Sigh ... it happens everywhere, China is no different. The exception being, documentary reporting such as this do not excite or move most Malaysians anymore, we have tons of our own tales to tell. Btw, Bloomberg's website has been banned because of this story, which Bloomberg later expanded into a research project of enormous depth. Troubling for Beijing for sure. Now, the economic disparity is still not so great but its getting worse by the day in China. If people starts to suffer unemployment, you can bet your last dollar there is enough disenchantment for dislocation everywhere in China. Beijing has been extra careful and was vigilant in taking out Bo Xilai, but for every Bo there are another 100 princelings abusing their power. Certainly a recipe to be played out in the future, more transparency, less power?? ... if that is unlikely, then there will be blood and tears.
Lying in a Beijing military hospital in 1990, General Wang Zhen told a visitor he felt betrayed. Decades after he risked his life fighting for an egalitarian utopia, the ideals he held as one of Communist China’s founding fathers were being undermined by the capitalist ways of his children -- business leaders in finance, aviation and computers.
“Turtle eggs,” he said to the visiting well-wisher, using a slang term for bastards. “I don’t acknowledge them as my sons.”
Two of the sons now are planning to turn a valley in northwestern China where their father once saved Mao Zedong’s army from starvation into a $1.6 billion tourist attraction. The resort in Nanniwan would have a revolution-era theme and tourist-friendly versions of the cave homes in which cadres once sheltered from the cold.
One son behind the project, Wang Jun, helped build two of the country’s biggest state-owned empires: Citic (6030) Group Corp., the state-run investment behemoth that was the first company to sell bonds abroad since the revolution; and China Poly Group Corp., once an arm of the military, that sold weapons and drilled for oil in Africa.
Today, the 71-year-old Wang Jun is considered the godfather of golf in China. He’s also chairman of a Hong Kong-listed company that jointly controls a pawnshop operator and of a firm providing back-office technology services to Chinese police, customs and banks.
His Australia-educated daughter, Jingjing, gives her home address in business filings as a $7 million Hong Kong apartment partly owned by Citic. Her daughter, 21-year-old Clare, details her life on social media, from the Swiss boarding school she attended to business-class airport lounges. Her “look of the day” posted on Aug. 24 featured pictures of a Lady Dior (CDI) handbag, gold-studded Valentino shoes and an Alexander McQueen bracelet. Those accessories would cost about $5,000, more than half a year’s wages for the average Beijing worker.
The family’s wealth traces back to a gamble taken by General Wang and a group of battle-hardened revolutionaries, who are revered in China as the “Eight Immortals.” Backing Deng Xiaoping two years after Mao’s death in 1976, they wagered that opening China to the outside world would raise living standards, while avoiding social upheaval that would threaten the Communist Party’s grip on power.
In three decades, they and their successors lifted more than 600 million people out of poverty and created a home-owning middle class as China rose to become the world’s second-biggest economy. Chinese on average now eat six times more meat than they did in 1976, and 100 million people have traded in their bicycles for automobiles.
The Immortals also sowed the seeds of one of the biggest challenges to the Party’s authority. They entrusted some of the key assets of the state to their children, many of whom became wealthy. It was the beginning of a new elite class, now known as princelings. This is fueling public anger over unequal accumulation of wealth, unfair access to opportunity and exploitation of privilege -- all at odds with the original aims of the communist revolution.
Bloomberg's Full Special Report: Revolution to Riches
To reveal the scale and origins of this red aristocracy, Bloomberg News traced the fortunes of 103 people, the Immortals’ direct descendants and their spouses. The result is a detailed look at one part of China’s elite and how its members reaped benefits from the country’s boom.
In the 1980s, they were chosen to run the new state conglomerates. In the 1990s, they tapped into real estate and the nation’s growing hunger for coal and steel. Today the Immortals’ grandchildren are players in private equity amid China’s integration into the global economy.
