The Story of Yi Kor Hong
Those who love to collect Thai amulets or just browse in shops and on the internet, will surely recall at some stage coming across the peculiar image of man dressed in Traditional Chinese Garments or a face shot of a Chinese man with a mustache surrounded by some Chinese characters. More than likely that was Yi Kor Hong a.k.a Er Ger Fong. To understand what these talismans are about we first need to look at the life of Yi Kor Hong to understand how this historical Chinese figure came to be a part of the Thai amulet trade.
Yi Kor Hong was born in 1851 as Zhen Zhiyong, in a rural village of the Guangdong province in Southern China. Soon after his Father died whilst migrating to Thailand, he decided to follow in his Father’s footsteps by migrating to Thailand in hopes of a better life and means to support his poverty stricken family. After a failed attempt to make a living in Northern Thailand he settled in Bangkok where he found work in the gambling dens of fellow Chinese immigrants. Within time he joined the Triad society known as Tian Di Hui or Heaven & Earth which was the largest and most prominent society in Bangkok’s Chinatown district. As time went on he slowly climbed the ranks of his society eventually reaching the second-in-command position and thus was nicknamed Yi Kor Hong meaning “2nd Brother Hong”. Because of various Chinese dialects spoken by the community some also referred to him as Er Ger Fong. After the passing of the Heaven & Earth’s Grand Master, Hong was promoted to the vacant position of Dragonhead.
The Thai Government at that time had a national tax concessionaire system which sought out prominent business figures to bid for contracts of tax collections from business’s that the Royal Government had monopolies in. After becoming the Dragonhead of Heaven & Earth society Yi Kor Hong successfully won the concession for tax farming the gambling dens of Bangkok. During this period Thailand’s national economy was struggling however Yi Kor Hong was able to make such significant contributions to the state revenue that he was awarded with a Thai surname by order of the crown and became known as Hong Taechawanit.
Hong later invested a large proportion of the wealth he attained from the gambling farms into businesses such as pawn shops, newspaper presses and even a shipping company. It wasn’t long until he began expanding his business empire to regions outside of Bangkok. Hong earned great respect from the Crown not just because he was an important tax farmer but because of his philanthropist actions such as financing the construction of Taechawanit road, a major trade and fare through route, small community streets and street lamp posts. Hong was also renown for his major contributions towards the development of Chinese communities in Thailand, donating often to Chinese founded hospitals and was a founder himself of the Peiing Public school and Poh Teck Tung anthropologist organization.
Not forgetting his roots Hong also helped construct roads and build modern village homes back in his hometown of Qiyuan village, Guangdong, Southern China. He also financed the building of an advanced primary school there and provided poor children with free education and living expenses. Unfortunately Hong’s business empire began to wither away after King Vajiravudh (Rama 6) abolished concession for tax farming of gambling dens. After the first world war ended global recession saw his empire collapse.
Hong Taechawanit died on the 5th of March 1937 aged 84. His body was shipped back to Qiyuan Village where he was buried and in his will, donated his Bangkok mansion to the Thai Government where it later became the Prapacha Police Station. Because of his contributions to the Royal Crown and Thailand itself he was given the bestowed title of Phra Anuwat Ratchaniyom. The 4th floor of the Police station has an erected worship area for those wishing to pay respect.
It should also be noted that Yi Kor Hong is not a well recognized character or icon in the Thai nation because although he played a prominent part in helping the recovery of the National Treasury, he was not born in Thailand nor was he of Thai bloodlines. Also his rise to prominence came from tax farming through his leadership of a Triad secret society and the charitable investments he made were almost entirely towards assisting the Chinese community. With that said one will find his story more so known by those in Bangkok or Thais with predominant Chinese heritage.
So now we know story of Yi Kor Hong, let’s look at how he became a staple in the Thai amulet world. Talismans of Yi Kor Hong are usually synonymous with Gambling because of Yi Kor Hong’s ties with Gambling dens. However when we look at his accomplishments and character it’s easy to see he was a man of great Metta (loving, kindness, compassion). This is an often overlooked trait by many because of marketing strategy evoloution by those in the Amulet trade. It should be noted that most Monks and Ajarns that make talismans in his honor will actually stress that it is not purely made for gambling but will also help to invoke Metta, Luck and sometimes Charm.
Another reason why Yi Kor Hong talismans have the misconception of being purely made for gambling is because of poor translation. The trait often associated with his talismans is usually “Siang Chokh” and the misinterpretation of the word “Gamble” when used in bad context. For many the word Gamble or Gambling is associated with playing games for monetary gain such as those found in casinos, lottery and sports betting. The most appropriate words in Thai to describe this kind of gambling are the verbs “Pha Nan”, “Deerm Phan” or the transitive “Len”, that is “to wage a bet” or “play for money”. Whilst some Yi Kor Hong amulets include traits to assist in such activity, these are sub catergories that fall under the term “Siang Chokh”. Siang Chokh means “to take a lucky risk of chance”. It can be used in all situations of life where one is faced with having to take a risk which may benefit if successful. Some examples of situations where “Siang Chokh” may come into play are:
1. You have a boss who sometimes comes late to work whilst your are always early. You really want to watch the final of a football game but you know when it ends you will arrive to work late. You decide to “Siang Chokh” by watching the game and risk coming to work late and if your are lucky you will arrive before the boss and act as if you never came late, if you are not lucky, he’s already waiting for you with an angry face.
2. You only have enough money to catch the bus to work. On your way to the bust stop you pass a shop that sells instant lottery tickets (scratchies). You decide to “Siang Chokh” by buying a ticket knowing very well if you do not win you will have to walk to work but if you do win at least the minimum prize which is cashable at the same store you bought it from, will give you enough to cover the bus fare and some extra.
So as we can see “Siang Chokh” is a word that can be used to explain more than taking your chances at the casino or dice game. So when you see an amulet described only as “for gambling” you should realize that regardless of the context, it can be used for gambling/risk taking in all situations of life.
Many so called “Gambling” amulets are decorated with images or objects such as dice and playing card symbols. Whilst this can symbolize the ability to invoke a successful run at the dice game or card tables it should be noted that these kinds of gambling are sub categories of “Siang Chokh” magic. Another important note rarely touched on is excessive gambling. Many Ajarns and Monks will mention when releasing a “Siang Chokh” talisman that excessive greed will only lead to calamity. A talisman invoked with a “Siang Chokh” trait will generally only bestow a favorable outcome to those who balance their karmic debt through meritorious deeds and conduct their lives in a positive manner with good moral. When we reflect on Yi Kor Hongs life he took dangerous risks such as immigrating to Thailand, working in a gambling den and joining a secret society. He took these risks based on a positive desire to help his struggling family back in China. That desire was a form of Metta (Loving Kindness Compassion). As he achieved success his Metta was also focused on providing aid for his community through charitable and meritorious acts. His prominence and success was based on giving what he had to those in need and through that action a healthy balance on his karmic debt was created thus continued luck was attained each time he conducted meritorious deeds. Although in the end he lost all the fortune he had gained the sacrifices and risks he took in life led him to live a long prestigious life of virtuousness by rising from poverty to become a well respected anthropologist and legend within his community and it’s following generations. So although you may have a good run using a “Siang Chokh” talisman when gambling be mindful that in Buddhism greed is considered a mind poison that leads to suffering. Everybody likes to have a fun punt now and then however gambling with greedy intentions will render yourself at fault and not the talisman.