a fruit and vegetable stand. An Argentinian might be behind the meat counter, a Bolivian weighing the vegetables and a Chinese attending the till.
What is interesting about this chino in San Telmo is the sticker over the S in the supermercado sign. The sticker features the Argentine and Chinese flags and a bird’s head flanked by the characters: 山鹰. The translation is ‘mountain eagle’. Now the ‘Mountain Eagle Group’ could be legitimate or are they a rival of the Pixiu Triad? I haven’t been able to find any information on them.
Of all the things to do in San Telmo – I might be nuts concentrating on a bog-standard supermarket. Here in New Zealand, I don’t take photos of the takeaway fish n’ chip joints with Chinese characters on the frontage. However, I never heard of triads extorting money from these places. And being in a foreign country sometimes the mundane is interesting because you don’t fully understand what’s going on. You need to fill in the gaps for yourself – and this can be a starting point for creativity.