FOR fans of author James Clavell's Asian historical...


April 04, 1994

FOR fans of author James Clavell's Asian historical novels, the Financial Times of London carried an intriguing article on March 24, entitled, "Sunset in the east for Jardine's stock."

"Jardine Matheson, the British trading company most associated with the founding of Hong Kong more than 150 years ago, is to cease trading its shares on the colony's stock exchange at the end of this year," the article began.

Mr. Clavell based his "Tai-Pan," "Noble House" and "Gai Jin" novels on the history of this giant trading company. Jardine Matheson is now domiciled in Bermuda, and the newspaper points out that the firm's roots are increasingly in Britain.

"Jardine's shares have been traded in Hong Kong since 1961, when the heirs of Mr. William Jardine and Mr. James Matheson took the company public. Its decision to delist -- 2 1/2 years before the resumption of Chinese sovereignty -- seems a wretched move for a company which can trace its antecedents back to the 1830s in Canton. It was on the encouragement of Mr. William Jardine, one of the company's co-founders, that Lord Palmerston agreed to the occupation of Chinese territory to promote Anglo-Chinese trade. This led to the [British] seizure of Hong Kong in 1841.

"Since then the company has had a chequered relationship with China. It was Jardine Matheson which made its fortune trading opium in China and built China's first railway. It was Jardine executives who ran the Shanghai municipal council until the revolution. And it was Sir John Keswick, taipan, or 'big boss,' and friend of Chinese premier Zhou Enlai, who signed over Jardine's assets to the communists."

At the time of the communist takeover, Jardine employed 250,000 people in China. It remains a huge enterprise. After-tax profits last year hit $388 million. It still has 60 joint ventures in China with revenues of $1 billion; it has invested another $1 billion outside Hong Kong; it retains hundreds of millions of dollars in Hong Kong, and it controls a food retailer and a construction and engineering group in Britain.

Jardine's taipan, Nigel Rich, said the delisting is not of a "significant nature." Taipans say things like that. Just ask James Clavell.

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