Twenty-six of the heirs ran or held top positions in state- owned companies that dominate the economy, data compiled by Bloomberg News show. Three children alone -- General Wang’s son, Wang Jun; Deng’s son-in-law, He Ping; and Chen Yuan, the son of Mao’s economic tsar -- headed or still run state-owned companies with combined assets of about $1.6 trillion in 2011. That is equivalent to more than a fifth of China’s annual economic output.
The families benefited from their control of state companies, amassing private wealth as they embraced the market economy. Forty-three of the 103 ran their own business or became executives in private firms, according to Bloomberg data.
He Ping, who was chairman of Poly Group until 2010, held 22.9 million shares in the group’s Hong Kong-listed real estate unit, Poly Property Group Co. (119), as of April 29, 2008. Wang Xiaochao, the son-in-law of former President Yang Shangkun, another Immortal, owned about $32 million worth of shares in another property unit listed in Shanghai, Poly Real Estate Group Co. (600048), as of the end of June. Wang Jun owns 20 percent of a golf venture that counts Citic, the company he previously ran, as one of its main clients.
The third generation -- grandchildren of the Eight Immortals and their spouses, many of whom are in their 30s and 40s -- have parlayed family connections and overseas education into jobs in the private sector. At least 11 of the 31 members of that generation tracked by Bloomberg News ran their own businesses or held executive posts, most commonly in finance and technology.
Some were hired by Wall Street banks, including Citigroup Inc. (C) and Morgan Stanley. (MS) At least six worked for private equity and venture capital firms, which sometimes recruit princelings with the intention of using their connections for winning business.
“The Chinese Communist Party, pretty much led by these eight people, established their legitimacy as rulers of China because they were stronger and tougher than the other guys,” said Barry Naughton, a professor of Chinese economy at the University of California, San Diego. “And now they’re losing it, because they haven’t been able to control their own greed and selfishness.”
China’s rich-poor divide is one of the widest in the world -- 50 percent above a level analysts use to predict potential unrest, according to a Chinese central bank-backed survey published this month. Protests, riots and other disturbances, often linked to local corruption and environmental degradation, doubled in five years to almost 500 a day in 2010.
“Ordinary people in China are very aware of these princelings, and when they think about changing the country, they feel a sense of despair because of the power of such entrenched interest groups,” Naughton said.
The lives of many of China’s 1.3 billion people have improved under state-controlled capitalism. Princelings such as Wang Jun have also played a central role in building the institutions that have underpinned these gains.
And some of China’s richest people didn’t need a famous bloodline to become wealthy. That includes self-made billionaires such as Liu Yonghao, chairman of animal-feed company New Hope Group Co., and Cheung Yan, one of China’s richest women as chairwoman of Nine Dragons Paper Holdings Ltd. (2689)
Also, it isn’t unusual for rapid economic change to be shared unequally. The robber barons of the 19th-century U.S. and the rise of Russia’s post-communist oligarchs are two other cases. In China, however, where leaders still espouse the ideals of Marx and Mao, there is resentment over unequal opportunity and the privilege of the elite.
China’s new leader, Xi Jinping, 59, is himself a princeling, as a descendant of a revolutionary fighter and vice premier. So are three other members of the newly installed seven-member ruling Politburo Standing Committee.
Xi’s extended family amassed a fortune, including investments in companies with total assets of $376 million and Hong Kong real estate worth $55.6 million, Bloomberg News reported June 29. Bloomberg’s website has been blocked in China since the publication of the story.
Even some of the Immortals’ descendants say they are concerned about what they call the greed of their princeling peers.
“My generation and the next generation made no contribution to China’s revolution, independence and liberation,” said Song Kehuang, 67, a businessman whose Immortal father, Song Renqiong, oversaw China’s northeastern provinces after the revolution in 1949. “Now, some people use their parents’ positions to scoop up hundreds of millions of yuan. Of course the public is angry. Their anger is justified.”
In addition, people are angry about corruption among public officials, who are seen as taking advantage of their positions. At least 10 local government officials “have fallen” in corruption and sex scandals since Xi took office last month, the official Xinhua News Agency reported Dec. 13.
