Xi Jinping’s crackdown on business has transformed the ranking of China’s wealthiest people. As indicated by the Hurun China Rich List 2021, many familiar names dropped several places, while at least nine tycoons have had their properties auctioned by the courts.
New names were seen in the top three of this year’s rich list, with Zhong Shanshan, the “Bottled Water King” and chairman of Nongfu Spring, topping the list with a net worth of $60.6 billion. New to second place was TikTok founder Zhang Yiming with $52.8 billion. The changes also saw Zeng Yuqun, the Battery King and chairman of Ningde Times, rise to third place with a net worth of $49.7 billion.
Last year’s top position was occupied by Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba. He now ranks fifth. Pony Ma, Chairman of Tencent Group, slid from second to fourth place, and Xu Jiayin, chairman of Evergrande Group, plummeted from fifth place to 70th this year.
China’s political and economic uncertainty both at home and abroad has taken a toll on the wealthy, but also the fate of many businesses. When speaking at the 2014 Alibaba Technology Forum, Jack Ma remarked, “Sometimes, it’s not technology that beats you, it might just be a [government] policy.”
Data supplied by China’s Hurun Research Institute confirms that the personal wealth of many of China’s tycoons has dropped significantly in 2021. Compared to 2020, Xu Jiayin has experienced a loss of $25 billion, Jack Ma lost about $23 billion, and Pony Ma lost $11 billion. In addition, Alibaba and Tencent are struggling due to fines and regulations imposed by the central government. Evergrande Group is also handicapped due to a debt crisis and lack of cash flow that came about from a change in debt ratio policies.
Meanwhile, in less than a month, the properties of nine Chinese tycoons have been auctioned off in court. Among them is Que Wenbin from Gansu province; two women, He Qiaonu and Zhou Xiaoguang, from the Zhejiang province; Xiao Yongming from Qinghai province; Liu Shaoxi, Cai Xiaoru and Jao Luhua from Guangdong province; Chen Jianming from Shanghai; and Zhong Yu from Jiangsu province. Eight of them were at one point listed on the “Hurun China Rich List.”
Que Wenbin, the former richest man in Gansu province and the chairman of medical services company Hengkang Group, saw his business jet auctioned away. He had been on China’s rich list for nine consecutive years and his personal wealth reached $2.9 billion in 2015. His Hengkang Medical Group had once been China’s top-performing private hospital stock. But due to its problematic expansion, the hospital operator caused the overall Hengkang Group to plunge into crisis. In 2020, it was issued a delist warning by the Shenzhen Stock Exchange.
He Qiaonu, the former richest woman in Zhejiang Province, founded Beijing Oriental Garden Art Company in 1993. In 2010, she ranked 81st on the rich list, with a net worth of $1.5 billion. This rose to $4.3 billion in 2017 but began to fall in 2018 due to bond issuance failures, lawsuits, and difficulties in obtaining finance.
Having witnessed the volatility experienced by many of China’s wealthiest year to year, many Chinese jokingly refer to the Hurun China Rich List as the “pig slaughtering list.”
In 2004, Huang Guangyu, founder of China’s appliance retailer Gome Group, was listed as the richest man in China. Four years later, he fell from the list when he was sentenced to 14 years in prison for his involvement in factional politics within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). He had not completed his entire sentence when he was released earlier this year in February.
Huang’s case also involved charges over financial crimes. The investigation led to the arrest of three top officials who were members of the Shanghai Gang, a political faction led by former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin.
Another former richest man in China and Asia, listed by Bloomberg in 2015 and Forbes in 2016, is Wang Jianlin, founder and former chairman of the Wanda Group. He thinks doing business should “stay close to the government and distant from politics.” He said, “it was too fake to stay distant from the government in China.”
Starting in 2012, Wang’s Wanda Group began making several large overseas investments. His mergers and acquisitions spanned multiple industries, including entertainment, film, broadcasting, hotel, and sports. But as the CCP’s policies began to put a stranglehold on business practices, both Wang Jianlin and the Wanda Group began their downward slide.
The slide began in 2017 when the CCP’s Banking Regulatory Commission launched full credit investigations into companies that had invested heavily overseas. Feeling the pressure, Wang began selling off his overseas assets and shifting his capital base back to China. By 2020, Wanda’s overseas assets were largely liquidated and Wang dropped to number 41 on the rich list with a net worth of $16 billion.