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China's Rich Getting Richer


Forbes Magazine says China's wealthiest citizens are getting richer. The magazine's most recent list shows the combined wealth of China's top 400 entrepreneurs has grown 51 per cent, up sharply from $26 billion [US] last year to $38 billion this year.

Wong Kwong Yu used to sell transistor radios in local markets. But that was 20 years ago. After selling appliances to a rapidly growing middle class, China's first billionaire has doubled his wealth again. Today, the 37-year-old entrepreneur is the richest man in China, with a net worth of $2.3 billion.

Although that's only 1/25th the fortune of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, experts say these days, Chinese wealth is not measured in the size of the bank account but in the speed in which it grows.

Ted Fishman, the author of China Inc., says in one generation, communes have been replaced by mega shopping malls and Chinese cities are awash in new money. "There is a property boom that may be unprecedented in the history of the world."

And in another sign of the changing times, China's fifth richest person is a woman. Yan Cheung, the founder of Nine Dragon Papers Company, says she had $4,000 in 1985.

"There were three choices for me,” she recalls. “Coming back to Shenzhen, accepting a job offer with half a million (Hong Kong dollar) salary, or creating my own business. It was an important time. I watched how people sell bean curd or pickled cabbage. I paid attention to small things. A person's success starts with a small step."

Yan Cheung's first step was to buy recycled paper from the United States to make Chinese packaging products. Her fortune quadrupled this year after she listed her company on the Hong Kong stock exchange. Today she's worth $1.5 billion US. The 49-year-old businesswoman joins the growing list of Chinese billionaires, which magazine publisher Steve Forbes says has grown from two to 15.

"Why is the list growing? The answer is an obvious one, the global economy is growing,” says Forbes. “In the last two years, the global economy has grown at growth rates not seen since the end of the Second World War."

Forbes estimates there are 85 million private businesses in China. It is an impressive figure when you consider that 20 years ago, there were none. Economists forecast more businesses and more billionaires in China if the economy and retail spending continues at its current double digit pace.