Billionaires were probably not part of the plan for the founders of the Chinese Communist party. Nevertheless, extraordinary economic growth has meant that more than 1,000 of its citizens had fortunes worth more than $1bn this year, according to one measure – the first time any country has achieved that mark.
Under Xi Jinping, China’s patience with the ultra-wealthy has now run out, with the president pursuing a “common prosperity” agenda to tackle inequality – humbling some of the world’s richest people and triggering them into a flood of donations.
Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma once taught English as his job but, after amassing his internet tech fortune, he became fond of pontificating on the billionaire Davos circuit. However, in November China’s regulators blocked the stock market listing of Ant Group, a financial firm spun off from retail and technology parent Alibaba. Ma briefly disappeared from view after the blow.
Former Google engineer Colin Huang only founded Pinduoduo in 2015, but the rapid growth of the online retail platform has led it to rival Alibaba. Innovations such as melding social media with e-commerce have excited investors – but have also put its earnings in the spotlight. Huang stood back as chairman in March and last month Pinduoduo said it would give profits worth up to $1.5bn (£1.1bn) to agricultural development causes. Pinduoduo is listed on New York’s Nasdaq exchange with a $125bn valuation, meaning Huang’s fortune stands at $42bn.
Lei Jun’s Xiaomi is aiming for Samsung’s crown as the world’s largest smartphone manufacturer after recently overtaking Apple. He has expanded the company’s consumer electronics offering to electric scooters and even air fryers, and he has ambitions to build an electric car. In July he donated shares worth 17.4bn Hong Kong dollars (£1.6bn) to his personal and corporate foundations.
Chen Dongsheng has impeccable Communist party connections: his wife is the granddaughter of Mao Zedong, the dictator for almost 30 years up to 1976. Chen, founder and chairman of Taikang Life Insurance, one of China’s largest insurers, has interests in the art world including a former stake in the Sotheby’s auction house. Taikang gave 1bn yuan (£113m) to Wuhan University in August.
TikTok has taken the world by storm since Zhang Yiming founded it in 2012. However, he shocked investors in May when he resigned as chief executive as the social media company prepares for an initial public offering. He gave 500m yuan to an education charity named after his grandmother in his home province of Fujian.