WUKONG China's 'most wanted'
millionaires By Wu Zhong, China
HONG KONG - As part of his campaign
to spearhead capitalist-style economic reforms,
China's late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping said
in the late 1970s, "Let some people get rich
first." He also famously noted, "Poverty is not
socialism. To be rich is glorious."
after nearly three decades, a small number of
Chinese have indeed become much richer than
According to research by the
Boston Consulting Group, China
250,000 US-dollar-millionaire (excluding the value
of primary residences) households in 2005, ranking
sixth in the world. These 250,000 households,
accounting for just 0.4% of China's total, yet
owned 70% of the nation's wealth.
According to Rupert Hoogewerf, the
Shanghai-based English chartered accountant who
originated the China Rich List in 2000 for Forbes
magazine, as of late 2004 there were 50,000
Chinese whose wealth was each worth US$10 million
or more. Of them, at least 200 were worth more
than $100 million each.
in China as Hu Run, left Forbes in 2002 but has
continued to publish his own list, The HuRun
Report. So now there are two lists of wealthy
Chinese published each year, the Forbes list and
the HuRun Report, though it is not uncommon for
them to disagree.
And surely, with China's
skyrocketing stock market during the past two
years, many other nouveau riche Chinese
have joined the millionaire army.
Deng's credo that "to be rich is glorious" now has
taken root in Chinese society, the richest
individuals have never won the full respect of the
general public, particularly among young adults.
According to a recent survey by the
state-owned China Youth Daily, some 66.75% of
3,990 people under 45 years of age said they
considered Chinese tycoons to have "very inferior"
or "relatively inferior" reputations or
characters. Only 3.95% said they thought the
millionaires had "very good" or "relatively good"
Then what does a rich guy
have to do to win their their respect? The
respondents said the perfect millionaire should
have a sense of social responsibility (87.79%) and
"a loving heart" (77.11%), and should earn his or
her wealth legally (73.99%).
showed that many believe Chinese millionaires lack
these virtues. Some 81.06% of the respondents said
they thought the tycoons lack a sense of social
responsibility, 68.01% of them said they believed
their wealth was made illegally, and 67.16% said
the big shots lack loving hearts (philanthropic
Does tradition have something
to do with their beliefs? In Confucian China,
people were classified into four groups:
(Confucian) scholars, peasants, craftsmen, and
merchants, with money-grubbing merchants on the
The answer is no. In the same
survey, the respondents voted for Hong Kong
developer Li Ka-shing, chairman of Cheong Kong
Holdings, who is tipped to be the world's richest
Chinese, as the most respected tycoon, followed by
Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft, who ranks as
the world's richest man. They admire their
legendary rise in the business kingdom and their
philanthropic deeds. In general, the respondents
say they respect overseas tycoons more than
mainland Chinese ones.
In fact, their
views mirror the Chinese general public's thoughts
about about their nouveau riche countrymen
Most questionable are the
dubious ways in which they made their dough.
"Unlike Li Ka-shing or other rags-to-riches
tycoons in Hong Kong, many Chinese tycoons made
their 'first bucket of gold' not through their
hard work, or even luck, but in some gray or
illegal ways," a sociologist in Beijing said.
In past years there have been fierce
discussions about the "original sin" of Chinese
tycoons. Quite a number of multimillionaires and
billionaires named in the Forbes or HuRun Report
lists since 2000 were later convicted of fraud,
financial irregularities, tax evasion, and/or
Such cases include
former Nande Group boss Mou Qizhong, actress
turned businesswoman Liu Xiaoqing, and the former
boss of Hong Kong-listed Euro-Asia Agricultural
and former chairman of the Shanghai Nongkai Group,
Zhou Zhengyi (alias Chau Ching-ngai), who used to
be called the richest tycoon in Shanghai.
Recently, another Forbes tycoon, Zhang
Rongkun, known as the "king of highways" in
Shanghai, was arrested on charges of offering
bribes to a number of Shanghai officials,
including the disgraced Shanghai party chief Chen
Last month, the former chairman
of Shenzhen-listed Jiaozuo Xin'an Science and
Technology, Xie Guosheng, was arrested on fraud
charges. He is the third Forbes tycoon from Henan
province to have be arrested so far this year. In
February, another Henan native, the former boss of
Luoyang Zhongtai Group, Li Yichao, was detained
for suspected tax evasion. In May, Sun Shuhua, the
former head of Hualin Group and reputed to be the
richest tycoon in Henan province, was put under
investigation for suspected fraud.
list goes on. And there are the corrupt
millionaires who never made the upscale lists but
who were presumably listed on court dockets. For
instance, Yuan Baojing, the former president of
the Jianhao Group and Beijing's richest
multimillionaire with an estimated wealth of more
than 100 billion yuan ($13 billion) was executed,
along with two accomplices, for the October 2003
murder of Wang Xing, a hitman he had hired to kill
a rival businessman in Sichuan. Wang failed his
task but later tried to blackmail Yuan.
Indeed, the infamy of many on both lists
has led the Chinese public to dub Forbes and HuRun
"most-wanted lists", and most Chinese
entrepreneurs now are loath to be spotlighted by
It is true that many Chinese
tycoons lack a sense of social responsibility.
"They should be held, at least partially,
responsible for the worsening pollution, for
rampant fake goods and drugs, for using children
and slave labor. In short, some of their
behaviors, as reported, are just disgustingly
immoral," the sociologist said.
It is also
true that many of the newly minted millionaires
lack charitable instincts, or "loving hearts".
"When there is a big disaster on the
mainland, Hong Kong tycoons and ordinary people
make relief donations," the sociologist said. "But
mainland tycoons seldom make charitable donations.
As the wealth gap keeps widening in the country,
there are reasons for people to feel angry about
their immoral greed and penny-pinching."
To be fair, not all the millionaires are
scoundrels. The survey also showed that 56.92% of
young respondents acknowledged that there are
respectable tycoons who have earned their wealth
legally and also have a sense of social
responsibility and charitable instincts. Examples
include the head of the Shenzhen-listed property
developer Vanke, Wang Shi, US National Basketball
Association star Yao Ming, and Niu Gengsheng, the
founder and chairman of Mengniu Group.
good news is that, as the survey suggests, the
Chinese people are aware of the problems, and it's
likely that some of them will someday become
tycoons themselves. One hopes they will maintain
their ideals on the road to becoming gloriously
rich, as well as afterward.