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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story


A remnant from the past? Yes, but like it or not, it's here to stay

By Sangwon Suh

asia in the new millennium
Mapping the Future The future wealth and size of Asian nations

The 21st Century By Arthur C. Clarke

Asia Trends 2000 The promises and perils of one wired world

The Microchip Silicon will get into everything
The Power As the region prospers, chances for conflict may become greater
Essay by Fidel Ramos Ending repression was easy; now we must defend freedom
The Dynasty It's here to stay
The Classes Many more Asians may escape poverty
The People Democracy in Asia will become increasingly deep-rooted
Essay by Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo Shifts to new paradigms may include the "common good" and spirituality
The Mind Classrooms of the future will be virtually unrecognizable
Essay by Stan Shih The challenge of creating markets in a competitive world
The Body Science will soon deliver miracle cures, designer babies and new dilemmas
The Soul Asia seeks a new cultural identity
Essay by the Dalai Lama Balancing material progress with inner development to achieve true success
The Food Are the pushers of genetically modified edibles out to lunch?
The Vacation Inner and outer space are the destinations of the future
The Design Asia still has a place in the shape of things to come
The Metropolis Sweeping global changes are reshaping urban destinies
The Earth Environmental awareness is growing
The Jobs New and reinvented careers will fire the imagination
The Money The cashless society is on the way
The Investor Globalization and the Net will empower future shareholders and savers
The Sexes Democracy, capitalism and the Internet can lift women to the top
Essay by Marina Mahathir In Malaysia, we should change the way society looks at their roles
The Family The family promises to be much different than it is today
The Economy New ways of working call for new ways of thinking
Essay by Donald Tsang Financial well-being is a responsibility for each nation and the world
The Network The connection will go much deeper

The Asiaweek Round Table on ASEAN in 2020

Celebrations Asia is gearing up

Celebrities How some of the region's most visible personalities intend to welcome the New Year

Millenium Dictionary From pop anthems to dawn sites and midnight nuptials, a guide to 2000

TAKE A HYPOTHETICAL FAMILY. Grandfather sets up a bicycle repair shop. Father expands the operation to include selling bicycles and opens up branches in other cities. By the time Son inherits the company, it has become a multibillion-dollar retail empire with interests in shopping malls, supermarkets and multiplex cinemas. A typical success story? But darling, that is so, so 20th century.

Let's face it. As we stand on the threshold of the new millennium, these are not the best - or most fashionable - times to be a business dynasty. In this rapidly evolving, information-driven world of Internet start-ups and millionaire cyber-entrepreneurs, the watchwords are nimbleness, flexibility and adaptability. It's survival of the fittest, baby, and the fittest are those who have the best ideas and the ability to run with them. As such, large family-controlled conglomerates are looking decidedly clunky, cliquey and dinosaur-like. Besides, at a time when we are supposed to be moving toward a more democratic, egalitarian society, it just ain't hip (though still very convenient) to be born with a silver spoon in your mouth.


What are the prospects for some of the well-known political families in the region? Here's a quick take:

Gandhis (India) Prospects: Asia's true political dynasty. The current torchbearer, Sonia, remains a fairly popular figure, despite her political inexperience and sniping from some quarters that she is a foreigner. No such problems for her Indian-born daughter Priyanka, who has long been groomed for a political role.

Sukarnos (Indonesia) Prospects: With her party winning the most votes in the recent parliamentary elections, Megawati Sukarnoputri appears poised to become the country's next president. Even if politicking denies her the presidency, her almost mystical appeal to Javanese will ensure that she remains a formidable political force.

Marcoses (Philippines) Prospects: The name has almost become a byword for corruption, repression and excess, thanks to the late strongman Ferdinand. But that hasn't stopped son "Bongbong" from becoming governor of Ilocos Norte or daughter Imee from being elected to Congress. Don't discount a comeback several years down the line.

Suhartos (Indonesia) Prospects: Another name associated with corruption. Down and out for now, but collective amnesia on the part of the electorate should eventually allow for the possibility - even likelihood - of a return to politics by the clan's scions.

Bhuttos (Pakistan) Prospects: Ditto.

Aung Sans (Myanmar) Prospects: In a country where people do not have family names, Aung San Suu Kyi has appropriated the name of her father to highlight her link to Myanmar's nationalist hero. A potent opposition symbol, but will likely remain just that. (And there seems little chance that her overseas-residing children will follow in her footsteps.)

