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Chairman Mao's granddaughter makes China's rich list

Wang Ming Yi / AFP

Kong Dongmei, the granddaughter of Chinese Communist Party founder Mao Zedong, during a visit to Taipei, Taiwan, in 2009.

BEIJING -- Anywhere else in the world, placement on a rich list would be cause for celebration.

Not so in China.

For China's richest, being listed on wealth reports can be deeply undesirable, inviting unwanted extra scrutiny from tax collectors to a general public increasingly suspicious of the origins of the wealth that has poured into the mainland from uncertain corners over the last few decades.

The latest person to find herself facing this tough media spotlight: Kong Dongmei, the granddaughter of late Chinese Communist Party leader Mao Zedong.

With assets estimated at around $815 million, Kong and her husband, Chen Dongsheng, placed 242nd on Chinese magazine New Fortune's 500 Rich List for 2013 released this week.

The specific kind of attention attracted by such an appearance has many nicknames. One Chinese author dubbed it "The Curse of Forbes"; others have called these wealth reports "sha zhu bang" or "kill pig list."

Whatever you call it, there is no denying that the lists can be perilous for China's wealthy. A study last year entitled "The Price of Being a Billionaire in China: Evidence Based on Hurun Rich List," found that companies listed on the notorious "Hurun Rich List" had their market values rapidly decline within three years – victims of increased tax audits, cutting off of government subsidies and financial investigations.

Indeed, many who have found themselves among the lucky few have soon after landed in jail as media and government interest shifted to their business dealings.

'Honest and clean'
The irony that the granddaughter of the country's founding Communist leader is now one of its wealthiest citizens was not lost on the public here -- that despite carefully cultivating a veneer of modest living, Mao's offspring have in fact been profiting handsomely.

In 2009, another grandchild of Mao, Major General Mao Xinyu, told Chinese media, "The Mao Family heritage is honest and clean. None of the Mao family members have entered business. They all live on their modest salaries."

Meanwhile Kong authored four bestsellers about her grandfather and even ran a bookstore that specialized in Communist culture.

The revelation that Mao's granddaughter has risen to become one of China's wealthiest citizens only confirms what many in this country increasingly believe: Patronage is the path to wealth in today's Chinese society.

That perception is backed up by a recent survey conducted by Tsinghua University and reported in the Beijing Evening Post that found that college graduates in China who had a parent serving as a government official were found to earn 15 percent more than their peers.

The study also found that children of well-connected families were more likely to be recruited into sectors like finance, government agencies and international organizations, while other graduates ended up in industries like manufacturing and construction.

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