A Fifth of Worldwide Billionaires Come from China but Who Are They?


The world is witnessing a wave of entrepreneurship at a global level and as the number of billionaires grows year after year, a fifth of them come from China. But who are these emerging Chinese billionaires?


In 2017, the wealth of billionaires in the world has recorded an extraordinary growth reaching a record increase of 20%, equal to about $1,400 billion, a figure higher than Spain’s GDP. According to the annual “Billionaires Insight Report” published by the investment bank UBS in collaboration with the accounting giant PricewaterhouseCoopers, 199 new billionaires were born last year, bringing the number of people holding this status to 2,158.

A fifth of them come from China.

The 2018 edition of the report was titled “New visionaries and the Chinese Century” since the Dragon became the real driving force of the worldwide wealth’s growth.

According to the UBS & PwC analysis, the Asian country has carved out a leading role in the record growth of the number of billionaires in the world minting two new billionaires a week. Indeed, at the end of 2017, the number of Chinese billionaires has increased from 318 to 373 with an asset of $1,120 billion, a 39% rise on the previous year.


The “Billionaires Insight Report” revealed that “twelve years ago, the world’s most populous country was home to only 16 billionaires. Today, as the ‘Chinese Century’ progresses, they number 373 – nearly one in five of the global total.” 


It is common knowledge that in the last few years, China experienced massive economic growth resulting in the rise of a population with strong economic power and in the emergence of a new middle-class society. In this framework, Chinese billionaires have played and are still playing a key role in the country’s economic transformation.

Today, the Dragon is home to many of the largest companies in the world so that many people made their fortune at an unprecedented rate. Suffice it to say that in 2006 there were only 16 billionaires in China and eleven years later they already reached the number of 373. Moreover, in 2017 alone, 89 Chinese entrepreneurs became billionaires for the first time, three times more than in the United States.

Out of all the emerging cities in the PRC, it is Shenzhen the one that drives the most both the economic growth and the rise of new billionaires. In addition to the rise of rich Chinese people, there is the increasing number of the so-called “Unicorns”, Chinese startups with a valuation of over $1 billion. Between 2016 and 2018, China produced 50 Unicorns and it now boasts 97 of them, most of which are based in Shenzhen.


who are the chinese billionaires - ant financial - unicorn - cifnews

© Sina Corporation. The evaluation of China’s largest Unicorn, Ant Financial, has exceeded 1 trillion yuan ($155 billion).


Therefore, this success is strongly related to the fact that in the last decade, Chinese billionaires have created some of the largest and most successful companies in the world along with government’s investments within the Made in China 2025 plan.

Today the number of Chinese billionaires is experiencing growth twice as high as the United States and Europe whose assets respectively rose by 12% and 19%.

But who are these people? Who is the Chinese billionaire?


“Like billionaires elsewhere, China’s are ‘smart risk takers,’ but even more so. Relentlessly innovative, they are forever seizing new opportunities to make their companies fastgrowing, powerful and flexible,” says the 2018 Report.


97% of billionaires in China came from nothing and 17% of them launched a company less than ten years ago. Ready to risk and open-minded, they are younger than their peers elsewhere with an average age of 55 compared with an average of 64 globally. They are dynamic and used to transform their companies constantly developing new business models and moving rapidly between business sectors.

These entrepreneurs enriched themselves following different market trends such as low-cost labor, real estate opportunities as a result of urbanization, and the spread of internet and hi-tech. However, although many businessmen only had academic instruction, those at the head of hi-tech companies usually come from middle-class families and often have engineering or business degrees.

20% of Chinese billionaires excel in the real-estate sector, however, in a country where more than 800 million internet users have web access through their smartphones, e-commerce and fintech now represent the sectors with the largest room for growth.


who are the chinese billionaires - shenzhen - cifnews

© Unsplash. In less than 40 years, Shenzhen turned into the megalopolis of China’s South attracting worldwide entrepreneurs and becoming a hub for tech manufacturing, automation, and robotics.


Every year, the American business magazine Forbes gives a list of the world’s billionaires. Among the newcomers from China at the top of 2018 Forbes list, there are white wine giant Wu Shaoxun ($7 billion), Hengli Petrochemical Chairman Fan Hongwei ($4.1 billion) and Zhang Yiming ($4 billion), founder and CEO of Toutiao, China’s leading news aggregation app.

Ma Huateng is at the top of China’s lineup and ranks 17th in the global list with $45.3 billion assets. In 1998, the businessman, also known as Pony Ma, found the Chinese Internet giant Tencent Holdings, which now represents Asia’s most valuable company and one of the largest Internet and technology enterprises. Today, his company’s most popular social messaging app WeChat has more than 1 billion users.

Jack Ma, the Chinese counterpart of the richest person in the world (Jeff Bezos), “only” ranks second among Chinese billionaires. With assets of $39 billion, he is at the 20th place of the global ranking.

The founder of Alibaba perfectly embodies the identikit of Chinese entrepreneurs. Starting as an English teacher, he came from nowhere but was able to build one of the most successful companies in the world diversifying the business and thus giving the American e-commerce giant Amazon a hard time.


China’s billionaires are relatively younger than the global mean, with one-third aged under 50, compared to 14% globally.


At the third place of the Chinese list, ranking 24th in the global one, there is Xu Jiayin – Hui Ka Yan in Cantonese, a real estate developer worth $30.3 billion. Hui worked as a technician in a steel factory for 10 years after graduating from college in 1982 and founded the Evergrande Group picking up low price properties in small markets in 1996. Today, Evergrande has become China’s biggest property developer.

Nevertheless, there is also a woman standing in the first five positions of the Forbes billionaires list, Yang Huiyan, who is also one of the youngest billionaires in China. With $21.9 billion assets, the 37-year-old real estate developer ranks 43rd among global billionaires.

Yang Huiyan owns 57% of real estate developer Country Garden Holdings, largely transferred to her by her father in 2007. Unlike Jack Ma, she did not make her way on her own, however, she represents the emerging rich Chinese. Like many other young entrepreneurs in China, children of middle-class parents, Yang Huiyan graduated in the United States to come back home to foster the Fourth Industrial Revolution.


who are the chinese billionaires - china vs usa - cifnews

© 123rf. With the added advantage of a vast population of around 1.4 billion people, China is on track to become the global “billionaire hotspot” overtaking the US where there are currently 631 billionaires.


The Dragon is completely different from the country it was before the economic opening 40 years ago, and it is growing like no other country ever did. As a result, the Chinese Century is now on the rise and while the Made in China 2025 plan drives the economic boost, new generations of billionaire entrepreneurs are leading a brand-new Chinese revolution.

Today, 58% of new billionaires come from the Pacific area and it is estimated that Asian billionaires, whose number is bound to grow steadily, will surpass US billionaires within three years representing a challenge to the White House, which mainly concerns the field of innovation and technological entrepreneurship.

In 2017, China’s billionaires already reached the United States by volume of venture capital financing at startups recording four times more patents related to artificial intelligence and three times more patents related to blockchain and cryptocurrency compared to their counterparts in the Western hemisphere.

However, although urbanization and rapid productivity growth are helping young Chinese entrepreneurs build their fortune, the trade war with the United States could still undermine economic growth and wealth creation.

But even if the commercial tension may slow down the Chinese growth, the world is still witnessing an emerging wave of entrepreneurship at a global level driven by billionaires from the Dragon who are leading innovation and whose initiatives are going beyond the economy. And this wave of innovation could be the start of a long-lasting trend.


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