Asia Time Online - Daily News
Asia Times Chinese
AT Chinese

    China Business
     Sep 19, 2007
China's 'most wanted' millionaires
By Wu Zhong, China Editor

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."

And after nearly three decades, a small number of Chinese have indeed become much richer than others.

According to research by the Boston Consulting Group, China

had 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.

Hoogewerf, known 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.

Although 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" reputations.

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%).

The survey 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 instincts).

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 bottom rung.

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 (and women).

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 bribing officials.

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 Liangyu.

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.

The 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 either.

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.

The 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.

(Copyright 2007 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

China: More rights for millionaires (Mar 22, '07)

1.  A rate cut with a shoeshine and a smile

2. Either way, it could be an unkind cut

3. It's easy for the Jews to talk about life  

Withdrawal is the solution to the mess 

5. The cowboy learns some finesse

6. Mr Bush, your sheikh is dead  

7. Muqtada strikes another political blow 

8. Petraeus out of step with US top brass

(24 hours to 11:59 pm ET, Sep 17, 2007)


All material on this website is copyright and may not be republished in any form without written permission.
Copyright 1999 - 2007 Asia Times Online (Holdings), Ltd.
Head Office: Unit B, 16/F, Li Dong Building, No. 9 Li Yuen Street East, Central, Hong Kong
Thailand Bureau: 11/13 Petchkasem Road, Hua Hin, Prachuab Kirikhan, Thailand 77110