富不过三代 Wealth does not pass three generations

Familiar chinese saying:
富不过三代 or Wealth does not pass three generations.

This aphorism relates not just to monetary wealth, but also towards family fortunes in their entirety –power and influence– which naturally includes the rise and decline of monarchs and dynasties.

Erroneous apocryphal aphorismus application aside (there are actually many instances of family fortunes of wealth, monarchial power remaining more or less distinct and pure beyond 3-gen), three generations does seem to be a rather apt interval for accumulated fortunes, of any kind, to start dissipating.

[A natural occurrence after all: assuming an even steady-state reproduction ratio of 2.1 for the founding Patriarch, by the 3rd-gen, there would already be 4-going-on-8 descendants, leading to a natural dissipation of accumulated resources. (and most alpha-male progenitors would be highly polygamous and have reproduction factors way excess of 2.1)
But there may be an interesting counterpoint to this in some cultures which concentrates power and resources in only one person within each successive generation (an almost ‘disinheriting’ of all others) in order to preserve, concentrate and continue the progenital line.
(the continuing success and relative longevity of post-Meiji modern japanese corporations have some of the flavour of this)

One of the more celebrated instance of 富不过三代 or Wealth does not pass three generations is the Mongol Empire itself, with Genghis Khan as the progenitor.



While significant and large parts of the Mongol Empire lasted quite many generations past the third, the unified Mongol Empire itself irreparably splintered less than 30 years after the death of Genghis Khan, with the mutedly opposed passing of the Khanate-ship from the House of Ogodei (the anointed successor to Genghis) to the House of Tolui into the hands of Tolui’s son, Mongke (3rd-gen) in 1251. The Toluid reign of Great Khans, first through Mongke and subsequently through his brother Kublai/Qubilai was initially tolerated and towards the end, openly challenged by their cousins, the almost equally-strong Batu khan (son of Jochi) of the Golden Horde (north-west Central Asia, Russia) and the Chaghatayid khans (sons of Chaghatai) of Central Asia.

But Mongke held onto his reign, with the support of his brothers and their infamous strong large armies: Kublai (campaigning still in China for the remaining parts of the Chinese Song Dynasty) and Hulegu (his terrifying almost unstoppable sweep of Persia and Arabia, almost wiping off the Muslim world from the face of the earth; until he met the Mamluks of Egyt anyway).

After Mongke died and Kublai became Great Khan in 1260, brothers eventually turned on brothers, with Kublai’s younger brother Ariq Boke’s vying and grabbing for the throne marking the start of the Mongol civil war, in all parts of the sprawling empire.

The largest land empire in history, commanding unimaginable wealth and power, could not last pass three generations and 30-odd years. Genghis Khan himself likely saw this coming and was probably familiar with the following tale from his ancestors:

Their mother Alan Qo’a knew what they had been saying to each other behind her back.
One day in spring, while she was cooking some dried lamb, she had her five sons Belgünütei, Bügünütei, Buqu Qatagai, Buqatu Salji and Bodon_ar Mungqaq sit in a row. She gave an arrow-shaft to each of them and said, ‘Break it!’ One by one they immediately broke the single arrow-shafts and threw them away. Then she tied five arrow-shafts into a bundle and gave it to them saying, ‘Break it!’ The five sons each took the five bound arrow-shafts in turn, but were unable to break them.

Then their mother Alan Qo’a said, ‘You, my sons Belgünütei and Bügünütei, are suspicious of me and said to each other, “These three sons that she has borne, of whom, of what clan, are they the sons? […]

Further, Alan Qo’a addressed these words of admonition to her five sons: ‘You, my five sons, were born of one womb. If, like the five arrow-shafts just now, each of you keeps to himself, then like those single arrow-shafts, anybody will easily break you. If, like the bound arrow-shafts, you remain together and of one mind, how can anyone deal with you so easily?’ Some time went by and their mother Alan Qo’a died.



