Nongfu Spring (HK:9633) bottled-water tycoon Zhong Shanshan tops the ranking for the first time, with a net worth of US$60.5 billion. That's despite shares in Nongfu Spring, the mineral water with "prestige" frosted-glass illustrated bottles that are popular at political and corporate meetings, falling 40.5% since a peak on Jan. 8. Parent Yangshengtang or YST, which also owns a drug company, listed Nongfu Spring in Hong Kong in September 2020, an IPO that I covered at the time saying "do not buy this stock." I still stand by that advice.
TikTok co-founder Zhang Yiming tripled his worth over the course of the last year to land in second place, with a fortune of US$52.8 billion. Zhang said in May that he would step down as CEO of TikTok's parent company, ByteDance, at the age of 38, conceding he doesn't like managing people and would prefer to focus on strategy.
Still, Zhang is a likely No. 1 in the future, Hurun says, particularly if ByteDance sells shares to the public. It has been exploring options for a listing in Hong Kong, perhaps next year for Chinese-language TikTok version Douyin, with its interest dimming in selling shares either in Shanghai or New York.
The woes of the real-estate industry are also reflected starkly in the rankings. There are, for the first time, no mainland property magnates among the 10-richest Chinese people. Hong Kong's richest person, Li Ka-shing, is in eighth place at US$33.4 billion, a fortune from the conglomerate Cheung Kong based partly on real estate and partly on infrastructure such as ports and telecoms.
China Evergrande Group (EGRNY) (HK:3333) founder Hui Ka-yan, known as Xu Jiayin in Mandarin Chinese, saw his fortunes fall by the largest dollar amount, his tally shrinking to the tune of US$25 billion. Once the richest person in Asia, he now has a net worth of US$11.3 billion, causing a plunge from fifth place to 70 in the ranking.
Jack Ma was next among the "biggest losers," his total down US$23 billion. The decline in the share price of Alibaba hurt, the company's 46.4% one-year fall helping to halve his fortune to US$22.6 billion. That put him in fifth place, after he topped the previous three rankings.
Pony Ma, the founder of Tencent Holdings (TCTZF) (HK:0700), fell from second place to fourth, even though Tencent remains China's largest company by market capitalization. Ma -- no relation to Jack Ma -- saw his fortune drop 19% to US$49.2 billion, mimicking the 19.0% one-year fall in Tencent shares. Tencent, which operates the omnipresent superapp WeChat and makes and distributes videogames including best-sellers Honor of Kings and League of Legends, is subject to China's crackdown on Big Tech. What's more, China has limited the amount of time minors can spend playing videogames to three weekend hours.
Education entrepreneurs saw their fortunes devastated by moves from the Chinese Communist Party to essentially outlaw for-profit tutoring. Lu Zhongfang, an early investor in the test-prep training company Offcn Education Technology (SZ:002607), saw her fortunes fall US$14.3 billion when combined with her son, Li Yongxin, who is now chairman at Offcn.
Zhang Bangxin, chairman of the New York-listed after-school tutoring company TAL Education Group (TAL) , saw his wealth shrink US$14.0 billion to US$890 million. The company's stock has fallen 93.6% this year as it bore the brunt of the tutoring ban, intended to level the competitive playing field for tiger moms and dads.
The surging relevance of new-energy generators and alternative-power vehicles shot their founders up the rankings.
The third-richest person in China is Zeng Yuqun, a US$49.7 billion fortune from the lithium-ion battery maker CATL, or Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Ltd. (SZ:300750).
Electric-vehicle makers at Great Wall Motor (GWLLY) (HK:2333) (Wei Jianjun and Han Xuejuan) and BYD (BYDDY) (HK:1211) (Wang Chuanfu) also made some of the largest gains, alongside solar entrepreneur Liu Hanyuan and Hoshine Silicon (SH:603260) miner Luo Liguo.
Hurun compiles a series of such rankings, also tallying billionaires globally and in India. It was founded in 1999 by the former Arthur Andersen accountant Rupert Hoogewerf, whose Chinese name is Hu Run.
The China Rich List includes anyone worth more than C¥2 billion (US$313 million). The ranks of the rich swelled 22% in China over the course of the last year, to 2,918 people. That is three times the number of a decade ago.
China has added one U.S.-dollar billionaire per day over the course of the last 12 months. That brings the billionaire ranks to 1,185, up five times in a decade, Hurun points out.
China until recently celebrated its entrepreneurs and tycoons, seen as carving out the Chinese dream. But with Chinese President Xi Jinping recently championing "common prosperity" and suggesting the need to redistribute wealth, its billionaires are now keeping a low profile.
Jack Ma has still created the greatest wealth for other people, Hurun calculates, at US$528 billion. Pony May is second there, at US$500 billion, with Zhang Yiming at ByteDance third, at US$298 billion. There are 26 people connected to Alibaba on the Hurun China list, outstripping any other company. Only industrial-machinery maker Haitian comes close, having cloned 24 people on the list.
High-profile philanthropic and social donations are now the order of the day at the largest private-sector Chinese companies. Hoogewerf notes that a "small percentage" of China's wealthiest go to "extraordinary lengths" to hide their wealth. Hurun may be missing as many as 4,000 rich Chinese people who are very low-key, he says.