Fortunes of the Middle Kingdom’s wealthiest tycoons mostly fell over the past year as stocks declined and the Chinese government tightened its grip on tech companies.
After a record-setting 2021, Chinese billionaires on Forbes’ 36th annual World’s Billionaires list took a downturn. The number of mainlanders to make the 2022 list fell to 539, down from 626 a year ago, as Chinese stocks tumbled. But, even with the decline, the country is yet again second only to the U.S.—which has 735 billionaires–in number of billionaires. (China’s count does not include passport holders from Hong Kong and Macau, who Forbes lists separately.)
Due to a combination of fewer list members and weaker stock prices, Chinese billionaires’ aggregate wealth fell to $1.96 trillion this year, from $2.5 trillion on the 2021 list. Though 149 Chinese fell off the list since 2021, 60 newcomers joined, including Miranda Qu, one of three new self-made women from the country. This year China had more drop-offs and more newcomers than any other country.
Together, the top ten Chinese are worth $321.6 billion, down from $447 billion in 2021. Mainland Chinese billionaires now account for 15% of the total wealth of the world’s billionaire ranks, which totals 2,668 people worth a collective $12.7 trillion.
No. 1 among China listees for the second year in a row is bottled water and tea magnate Zhong Shanshan, the founder of Nongfu Spring. The elementary school dropout is worth an estimated $65.7 billion, down $3.2 billion from last year; he ranks as the 17th richest person in the world.
Zhong was among seven of the top 10 in China whose fortunes declined in the past year. Notable among the group were Internet-related businesses: Ma Huateng (also known as Pony Ma), CEO of China’s gaming and social media heavyweight Tencent, is the third richest Chinese citizen; his fortune fell by $28.6 billion, or 44%, from last year to $37.2 billion as shares lost nearly half their value.
Green energy was a bright spot for China, helped in part by the popularity of electric vehicles. Though Geely shares plummeted, the fortune of Li Shufu–China’s richest automotive entrepreneur and the chairman of Geely Automotive–rose by $4 billion, to an estimated $23.7 billion, in part due to Li (also known as Eric Li) striking a deal in September 2021 to take electric vehicle maker Polestar public by merging it with a blank check company (a SPAC) at a $20 billion valuation.The SPAC merger hasn’t occurred yet, so Forbes applied a discount to the value of Li’s estimated 43% stake in Polestar.
Here are the top 10 richest people in China; net worths are as of March 11, 2022.
NET WORTH: $65.7 BILLION
SOURCE OF WEALTH: BEVERAGES, PHARMACEUTICALS
Zhong chairs bottled water and tea drink producer Nongfu Spring. He holds on to the No. 1 richest in China spot he grabbed last year after the company’s September 2020 IPO in Hong Kong. Zhong also chairs Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy, a maker of Covid-19 tests.
NET WORTH: $50 BILLION
SOURCE OF WEALTH: INTERNET MEDIA
Zhang is the main founder of ByteDance, which operates the wildly popular short video social media app TikTok and ranks as one of the world’s most valuable unicorns. Zhang stepped down as chairman of ByteDance in November 2021 after resigning as CEO in May.
NET WORTH: $37.2 BILLION
SOURCE OF WEALTH: INTERNET MEDIA
Ma is CEO of web-media giant Tencent. The company’s Hong Kong-traded shares fell by nearly half in the past year amid slower growth and a shift in Communist Party rules toward Internet businesses. In March, Ma said China’s internet industry was “restructuring” and “shifting to a healthy mode.”
NET WORTH: $28.3 BILLION
SOURCE OF WEALTH: HOME APPLIANCES
Home appliance billionaire He Xiangjian is a cofounder of Shenzhen-listed Midea Group; he stepped down as chairman in 2012. His family also controls Midea Real Estate, whose business has been hurt by oversupply in the mainland property market. His fortune contracted by about 25% in the past year.
William Lei Ding
NET WORTH: $25.2 BILLION
SOURCE OF WEALTH: ONLINE GAMES
Ding is CEO of Nasdaq-listed NetEase, one of China’s largest online gaming businesses. The company raised $422 million in a Hong Kong IPO of its music app, Cloud Village, last December. His fortune fell from $33 billion on the 2021 list.
NET WORTH: $24.3 BILLION
SOURCE OF WEALTH: PACKAGE DELIVERY
Wang founded and chairs package delivery firm S.F. Holdings, known as the Fedex of China. His fortune declined 37% in the past year as lower profit and tough competition hurt its Shenzhen Stock Exchange-listed shares.
NET WORTH: $24.1 BILLION
SOURCE OF WEALTH: PIG BREEDING
Qin chairs Muyuan Food, one of China’s largest pig breeders. He started the business with his wife, fellow billionaire Qian Ying, with 22 pigs in 1992.
NET WORTH: $23.7 BILLION
SOURCE OF WEALTH: AUTOMOBILES
Li Shufu (also known as Eric Li), China’s richest entrepreneur in the auto industry, chairs Zhejiang Geely Holding, which holds direct and indirect stakes in automakers that include Volvo and electric vehicle maker Polestar.
NET WORTH: $22.8 BILLION
SOURCE OF WEALTH: E-COMMERCE
Once China’s richest person, the formerly outspoken Alibaba cofounder has gone quiet amid shifting government policies toward internet companies, overseas listings and wealth accumulation, as well as a 60% plunge in Alibaba’s share price during the past year.
NET WORTH: $20.3 BILLION
SOURCE OF WEALTH: BATTERIES
Huang is one of two vice chairmen at Contemporary Amperex Technology, one of the world’s largest suppliers of batteries to electric vehicle assemblers.