4 thoughts on “富不过三代 Wealth does not pass three generations

  1. Back to the Mongolians…

    The cornerstone of the Mongolian army is their cavalry and one of the critical point in their campaigns is the provisioning for their horses, above even provisioning for the soldiery themselves. Finding adequate grazing lands for their tens (hundreds?) of thousands of horses alone is insufficient; the horses of a typical ten-tumens units (of about 100,000 men) Mongol expeditionary army will graze bare the surrounding pasture lands of several tens of kilometers in a matter of weeks. Which is why the Mongols almost never fought long drawn-out sieges.

    [In the Persian and Arabian city and citadel campaigns the Mongols, in the few cases where their terror and reputation fail to cower the enemies into surrender and submission, and where their often-used tactic of feigned retreat fail to draw the enemy from behind their walls out into the open, the Mongols turned to their ‘acquired’ superior technology: the siege engineers of Jin and Chinese Song, which overcame the Arabian walls easily enough.]

    So, the strategic use and timing (to the seasons) of their campaigns in accord to available pasture land for their horses was critical to the Mongols as they swept across Central Asia, Persia and Arabia. One interesting little fact of this follows:

    Description of the Greater Hermenia (Armenia)

    This is a great country. It begins at a city called ARZINGA, at which they weave the best buckrams in the world. It possesses also the best baths from natural springs that are anywhere to be found.[1] The people of the country are Armenians, and are subject to the Tartar. There are many towns and villages in the country, but the noblest of their cities is Arzinga, which is the See of an Archbishop, and then ARZIRON and ARZIZI.[2] The country is indeed a passing great one, and in the summer it is frequented by the whole host of the Tartars of the Levant, because it then furnishes them with such excellent pasture for their cattle. But in winter the cold is past all bounds, so in that season they quit this country and go to a warmer region, where they find other good pastures.

    The Travels of Marco Polo

    The Georgian and Armenian envoys were apparently amongst the earliest Christian envoys to arrive at the cosmopolitan court of Mongke Khan in the Mongolian capital of Karakorum, which housed hundreds of envoys (more or less permanently stationed in the Mongolian court) from countries across all lands; like an early United Nations housed in the capital/court of the then superpower.

  2. All in all, Moses and the early Judges does seem to have been struck with a Divine and Equitable inspiration, with the biblical concept of Jubilee, calling for the liberation of all slaves and the ‘return’ of all land every 49 years (equaling roughly two generations).


    Leviticus 25

    The Sabbath Year

    1 The LORD said to Moses on Mount Sinai, 2 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a sabbath to the LORD. 3 For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. 4 But in the seventh year the land is to have a sabbath of rest, a sabbath to the LORD. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. 5 Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest. 6 Whatever the land yields during the sabbath year will be food for you—for yourself, your manservant and maidservant, and the hired worker and temporary resident who live among you, 7 as well as for your livestock and the wild animals in your land. Whatever the land produces may be eaten.

    The Year of Jubilee

    8 ” ‘Count off seven sabbaths of years—seven times seven years—so that the seven sabbaths of years amount to a period of forty-nine years. 9 Then have the trumpet sounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land. 10 Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each one of you is to return to his family property and each to his own clan. 11 The fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; do not sow and do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the untended vines. 12 For it is a jubilee and is to be holy for you; eat only what is taken directly from the fields.

    13 ” ‘In this Year of Jubilee everyone is to return to his own property.

    14 ” ‘If you sell land to one of your countrymen or buy any from him, do not take advantage of each other. 15 You are to buy from your countryman on the basis of the number of years since the Jubilee. And he is to sell to you on the basis of the number of years left for harvesting crops. 16 When the years are many, you are to increase the price, and when the years are few, you are to decrease the price, because what he is really selling you is the number of crops. 17 Do not take advantage of each other, but fear your God. I am the LORD your God.

    18 ” ‘Follow my decrees and be careful to obey my laws, and you will live safely in the land. 19 Then the land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill and live there in safety. 20 You may ask, “What will we eat in the seventh year if we do not plant or harvest our crops?” 21 I will send you such a blessing in the sixth year that the land will yield enough for three years. 22 While you plant during the eighth year, you will eat from the old crop and will continue to eat from it until the harvest of the ninth year comes in.

