Asia briefing: It pays for wealthy to keep a low profile

Champagne soirée: China’s newly-rich are often “cursed” if they make rich lists. photograph: kim kyung-hoon/reuters

Champagne soirée: China’s newly-rich are often “cursed” if they make rich lists. photograph: kim kyung-hoon/reuters


You can see why China’s army of newly-rich tycoons like to keep their profiles low. Zong Qinghou, China’s second-richest man, was injured in a knife attack near his home in Hangzhou last week, after a man approached him looking for a job, then slashed his hand with a knife when he refused.

Mr Zong, regular Asia Briefing readers will recall, is chairman of China’s largest food and beverage company, Hangzhou Wahaha Group. He is recovering in hospital after the attack in the eastern Chinese city last Friday 13th, Xinhua news agency reported. There were earlier reports that multiple attackers had been involved, but police denied this.

The suspect was identified as a 49-year-old migrant worker surnamed Yang from the neighbouring province of Jiangsu, who borrowed 30,000 yuan (€3,667) earlier this year and travelled to Hangzhou in search of work. He went to Mr Zong’s house after he saw a TV programme about his help for migrant workers.

Irish entrepreneurs

Mr Zong was China’s richest man, but fell to the second place in the rich list published by the Hurun analyst group this year with total wealth of about €14 billion. In July, Mr Zong received a delegation of entrepreneurs from the Irish Exporters Association and invited them to an internal exhibition where they could showcase Irish products to Wahaha’s key distributors.

The attack has revived mutterings about the “curse of Hurun”, referring to the problems faced by many of those who make the rich list, especially given the recent crackdown on corruption at high levels of society.

Among rich listers who have recently fallen foul of authorities are Xu Ming, a property tycoon who disappeared off the radar only to re-emerge during the trial of fallen Communist Party grandee Bo Xilai, and the Sichuan resources billionaire Liu Han, who disappeared in March. In 2010, a Chinese court sentenced the former wealthiest man, retail tycoon Huang Guangyu, to 14 years in prison on corruption charges.

Researchers have shown the proportion of those who are charged, investigated or arrested after appearing on the rich list stands at almost 17 per cent.

This week, the Hurun Report showed 32-year-old Yang Huiyan became China’s richest woman of 2013 with a fortune of 51 billion yuan (€6.23 billion), and the group’s research showed that more than half of the world’s richest self-made female entrepreneurs are from China.

Some commentators point out that many rich women in China are the public face of male wealth as fathers put their daughters or husbands put their wives forward as the public face of companies while they keep their profile low – perhaps mindful of the extra attention when you achieve recognition on the rich list.

Rich females

“Rich female entrepreneurs in China are no longer just a Chinese story. Instead, it is a global story as rich females in China are having increasing global recognition,” Rupert Hoogewerf, chairman and chief researcher of the Hurun Report, told local media. Ms Yang is the daughter of the founder of real estate developer Country Garden, and first made the list in 2007, when she took over her father’s holdings in the company.

Chen Lihua, chairwoman of Fu Wah International Group, ranked second with a fortune of 37 billion yuan (€4.5 billion), while last year’s richest woman, Wu Yajun, saw her fortune shrink after she divorced.

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