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The Grand Families of Taiwan

Connected through marriage, Taiwan's ten richest clans have accumulated more than NT$6 trillion, about one quarter of the Taiex's market value. But how do their machinations affect ordinary people's lives?

Photos: CW

On the evening of Nov. 29, the Grand Hyatt Taipei hosted yet another high society wedding banquet. In an effort to keep the curious public out, the hotel's side entrances were locked, while the prominent guests and dignitaries entered and exited through the heavily guarded main entrance under the media limelight. A dozen security guards in black were lined up at both sides of the huge glass doors. Once in a while they would tell reporters and onlookers in a polite yet firm voice, "Get out of the way, please."

Outside, foreign tourists were also curiously peeping through the crowd as chauffeured limousines continued to pull in the driveway. "Wow, another high society wedding," remarked a young couple who had walked over from across the street, obviously used to witnessing crowd-drawing celebrity events.

Wealth and Power Interbreed

The banquet on that evening celebrated another golden match between the scions of two banking families: Michael Hsu, vice president of Hua Nan Securities, and Cynthia Wu, a director of Shin Kong Financial Holding, had returned to Taiwan after exchanging formal wedding vows in Thailand. Lying in the background is the reality that the fathers of the bride and groom – Shin Kong Financial Holding chairman Tung Chin Eugene Wu and former Hua Nan Securities chairman Hsu Po-wei, who head two of the island's biggest banking dynasties – have also been joined in a bond of kinship.

Illustrious high society weddings keep grabbing the headlines. While outsiders enjoy the social gossip surrounding these grand events, all the glitz and splendor only conceal a sobering reality: Taiwan's leading industrialists, financiers and politicians have woven a dense, intricate network of kinship through marriages with other upper-class families.

Lee Zong-rong, assistant research fellow at the Institute of Sociology at Academia Sinica, spent two years combing through the thicket of intermarriages between Taiwan's entrepreneurial and political elites, using research done by investigative journalist and biographer Chen Jou-chin in 1999. He was surprised to find that Taiwan's upper class is "one big family" when it comes to blood relations, regardless of the individual families' political affiliation or business background, no matter whether they are rivals in the political arena or their respective industries.

In fact, Toyoko Yamasaki's novel The Grand Family, depicting clan politics and intermarriage between money and power, has long been taking place in Taiwan.

Ten Dynasties Control 1/4 of Taiex

The family is the most natural and the most common form of relationship in human society, East and West. Yet today, Taiwan's leading families exert economic influence on an unprecedented scale.

The latest CommonWealth Magazine statistics show that Taiwan's top ten business families control 13 of the island's financial groups and business conglomerates. The 77 companies – listed or traded over the counter (OTC) – under these business groups account for only 5 percent of the total number of listed and OTC companies, yet their combined market value exceeds NT$6 trillion, accounting for 25.7 percent of the stock market's total market value. (See Table.)

Overall, the conglomerates held by these ten business clans are mainly active in finance, basic infrastructure and the conventional industries. In other words, the money that ordinary citizens spend on their basic needs, such as food, clothing, housing, transportation and even leisure and entertainment, lines the pockets of these family conglomerates.

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