There were fewer millionaires and billionaires on the Hurun Report’s rich list for a second year in a row, but their average wealth increased as China’s shift towards the digital economy saw manufacturing and construction tycoons drop off the bottom.
There has been a “changing of the guard” among China’s wealthiest people over the years, said Rupert Hoogewerf, Hurun Report’s chairman, commenting on the list that was published Thursday.
“Tech entrepreneurs are replacing those from the traditional powerhouses of manufacturing and real estate,” Hoogewerf said. “Wealth is concentrating into the hands of those who are able to adapt to the digital economy,” he added.
Alibaba founder Jack Ma held onto his title of China’s richest man with a net worth of $39 billion, with Pony Ma of Tencent rising one spot to take second place with $37 billion.
Among the biggest movers for 2019 were Sun Piaoyang and Zhong Huijuan, who surged 15 spots to land in fifth place. The couple doubled their wealth to $25 billion after their company Hansoh, which makes drugs for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, went public in Hong Kong. Pharmaceutical moguls make up 8% of China’s rich list, double that of 10 years ago.
The growing number of Chinese entrepreneurs whose main source of wealth is tech or pharmaceuticals reflects the country’s changing economy. China has for years been trying to shed its status as the world’s factory, vying instead to become a place where high-tech talent and innovation can thrive.
The latest ultra rich list indicates that shift is starting to bear fruit.
Colin Huang Zheng, founder of e-commerce company Pinduoduo, became the first self-made entrepreneur born in the 1980s to enter the top 10. The 39-year-old’s wealth grew to $19 billion, earning him seventh spot on this year’s list.
From the same generation is Bytedance founder Zhang Yiming, 36. Bytedance is the company behind popular video and news aggregator apps like TikTok and Toutiao. Zhang just made it into the top 20 with a net worth of $13.5 billion.
And Ren Zhengfei, the founder of tech giant Huawei, managed to rise a few dozen spots on the list despite the fact that his company is under enormous pressure from a US campaign against it. Ren is worth $3 billion and is in the top 200.
Soaring pork prices
Some of China’s biggest food producers also had a great year, helped by soaring pork prices.
Qin Yinglin and Qian Ying of Muyuan, who own China’s second largest pork producer, tripled their wealth to $14 billion, cashing in on high pork prices due to an outbreak of swine flu. And Zhang Yong and Shu Ping, the couple behind popular hot pot chain Haidilao, doubled their wealth to $17 billion.
Traditional manufacturing and property development are still important sources of wealth in China, but there are fewer super rich people making their money in those sectors, and those who do are suffering declines in their net worth.
Property developer Xu Jiayin is the third richest man in China, but the Evergrande Group founder’s wealth has plummeted $13 billion from two years ago when he topped the list. He is now worth $30 billion.
Tech doesn’t always pay
Big bets in tech are risky, especially when they’re in super competitive industries like electric vehicles and smartphones.
Li Bin, founder of electric carmaker NIO, knows this all too well. His net worth more than halved, to $860 million. Shares in NIO have plummeted, down more than 74% for the year, as the company grapples with cost overruns and weak demand for its pricy vehicles.
Xiaomi founder Lei Jun saw his wealth drop by about a third, as his company suffers a slump in global smartphone sales. Lei is still worth $10.8 billion and is in the top 30.