    23 ” ‘The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants. 24 Throughout the country that you hold as a possession, you must provide for the redemption of the land.

    25 ” ‘If one of your countrymen becomes poor and sells some of his property, his nearest relative is to come and redeem what his countryman has sold. 26 If, however, a man has no one to redeem it for him but he himself prospers and acquires sufficient means to redeem it, 27 he is to determine the value for the years since he sold it and refund the balance to the man to whom he sold it; he can then go back to his own property. 28 But if he does not acquire the means to repay him, what he sold will remain in the possession of the buyer until the Year of Jubilee. It will be returned in the Jubilee, and he can then go back to his property.

    29 ” ‘If a man sells a house in a walled city, he retains the right of redemption a full year after its sale. During that time he may redeem it. 30 If it is not redeemed before a full year has passed, the house in the walled city shall belong permanently to the buyer and his descendants. It is not to be returned in the Jubilee. 31 But houses in villages without walls around them are to be considered as open country. They can be redeemed, and they are to be returned in the Jubilee.

    32 ” ‘The Levites always have the right to redeem their houses in the Levitical towns, which they possess. 33 So the property of the Levites is redeemable—that is, a house sold in any town they hold—and is to be returned in the Jubilee, because the houses in the towns of the Levites are their property among the Israelites. 34 But the pastureland belonging to their towns must not be sold; it is their permanent possession.

    35 ” ‘If one of your countrymen becomes poor and is unable to support himself among you, help him as you would an alien or a temporary resident, so he can continue to live among you. 36 Do not take interest of any kind [a] from him, but fear your God, so that your countryman may continue to live among you. 37 You must not lend him money at interest or sell him food at a profit. 38 I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God.

    39 ” ‘If one of your countrymen becomes poor among you and sells himself to you, do not make him work as a slave. 40 He is to be treated as a hired worker or a temporary resident among you; he is to work for you until the Year of Jubilee. 41 Then he and his children are to be released, and he will go back to his own clan and to the property of his forefathers. 42 Because the Israelites are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt, they must not be sold as slaves. 43 Do not rule over them ruthlessly, but fear your God.

    44 ” ‘Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. 45 You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. 46 You can will them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.

    47 ” ‘If an alien or a temporary resident among you becomes rich and one of your countrymen becomes poor and sells himself to the alien living among you or to a member of the alien’s clan, 48 he retains the right of redemption after he has sold himself. One of his relatives may redeem him: 49 An uncle or a cousin or any blood relative in his clan may redeem him. Or if he prospers, he may redeem himself. 50 He and his buyer are to count the time from the year he sold himself up to the Year of Jubilee. The price for his release is to be based on the rate paid to a hired man for that number of years. 51 If many years remain, he must pay for his redemption a larger share of the price paid for him. 52 If only a few years remain until the Year of Jubilee, he is to compute that and pay for his redemption accordingly. 53 He is to be treated as a man hired from year to year; you must see to it that his owner does not rule over him ruthlessly.

    54 ” ‘Even if he is not redeemed in any of these ways, he and his children are to be released in the Year of Jubilee, 55 for the Israelites belong to me as servants. They are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.

    Leviticus 25

  3. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-01-25/stanley-ho-accuses-family-members-of-seizing-stake-in-macau-gaming-empire.html

    Stanley Ho Accuses Family Members of Seizing Stake in Macau Gaming Empire

    Billionaire Stanley Ho demanded family members return the bulk of his Macau casino fortune by tomorrow or face legal action as an ownership dispute threatens to split Asia’s biggest gambling empire.

    The transfer of most of Ho’s assets to six family members, disclosed in a Jan. 24 statement, was done without his consent, and the 89-year-old patriarch gave his lawyers “very clear” instructions to recover them, Gordon Oldham, senior partner at law firm Oldham, Li & Nie, said yesterday.

    The ultimatum by Ho, who has sired 17 children by four women, raises the prospect of a family feud for control of a business he spent five decades building. Ho’s SJM Holdings Ltd., with a market value of $9.7 billion, runs most of the casinos in the Chinese city of Macau, where gambling revenue is four times that of the Las Vegas Strip.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s