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Chen Yuan, of China Development Bank. Photo: Reuters

Exposé reveals ascent to riches by 'Immortals' heirs

Study shows how descendants of eight party founding fathers are multibillion-dollar players at the forefront of country's 'red aristocracy'

Xi Jinping

An exposé yesterday of the huge business interests and personal assets of the descendants of eight dead Communist Party veterans offers a detailed look at one part of China's elite and how its members benefited from the country's economic boom.

Bloomberg News released a package of articles and info-graphics that dissects the scale and origins of China's "red aristocracy", tracing the fortunes of 103 people - the so-called Eight Immortals' direct descendants and their spouses.

But government curbs on news websites ensured the reports did not spark online discussions on the mainland.

The Eight Immortals - Deng Xiaoping, Chen Yun, Yang Shangkun, Wang Zhen, Bo Yibo, Li Xiannian, Peng Zhen and Song Renqiong - were founding fathers of Communist China who later orchestrated its opening up to the world in 1978.

In the 1980s, their descendants were chosen to run the new state-owned conglomerates. In the 1990s, they tapped into real estate and the mainland's growing hunger for coal and steel.

Today they are players in private equity amid China's integration into the global economy.

He Ping, of China Poly Group.
Twenty-six of the heirs ran or held top positions in state-owned companies that dominate the economy. Three children alone - Wang's son, Wang Jun , Deng's son-in-law He Ping and Chen Yuan , the son of Mao Zedong's economic tsar - headed or still run state-owned firms with combined assets of about US$1.6 trillion last year. That is equivalent to more than a fifth of the mainland's annual economic output.

Forty-three of the 103 ran their own businesses or became executives in private firms.

The third generation - the Eight Immortals' grandchildren and their spouses - have used their family connections and overseas education to gain jobs in the private sector. At least 11 of the 31 members of that generation have run their own businesses or held executive posts. Some were hired by Wall Street banks such as Citigroup and Morgan Stanley.

While the Eight Immortals vilified the "bourgeois individualism" of capitalist nations, almost half of their heirs have lived, studied or worked abroad - some in Australia, Britain and France.

At least 23 of their descendants and their spouses studied in the United States, including three at Harvard University and four at Stanford University. At least 18 worked for US entities, and 12 owned property in the US.

Bloomberg News said it scoured thousands of pages of corporate documents, property records and official websites.

Its website has been blocked on the mainland since June, when it published a story about the assets of the family of party leader Xi Jinping .

Attempts by bloggers and bulletin board users to post the Bloomberg stories on Sina Weibo failed yesterday. They received warnings it was a breach of rules.

Zhang Lifan, a political affairs analyst, said exposés of the fortunes of the red aristocracy would put pressure on the party's new leadership. Xi, 59, is himself a "princeling" descendant of a senior party leader, as are two other members of the party's Politburo Standing Committee.

Zhang said the latest exposé further confirmed the difficulty in pushing ahead with reform, which meant "taking the cheese from very powerful and well-connected people and families".

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Ascent to riches by the heirs of the 'Immortals'