How men could be married to four wives at once and make it work – Stanley Ho did

Hong kong king of gambling

Stanley Ho with his wife Lucina in 1987. Photo: SCMP

By Wee Kek Koon

  • Taking concubines was common in China, Hong Kong and Singapore until the mid-20th century. The children of principal and minor wives had a different status
  • By convention a concubine’s son only could be promoted to the top rank if the principal wife had no sons, but men bent the rules for the wife they loved most

Stanley Ho Hung-sun died last month, aged 98. Famous and infamous in equal measure, he was celebrated for his bon vivant approach to life, in particular his marriages to four women at the same time, all of whom he referred to as his wives.

Like Ho, my maternal grandfather had four “co-wives”, but unlike Ho, he wasn’t a billionaire. He wasn’t even particularly well off. He came into a bit of money from his father, a Chinese sugar cane plantation worker in Cuba made good, and opened a tailor’s shop on North Bridge Road, in Singapore.

In time, he took four wives and installed all four households under one roof. According to my mother, a child of wife No 2, relations were often fractious, but by and large the wives and their 17 children got along.

Polygamy was practised in China until the middle of the 20th century. To regulate family life and protect the legal rights of the individuals involved, the ancient Chinese devised the dishu system to govern polygamous arrangements.

Read further

Suggested reading

Polygamy in Islam: What It Means?

The sunnah of monogamy

4 replies

  1. two thoughts:

    it helps if you are a billionaire>

    and: In Islam all wives are equal ! Respect for the age, yes, but equality in status to all wives and children.

  2. Polygamy create more problems among wives, children, funacial, and inheritance.

    The benefits of polygamy is only man ( or husband)
    Male and female is equal in Islamic teaching—Islamic teaching create slavery and man’s superior—

    Appositely in Christianity, one wife and one husband for good. Male and female is equal—

    In modern era, no woman like her husband do polygamy— except in poor countries where women cannot find job for survive’s aim.

    • In Christianity Male and Female equal? Why then up to only recently a women could not open a bank account without the husband’s signature? (It happened to my mother).
      Why then all property was administered by the husband after marriage? (law changed only around 1970). etc. etc. etc.

      Polygamy ‘only in poor countries’ ? Stephen HO was a billionaire. His four wives did not mind.

  3. Stanley Ho Hung Sun, born in 1921, is an entrepreneur with business interests in Hong Kong and Macau. For decades, he held a government-granted monopoly over the Macau gambling industry. He has been referred to locally as “The King of Gambling”.

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