China’s ‘masons’ disband fat-cat Taishan club amid crackdown on business alliances

2021.02.15
China s masons disband fat cat Taishan club amid crackdown on business alliances

A secretive club of China’s richest people recently disbanded as the Communist Party stepped up its crackdown on private alliances among business leaders.

The Taishan club, seen as China’s copy of the Freemasons and where Alibaba founder Jack Ma and Lenovo’s Liu Chuanzhi were reportedly former members, completed its dissolution process on Jan. 20.

The club’s disbandment has raised speculation in the mainland that it may be connected to the authorities’ clampdown on Ma’s business empire.

The Taishan club limited its membership to only the top businesspeople and required them to keep their club activity low-profile. Its house rules barred members from taking recordings during meetings, discussing politics, accepting media interviews or inviting officials, in order to promote frank discussion with a focus on businesses.

In November 2013, Liu, the then club chair, was captured by the Taiwan edition of Next Magazine — a sister publication of Apple Daily — leading a group of 15 of the mainland’s super-rich on a secret tour to the self-ruled island. The club’s tour guide hit out at a local restaurant for posting a banner to welcome the rich guests and ordered it to remove all surveillance cameras from the premises to keep the club’s meeting confidential.

The club’s demise began as early as 2017 when its founder, Stone Group chair Duan Yongji, resigned. Rumors also had it that the club had seen growing divisions and conflicts among members.

The Taishan club — named after the mountain in Shandong province where ancient emperors performed rituals to pay homage to the heavens — posed a threat to President Xi Jinping’s rule as its secret meetings and the information exchanged there were beyond the party leadership’s reach, political commentator Sang Pu told Apple Daily.

Taishan’s fate followed that of the Xishan club, another secret club of the rich and powerful led by disgraced senior official Ling Jihua. The Xishan club was the starting point for Xi to target such private societies, Sang said.

The Communist Party does not tolerate competition from groups that promote close-knit bonds between members, Sang said.

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