Bolkiahs (Brunei) Prospects: Their kingdom isn't exactly enjoying the best of times, but the Sultan is firmly in charge and isn't going anywhere. Barring a revolution, the family will probably be around for some time to come.

Kims (North Korea) Prospects: North Korea has the honor of being the first and only communist state to undergo a father-son succession. It is, however, difficult to imagine that Kim Jong Il's impoverished fiefdom will last long enough to witness another dynastic handover.

In fact, if one wanted to follow the above hypothetical story to its - logical? - conclusion, it might be: Flush with easy credit from eager banks, Father and Son soon overextend themselves. When Asia's financial crisis hits, the company goes into shock and never recovers. Meanwhile, revelations arise of dirty dealings the company made with government officials to facilitate its expansion during the boom years. Father and Son (not to mention Uncles, Nephews and other sundry Relatives) are ousted from the board, professional managers are brought in, and the once-mighty business empire is broken up. Hand the baton to your son? Nowadays, you'll be lucky to have a baton to pass on.

Business clans aren't the only ones experiencing a PR problem in the post-Crisis era; their political counterparts have come under flak too. The current fashionable whipping boy is, of course, the Suhartos. The name has become virtually synonymous with repression, corruption, nepotism and cronyism - just about everything that was said to be wrong with pre-Crisis Asia. The same charges have been leveled at the Philippines' Ferdinand Marcos and practically every other authoritarian leader who has graced the political stage in the past few decades. The conclusion? These figures and their families are the complete antithesis of the democratic, meritocratic values that are supposed to mark the new century.

Yet, despite all that, the concept of the dynasty continues to exert a powerful hold on people's psyche, in Asia and elsewhere. Not surprising, really. The institution of the family is millennia old; the Crisis, for all the havoc it has wreaked and all the spirit of change it has unleashed, is barely a blip in the history of mankind. As long as the family - in some form - exists, the desire to hand down what you have achieved to the next generation will always be there.

And indeed, dynastic succession is not necessarily a bad thing. It can provide a sense of tradition and continuity - an important consideration especially in fields outside politics and business. In Japan, for example, Kabuki theater is dominated by acting families whose thespian pedigree goes back centuries. In South Korea, a country with a short but strong Christian tradition, it is not uncommon to encounter a church minister whose father and grandfather were also pastors. In such cases, dynastic succession represents the passing down of knowledge, skill, experience, even mindset - with the result that inheritors of the tradition possess an intangible edge that sets them apart from newcomers to the scene.

One might argue that such considerations are less relevant in the realm of politics and business. Being steeped in the tradition of basket-weaving can make you a master basket-weaver, but political acumen or a shrewd business sense is something that is less easily handed down, if at all.

Being at the end of a long, illustrious lineage certainly does not guarantee success in the fast-moving, fast-changing worlds of politics and business - but this is not to say it makes no difference. Growing up in a well-established clan will likely mean a head start in terms of education, insight and connections. At the very least, having a famous name can open doors that might otherwise have remained closed.

This is especially true in politics, where a brand name can be a powerful force. It acts as a link to a more glorious past (real or imagined) and leads people to attribute - justifiably or otherwise - to the possessor positive qualities the name might have once stood for. In the U.S., the two leading presidential contenders are scions of prominent political families, while many tears were shed recently over the death of a magazine editor who happened to have Kennedy as his last name. Closer home, Indonesian opposition leader Megawati Sukarnoputri is reaping the windfall of widespread nostalgia for her father's presidency (the excesses of Sukarno's rule having been conveniently forgotten). This offers hope - in fact, a better-than-average chance of political revival - to such seemingly lost causes as the Suhartos and the Marcoses.

Of course, all this does not mean dynasties can afford to ignore external trends. Increasing prosperity, the spread of education and the rise of the Internet have empowered the masses like never before. Under this democratizing influence, political leaders will need to be ever more accountable and receptive to the electorate. In business, the demands of global capitalism - for transparency, professionalism and profitability - will likely mean fewer dynasties. Those that survive will have to rely on quick thinking and fleet-footedness, rather than connections to certain ministries, to beat off challenges from domestic upstarts and foreign competitors.

But whatever concessions dynastic clans make, it is probably safe to say some of today's household names will still be household names a few decades down the line. And that will remain the case as long as blood is thicker than water.

This edition's table of contents | Asiaweek home


U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

Thai party announces first coalition partner


COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state


COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness

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