China’s ultra-rich continue to multiply rapidly, with the number of dollar billionaires on the latest rich list doubling in just two years.
The Hurun rich list, which has been tracking China’s tycoons since 1999, on Wednesday said it had counted 271 dollar billionaires in China last year, up from 130 in 2009.
China now has the second most billionaires in the world, after the United States with more than 400.
“The numbers are growing much faster than people expected,” said Rupert Hoogewerf, the founder of the list, who added there could be the same number of billionaires again who are off his radar, keeping their assets as quiet as possible.
“In the past few weeks, I have also been speaking to a number of people who have cashed out of their first empires and are busy building their second,” he said. “Many billionaires are also much more comfortable in their skins. The shareholder structures of their companies are becoming clearer and clearer and many of them are also co-opted into the political system.” Mr Hoogewerf said part of the reason for the huge increase in the numbers of super-rich had been a wave of stock market flotations, despite the financial crisis.
Meanwhile, Huang Weiping, an economist at Renmin university in Beijing said the proliferation of billionaires was “no surprise”. He said: “This phenomenon is occurring all over the world. And as China becomes more advanced, and improves its industries, it is only natural that a large share of the wealth will end up with the people at the top of the value chain.” Mr Huang said rich Chinese were always criticised. “If they are government officials, people accuse them of corruption. If they are businessmen, people accuse them of tax evasion. But there is little concrete proof that rich Chinese accumulate their wealth in a manner different from rich people elsewhere.”
This year’s Hurun rich list is headed by Liang Wengen, a 55-year-old construction equipment magnate worth around $11 billion (£6.88 billion). He leapfrogged Zong Qinghou, 66, the head of drinks company Wahaha.
However, the volatile fortunes of China’s rich were played out in the list, with Li Li, a pharmaceutical tycoon, dropping from second spot after the share price of his company halved in a year. Wang Chuanfu, the 45-year-old head of BYD, a car company in which Warren Buffett has a stake, also saw his wealth drop by a third.
By Malcolm Moore, Shanghai