(Yicai Global) Dec. 18 -- What topics do Chinese billionaires discuss in their dining table conversations, is it new business models, using more robots to resolve the issue of spiraling labor costs, or is it just private chitchat before deliberating on a proposal from the board of directors?
The pity of it is, none of these is correct, as I have heard with my own ears.
My dad came from a large family in Zhejiang -- the wealthiest province in East China -- while my mom was the scion of a clan of senior communist party cadres. These two circumstances notwithstanding, I did not become rich, but became a journalist instead. The confluence of these three factors has, however, afforded me the chance to hobnob with many people on the Forbes World’s Billionaires List.
My mother and I once had dinner with her friend, a billionaire from Nanjing (the capital of Jiangsu, another rich East China province), who ranked in the hundredth percentile or so on the Forbes China Rich List and owned two listed companies. When my mother and I praised his achievements, he said he merely held the wealth in trust. He spoke no more about money thereafter, discoursing instead about his experiences of rearing ducks as a youngster. He had only a grade school education. When he finished primary school, he had had to make a living by raising meat ducks after the untimely death of his father. He was fortunate to have later broken into real estate and become a billionaire, whereupon he bought a hill and turned it into his own farmstead. He said owning a large farm, planting vegetables and eating only the meat of the pigs and ducks he raised himself had been his dream as a lad.
On another occasion, a billionaire relative of my father returned from a trip to Tibet and invited us to dinner. He talked at the table about a master he found in that land of mysticism, a living Buddha about 50 years of age, in whose presence his spirit felt uplifted, so he donated CNY5 million to rebuild a temple for the monk, with whom he regularly met. This billionaire had made his pile by loan sharking, but had done time for fraud before making his fortune. He did not try to downplay this history, saying rather that the master had enlightened him and made him understand the meaning of his incarceration, an experience without which he would not have been able to achieve so much. He sent us home afterwards in his chauffeured Rolls-Royce.
Billionaires who have invited me to dinner have sometimes also invited my colleagues. A famous anchorwoman and I were eating dinner with a financial firm’s boss when he asked for and received the beautiful young presenter’s telephone number and WeChat account (WeChat is a popular Chinese messaging app). Later the girl told me the moneybags was hitting on her. Now you may feel that this girl was quite upright, but she certainly didn’t stay that way for long as she soon became his mistress and was seen driving an Aston Martin.
Another time I had dinner with the chairmen of three listed companies who gathered at the behest of another of my dad's relative. Their discussion centered mainly on their gambling experiences in Macao and Malaysia. The casinos had even laid on a private plane for them, they boasted. Any time they felt the yen, even at 2:00 a.m., they could jet off to these dens to gamble.
Foreign politicians have also dined with filthy-wealthy family familiars. Once in Hong Kong with my wife another rich relation treated me to Yung Kee, a famous restaurant in Central. I never expected that another guest who dined with us would turn out to be Thaksin Shinawatra, the former prime minister of Thailand who was there in self-imposed exile. Shinawatra clearly had big business to talk about. He had investments in Singapore and Hong Kong and was trying to channel funds from mainland China. I had absolutely no idea how he became acquainted with the mainland rich that I knew.
The often-intimate relationships allowed me to hear these moneyed people conversing on astonishing topics at dinner. On one occasion, as I was dining with a female billionaire -- my relative at a certain remove -- and others of her ilk, they talked about surrogate birth, saying they had recently found girls suitable for surrogacy in Cuba and that they would have the resulting children-by-proxy raised in the US until they grew up so that they could operate their businesses all around the world for them. They discussed these Cubanas appearance and the question of whether their children would look Chinese. They asserted their need for more kids, which they justified on the grounds of requiring sufficient successors to ensure the immortality of their family businesses. None deemed such actions contrary to morality or law, but felt rather that their money granted them infinite privileges and prerogatives.