Zoe Li: Lee Shau-kee triplet grandsons affirm traditional values

Zoe Li: Lee Shau-kee triplet grandsons affirm traditional values

Babies born to a surrogate mother secure the future of the Henderson Land Development empire

Lee Shau-kee has brought on the death of soap operas.

After Lee's surrogate-born triplet grandsons made front page news in Hong Kong this week, screenwriters are suffering from insecurity anxiety. How on earth will they write another tele-drama without the critical will-she-birth-a-son-or-not tension in the inheritance grab/ dynastic struggle/ housewife catfight plot? 

Without the gamble on pregnancy, there is no plot.  

The Lee's eldest son Peter Lee, a bachelor, revealed this week that he became a single father of triplets this past July. The babies were born to a mystery surrogate mother in the United States.

There has been no statement from the Lee family on deliberate sex selection for the babies, but they are all sons -- three legitimate heirs, first in line after their father for the inheritance of Lee Shau-kee's Henderson Land Development Co. empire. 

Critics of the Lees say that the triplet's birth is a "tragedy." The babies were separated at birth from their biological mother and will be brought up without motherly love. The demise of the family and all its values begin with the Lees. The downfall of Chinese soaps, predicated on the tensions between people struggling to maintain a traditional patriarchal family in a Confucianist society, also begins now.

li shau kee tripletsLucky no. 3: See <a href= "http://www.businesstimes.com.hk/a-20101027-97277/Lee-Shau-kee-Henderson-Real-Estate" target="_blank"> here </a> for the real Li triplets and their gramps.

But this is a myopic perspective. Controversial fertilization practices have been used within the Lee family precisely to maintain the status quo. By securing male heirs, Lee Shau-kee has affirmed the traditional, patriarchal order of the Chinese universe. Traditional family values have not wavered one bit. 

After the birth of the triplets, Lee announced that he set aside HK$33 million to give to his grandsons, charity, and his 1,300 employees. The figure is no accident -- 3 is a lucky number that sounds like "birth" in Chinese. The generous gesture is out of Lee's conservative and superstitious Chinese beliefs. 

If the Lee case is a precedent for other billionaire families, we could imagine a world in which all wealthy families are secure in their line of succession through fertilization technology. The assumed neurosis of wives who struggle to bear sons will be ended. 

But if everyone has sons, then wives with sons can no longer enjoy the elevated status that they used to have. The younger males in the family would no longer be able to use their sons to usurp the place of their elder brothers who are son-less. In general, offspring of scions would have one less way to upset the family hierarchy. Everyone would just have to learn to be content with their lot in life.

As we know, people are rarely content with their lot in life, especially if they stand to inherit multi-billion dollar empires. Son or no son, people will find a way to stir up trouble. Tabloids will find some way to spin drama into the lives of the rich and famous. Screenwriters will rewrite scripts to meet the expectations of a new reality. After surrogate motherhood, life will go on as usual.

The opinions of this commentary are solely those of Zoe Li.

After traveling around the world on a fistful of dollars, Zoe returns to Hong Kong, where she grew up, to discover and write about all the inspiring stuff that happens here on a daily basis.

Read more about Zoe Li