High-level corruption snapped into focus this year when Bo Xilai -- son of Immortal Bo Yibo and a member of China’s ruling Politburo -- was ousted from the Communist Party and accused of taking bribes, after his wife was found guilty of murdering a British businessman. Unless corruption is stamped out, “it will ultimately and inevitably lead the party and the nation to perish!” Xi said last month, according to the People’s Daily, a Communist Party newspaper.
The foreign ministry in Beijing didn’t respond to questions sent by fax asking how the government plans to deal with the influence of the princelings and whether their actions are fueling public resentment.
“When the top is corrupt, this is how it will be all the way down,” said Dai Qing, an environmentalist who grew up with many of the princelings in Beijing after being adopted by a famous general. “We don’t have a free press. There’s no independent supervision to prevent it.”
State controls over the media and Internet limit what is written about the families, cloaking their business dealings from the view of ordinary Chinese. What can be found in public documents often remains obscured by the use of multiple names in Mandarin, Cantonese and English.
To document these identities and business interests, Bloomberg News scoured thousands of pages of corporate documents, property records and official websites, and conducted dozens of interviews -- from a golf course in southern China to the Deng family compound in Beijing to a suburban home in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
At least 18 of the Immortals’ descendants own or run entities linked to companies registered offshore, including the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands, as well as Liberia and other jurisdictions that offer secrecy, the reporting showed.
While the Immortals vilified the “bourgeois individualism” of capitalist nations, almost half of their heirs lived, studied or worked abroad, some in Australia, England and France. The princelings were among the first to travel and study overseas, giving them an advantage not available to ordinary Chinese.
The U.S., which established diplomatic ties with Communist China in 1979, was the top destination: At least 23 of the Immortals’ descendants and their spouses studied there, including three at Harvard University and four at Stanford University, according to the Bloomberg data. At least 18 worked for U.S. entities, including American International Group Inc. (AIG) and the law firm White & Case LLP, which hired one of Deng’s grandsons. Twelve owned property in the U.S.
There is no accepted measure for the degree of control the princelings exert on the economy. Academics who study China estimate that wealth and influence is concentrated in the hands of as few as 14 and as many as several hundred families.
“There were four families under Chiang Kai-shek; now we have 44,” said Roderick MacFarquhar, a Harvard historian who studies elite Chinese politics, referring to the Nationalist leader who lost to Mao. “To change the system will demand some traumatic national experience, when people say, ‘enough is enough.’”
The people generally known as the Eight Immortals are now all dead, though all but three lived into their 90s. Their stature in China is on a par with that of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson in the U.S. They are:
-- General Wang, who fed Mao’s troops;
-- Chen Yun, who took charge of the economy when Mao assumed power in 1949;
-- Li Xiannian, who was instrumental in the plot that ended the Cultural Revolution;
-- Peng Zhen, who helped rebuild China’s legal system in the 1980s;
-- Song Renqiong, the Party personnel chief who oversaw the rehabilitation of purged cadres after the Cultural Revolution;
-- President Yang, who backed Deng’s order to carry out the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown;
-- Bo Yibo, a former vice premier and the last of the Immortals to die, at 98, in 2007.
They emerged from the Cultural Revolution after Mao’s death in 1976, during which many of them had been in internal exile, to find an economy in ruins. Gross domestic product in 1978 was $165 a person, compared with $22,462 in the U.S. With Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong booming, the Immortals were surrounded by capitalist success stories.
The victorious Communists had executed landlords after 1949. Farms had become People’s Communes. Factories belonged to the state. The Immortals turned that on its head in the 1980s: Farmers could lease land. Private enterprise -- at first on a small scale, later bigger -- was tolerated, then encouraged. Deng took the gamble that in order to stoke growth, some “flies and mosquitoes” could be tolerated, said Ezra Vogel, an emeritus professor at Harvard, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who wrote a 2011 biography of Deng.