China is rich. To be more precise, China’s richest are very rich. According to the Hurun Global Rich List, released on March 7, China is home to the most billionaires in the world. The Middle Kingdom boasts 609 out of the planet's 2257 ‘known’ billionaires, adding a modest 41 new faces since last year.
To put this number in context, in 2012 there were only five billionaires from Greater China (mainland, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan) - there are 121 times more today. The total wealth of all billionaires in the world has grown 45 percent in just 5 years, ballooning to USD8 trillion.
Although the three richest people on the planet – Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and Jeff Bezos – are all Americans, Chinese billionaires make up 27 percent of the list despite only accounting for 20 percent of the world population. Real estate, fueled by surges in housing markets like Shenzhen, helped generate the most number of billionaires in China (120), followed by manufacturing (115) and tech (78). Chinese billionaires possess an astounding USD1.6 trillion in combined net worth, or 2.1 percent of the global GDP.
Beijing is the ‘Billionaire Capital of the World’
China’s richest naturally congregate in its biggest, wealthiest cities. Beijing, for instance, is the ‘Billionaire Capital of the World,’ edging out New York for the second year in a row. Shenzhen, however, added the most billionaires out of any other city (16), and according to Rupert Hoogewerf, Chairman and Chief Researcher of the Hurun Report, the Shenzhen-Hong Kong nexus is home to “the highest concentration of wealth … ahead even of California.”
Let that sink in... Even California!
Two other Chinese cities, Shanghai (#6 with 53) and Hangzhou (#9 with 36), help round out the top ten cities with the most individuals in the ‘Nine-Zero Club.’
Wang Jianlin of Wanda is the richest man in China and the 19th richest person in the world, with a total net worth of USD30 billion. Wanda arguably made the highest profile takeover in China last year, paying USD3.5 billion to buy Legendary Entertainment. Wang made a private splash of his own, paying USD110 million for one of London’s most expensive houses.
Wang Jianlin and Jack Ma
Just behind him is Jack Ma of Alibaba and Ant Financial, who had a busy year with Alibaba Pictures investing in Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Partners, Alipay investing in Chinese KFC and Pizza Hut establishments and Ma personally helping lead a USD4.4 billion acquisition of Israel-based online games company Playtika, as well as paying USD1 billion for a controlling stake in Singapore-based e-commerce platform Lazada.
Correspondingly, Wang Sicong, son of Wang Jianlin, and Jack Ma lay claim to the biggest followings on social media.
READ MORE: Wang Jianlin's Son Spends RMB250,000 on Gold Apple Watches for his Dog
Wealth from the logistics sector saw the largest increase this year, spearheaded by Wang Wei of SF Express who leaped to the third spot in China and into the Top 100 in the world. Wang, who is only 46, saw a five-fold growth in his wealth to USD27 billion after a hugely successful initial public offering in February.
Yao Zhenhua, a corporate raider at Baoneng, enjoyed the fastest wealth growth on the list, rising nearly eight-fold to USD15 billion. However, as of February, regulators have barred him from involvement in the insurance industry for 10 years. Indeed, it seems billionaires aren’t always so lucky, as Huang Guanyu of GOME demonstrates by having the unfortunate distinction of being China's richest man in jail.
Huang Guangyu made his fortune from electronics and is currently serving a 14-year jail sentence for manipulating markets
Billionaire Boys Club?
One cannot help but observe the disappointingly low number of female billionaires on the list, who only make up 15 percent of the total. With respect to China, however, it is at least reassuring to note that it produced 79.5 percent of the world’s 152 self-made female billionaires. The richest self-made woman in the world, for instance, is Beijing Real Estate Queen Chen Lihua, who has a whopping net worth of USD7.2 billion.
There are some surprising tidbits to chew on when reading a Rich List. For instance, you learn that it isn’t always easy being an oil tycoon, such as when you are Harold Hamm and have to settle a divorce suit with your ex-wife, Sue Ann Hamm, to the tune of USD999 million.
Moreover, you are faced with the banal fact that most billionaires are old. The average age is 63. We suppose that when you’re young you want money and when you’re old you have it – but do you still have the time and energy to enjoy it?
Finally, we are confronted with some disconcerting realities with respect to the distribution of wealth. For instance, there are 1.2 billion people in Africa, but only 28 billionaires, whereas there are four times as many people in Asia, but almost 40 times as many billionaires.
On a more humorous note, the running joke from Silicon Valley about Russ Hanneman “losing a comma” is actually something certain rich people have to worry about, as 276 people dropped off the list from last year.
Oh, and if you are wondering which of the Chinese zodiacs are the richest, most billionaires are snakes.
READ MORE: Richest Man in Asia No More: Li Ka-shing Bumped down to Third by Wang Jianlin and Jack Ma
[Images via The National, Wall Street Journal, The Guardian]
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