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Asian Godfathers: Money and Power in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia Hardcover – October 10, 2007

4.2 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"'Its clarity of expression will make it hard for even the most determined dreamers to refute... Implacable, cool, convincing and well-armed Spectator 'An astonishing book' Sunday Independent" --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Joe Studwell is the editor of the China Economic Quarterly (www.theceq.com). He lived and worked as a freelance journalist in Hong Kong and Beijing from 1991 to 2000. He is author of The China Dream (Profile, ISBN 978 1 86197 948 7). --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press (October 10, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0871139685
  • ISBN-13: 978-0871139689
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.2 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,021,437 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By John D. Van Fleet on October 5, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Studwell's Asian Godfathers challenges the mythos surrounding Li Ka Shing, Robert Kuok and a group of about 50 others, the economic kings of Southeast Asia he calls godfathers. Media consumers have been force-fed repeated helpings of stories about the godfathers as economic clairvoyants, captains of wealth creation, etc. Studwell demonstrates that the godfathers are creating little if any wealth in their areas of operation (Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand)---that they are rather parasites, having gained monopoly access to limited resources (raw materials, port facilities, banking licenses) through guanxi with political cronies, maintaining it through bribery in various forms, and pocketing use fees.
The cover is sappy, but don't let that deter you--Studwell's book is well worth your time if you seek to better understand SEAsia.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book makes a very interesting read and offers a different approach to understanding the economy of a region: the author looks at these economies mainly through the business sector and avoids overloading the book with graphs, charts, tables, etc. It is an interesting story (although heavily studded with Chinese names). This may result in an incomplete picture, and the book is not quite academic, but this does not avoid it providing a relatively objective look on an important sector of this region's economy.
Studwell is very critical of the corporate sector of the SE Asian countries, including those of Hong Kong and Singapore. He traces the origins of the mostly ethnic Chinese businessmen and their companies from the colonial days to the present. He dismisses any notion of "Asian values" as the foundation for the success of these businesses and their owners, but rather attributes their rise to license-peddling, concessions, monopolistic practises, lots of graft, etc. One is reminded of Balzac's words: "every great fortune, of onknown origin, is usually the result of a crime". His comments on the banking sector are particulary scathing. The author explains that these businessmen are not the cause of this situation, but have merely adapted to a region-wide system of patronage and corruption held in place by the local politicos for hundreds of years to the present (much of it inherited from their colonial masters). The business leaders have saving graces: personally charming, they lead flamboyant lives and they obviously do contribute to their local economies (through employment and investment).
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
To catch your attention, let me--I am the husband of Louie, my name is Teodoro Locsin, Jr.--say that as Cory Aquino's speechwriter she called me in a few years before she died of cancer and asked me to write the author of a book that quotes her as calling Lee Kuan Yew "an arrogant bastard". She wanted me to deny it as I was in the best position to do it because I never left her side during her meetings with ASEAN leaders in the early years of her regime when she was beset by military coup attempts. She found Suharto surprisingly candid when she apologized for the extra security that limited the venue of her ASEAN meeting to a hotel flush against the water of Manila Bay and beside the US Embassy. He said, "Oh, don't apologize, why do you think I take General Murdani with me all the time. I don't feel safe leaving him behind." This was greeted by laughter except from Mahathir. Murdani smiled sheepishly. Lee quipped that he put his son in the military just to make sure. Mahathir looked on with ill-concealed contempt of the frivolous turn the talks had taken, and in particular of Mrs. Aquino. He kept imposing his views during the meeting. She asked me later if I didn't find him arrogant but that was all. Mrs Aquino disliked any vulgarity because it was, I guess, vulgar. She was well brought up and went to convent school in New York. An ill word never escaped her lips except once when a trusted ally sided with a coup attempt against and she called him a blue bottle fly. She regretted this. I said I would write the publisher. She assumed I was familiar with the book. Mercifully I failed to contact any publisher. The book I had in mind was a simpering and flattering account of Asian godfathers by someone else. Mr Studwell's is after all the book she meant.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
Joe Studwell's "Asian Godfathers" is written in a clunky academic style, and takes some time to get into but it's really worth the read. The author has distilled his formidable experience with and understanding of Southeast Asia into this book, and readers will come away with a more nuanced, deeper understanding of the place.

Southeast Asia is a fractured diverse place, but their tycoons share many similarities: they come from wealthy established families, they read well the political winds and they're good (and only good at) massaging the political connections that permit them the monopoloy and cash flow from which their empire is based, they're hard-headed non-ideological businessmen who put their interests above all else, they're racist patriarchs, and they're predators who spend other people's money (from banks and equity markets) in order to advance their business interests. They are the products, the beneficiaries, and contributors to the crony capitalist system in southeast Asia, a system that led to the 1997 East Asian financial crisis -- a crisis that, as a testament to the godfathers' flexibility and power, only made the most powerful godfathers richer.

At the end of the book, Mr. Studwell concedes that he wrote the book about Asian godfathers because he wanted to highlight the financial malaise and political corruption of Southeast Asia. But even if readers do not care about southeast Asia they should still read "Asian Godfathers" because it's also the story of China today. Like southeast Asia's economy, China's economy is growing not because of but despite its tycoons.
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