Bloomberg: “Revolution to Riches”

Back in June, an in-depth report on the accumulated fortune of those acquainted with newly appointed CCP general secretary Xi Jinping prompted China’s infamous Internet custodians to block the Bloomberg website. Now, Bloomberg has added two new articles to launch a series probing into the elite “princeling” class. The series is supplemented by an infographic mapping out the aristocratic weave of family and business guanxi  between descendants of the “Eight Immortals” – those veteran revolutionaries who maintained party power after Mao’s passing. Bloomberg provides a series overview:

Bloomberg News series “Revolution to Riches” lifts the veil of secrecy on China’s princelings, an elite class that has been able to amass wealth and influence because of their bloodline. Mapping the family trees of China’s “Eight Immortals,” founding fathers of Communist China who later led the country’s economic opening, Bloomberg tracked 103 descendants and spouses — from the powerful leaders of state-owned conglomerates to their jet-setting, Prada-accessorized grandchildren. The extended family of another princeling, China’s new leader Xi Jinping, amassed a fortune in assets and real state, reporting by Bloomberg shows. The identities and business dealings of this red nobility are often hidden behind state censorship and complex corporate webs. To document them, Bloomberg scoured thousands of pages of corporate filings, property records, official websites and archives, and conducted dozens of interviews from China to the United States.

The first article in the Bloomberg series highlights the ideological dissonance between the PRC’s revolutionary forefathers and their affluent offspring, walking us through changes in China’s economy and introducing prominent princelings:

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.”[…]

In the next article, we meet the U.S. assimilated children of PLA general Song Renqiong:

At least five of the general’s eight children have lived in the U.S., with three daughters becoming citizens and a son obtaining his green card. Their family is the most extreme example of the pull that the U.S. — “beautiful country” in Chinese — has on the Immortals’ descendants.[…]

The siblings found opportunity in the U.S., not just to educate their children and themselves, they say, but to start businesses and leave behind the chaos and trauma of the Cultural Revolution. In the country held up as the antithesis of China’s ideals, they could lead anonymous and simple lives that adhered, ironically, more closely to the values of public service and egalitarianism espoused by their Communist parents. Their choices in many cases contrast with those of some other Immortal families, who pursued lives of privilege after Ivy-League educations and Wall Street training.

[…]Song Kehuang, who spends time in the U.S. twice a year at his family home in Irvine,California, says he regrets the fact that the wealth and power of the princeling class made some of his counterparts forget their roots.[…]

Elsewhere in recent western coverage of princelings, the contrasting experiences of Bo Xilai and Xi Jinping – both sons of “immortal” revolutionary heroes – have been in focus. At the Atlantic, Damien Ma recalls Bo’s fall and Xi’s rise, and the Financial Times’ Jamil Anderlini has dubbed 2012 the “year of the princeling”. Also see prior CDT coverage of China’s princeling generation.