Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution saw much of China’s heritage destroyed. His grandson-in-law Chen Dongsheng has shown he’s far keener on antiques. In fact Chen, who is married to Mao’s granddaughter Kong Dongmei, is now the biggest shareholder in Sotheby’s, the auction house.
Chen was born in 1957 in Hubei. After graduating from Wuhan University he worked at a State Council think tank for five years, before joining a government-run magazine. Chen later obtained a PhD degree in economics, and came up with the term “1992 faction” for entrepreneurs who started their business after Deng Xiaoping’s tour to southern China. That was when he quit his government job and founded the auction firm China Guardian. Back then dealing in fine arts and ancient artefacts was still a novel idea in China. He modelled his approach on Sotheby’s. According to his memoir, he even visited a Sotheby’s auction in Hong Kong and filmed the proceedings in the early nineties. “I was scared that they’d say something, my legs and hands were shaking,” he recalled of the subterfuge, which he termed his “video on the fly”.
Details are limited on how Chen met Kong. According to Chinese media, Chen also started the insurer Taikang Life in 1996 and in the same year Kong joined the firm as one of the founders.
Their relationship became public in 2013 when articles on Xinhua’s website reported that Mao’s daughter, together with her “son-in-law and the chairman of Taikang Life Chen Dongsheng” had visited Jinggangshan, where Mao founded the Red Army in 1928.
Since then his fortunes have become a news topic of interest. In 2013 New Fortune, a local magazine, put the couple’s net worth at Rmb5 billion ($740 million). In the 2016 Hurun’s Rich List (published this month) his worth was estimated at Rmb26 billion. Some of that wealth headed Sotheby’s way in July, when Taikang bought a 13.5% stake for $230 million, making Chen the single biggest shareholder in the iconic auction house he has long coveted.
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