Nov 29, 2008

Huang Guangyu, Chinese Catholic Billionaire

"China's Sam Walton" disappeared on November 19, and the mystery deepened when even Xinhua, the state-owned news agency, could not get a comment from the police. It seems that Huang Guangyu's fate is being handled by the Ministry of Public Security which will consider charges that he manipulated share prices in companies with links to Gome, the company he founded. Shares of SD Jintai, a little-known pharmaceuticals group controlled by Huang's brother, Huang Junqin, soared more than 700 percent in 2007. The source also indicated that the reason for Huang's investigation is far more "complicated" than mere "stock price manipulation.

Mr. Huang Guanyu is a 39-year old billionaire who left school in his poor, mostly Catholic village at the age of 16. He now has a wife and two children who live in an apartment in an eastern suburb of Beijing. In late 2006, he and his brother were investigated by police for alleged financial irregularities involving the use of a loan to speculate in real estate, but he was released without charges.

I'm always interested in what is happening in communist China and was quite surprised to discover that Huang Guangyi is a Catholic. He commented to the Financial Times that he was "buoyed by stories from his Catholic parents about the Bible and about ancestors who had been traders throughout Asia." Huang is not a member of the Chinese Communst Party or any part of the Chinese political establishment and explained:
Even if I wanted to join the party, I do not think I would be qualified because I am a Catholic. My family has a long Catholic tradition which dates back generations."
Huang Guangyu was born in the small rice-growing village of Chaoshan in the Chaoyang District of Shantou, Guangdong on the southeast coast of China. Shantou (formerly Swatow) is a major port and the second-largest city in Guangdong Province. The city (about the size of Boston) is the location of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Shantou/Swatow. The last Shantou Bishop, Charles Vogel, (Mission Etrangeres de Paris, MEP), died on April 13, 1958 and no further Bishops have been appointed under official and unofficial Communist repression.

The first Catholic missionaries in China, Matteo Ricci and Michael Ruggerius, worked for two years (1589-1591) near Shantou, in Ch'aochou. Shantou villagers have a long history of Catholicism, and some have migrated to establish new Catholic communities in Singapore and Hong Kong. In 1950 when the Communists took over, the Shantou diocese was home to 30,000 Catholics, 59 priests, and 30 parishes. Sixty-eight years later, virtually no information on Catholic statistics for Shantou can be found.

From articles on Huang over the past several years, he appears to be firmly Catholic in an atheistic country and surely has both religious and business enemies. I personally believe that Huang is a good example of Catholicism in China and has not stolen from or cheated anyone in his business dealings. But multiple newspaper accounts of his arrest (check Google News) are concerned that he is being unfairly persecuted and that his legal defense may be marginal. We'll see in the trial whether President Hu Jintao's promise of a new "rule of law" in China is actually accomplished.

December 30, 2008: It's the end of the year and Huang and his wife have been restricted from contacting anyone to discuss or publicly respond to charges. TOTAL SILENCE! Even an official Chinese website admits "Gome [Huang's company] told Xinhua the company had been unable to contact Huang." Does Huang's publicly-professed Christianity have anything to do with his arrest, imprisonment, and inability to respond to charges?

Going back two years to the LA Times profile of Huang, I was struck by the following:

"On the backs of Wang’s business cards and those of all Gome employees are Huang’s three cardinal rules:

Do not accept gifts from customers.
Do not take kickbacks.
Do not use your position for personal gain.

Printed at the very bottom is a hotline number for people to report employee misdeeds. Huang said the rules reflected his religious upbringing."


Anonymous said...

On November 25, 2008 the NY Post (p.25) carried a Times of London story by Jane Macartney, with the headline, "Richest man vanishes amid probe, Tycoon's Chinese Puzzle. I have made him a focus of intercessory prayer ever since! I check in Google from time to time and I find no new news about his presence!! Any help, Dust of Time?

Anonymous said...

I just came across this. As a lapsed Catholic and someone who investigates corruption in China on a daily basis, I'd be very confident in saying that Huang was arrested because he was corrupt: his catholicism had nothing to do with it. Please stop seeing discrimination where it doesn't exist. And, anonymous, why would you pray for God's intercession to save a corrupt person solely on the basis of his catholicism? That's ridiculous. Would you pray for the forgiveness of Pinochet and Galtieri and Petain on the basis of their catholicism? Catholics sin too, you know.