/ 10 March 2011

Chinese gaze in awe at rise in country’s billionaires

China may be struggling with growing income disparities, yet when it comes to making a fortune, many Chinese still believe that to get rich is glorious, especially if you are an entrepreneur.

Thanks to its booming economy — now the world’s second largest — China has nearly doubled its number of billionaires to 115, according to the Forbes annual list of the world’s richest people.

“I think it’s a good thing. It shows that China is getting richer and there will be fewer poor people,” said Wang Fu (23) a delivery boy working in China’s commercial capital Shanghai.

The topic has already become one of the most talked-about subjects on Sina’s Weibo, China’s Twitter-like micro-blogging service, with many praising the rise of the new wealthy.

“More power to the Chinese for their rapid climb up the ranks of the rich list,” wrote Hebei Jade Dragon.

Robin Li, the man behind the popular search engine Baidu, is listed with an estimated wealth of $9,4-billion, topping the list in China, generating much acclaim from the country’s enthusiastic internet users.

“He’s handsome, rich and young. Wow,” wrote Rainy Pavilion.

“I’m currently at high school, and I really want to be like you! I idolise you, and I’m sure that one day not too far in the future I will surpass you,” wrote one anonymous poster on Chinese web portal sina.com.

Still, the country has a complex relationship with magnates. Once vilified as evil capitalist exploiters, the ruling Communist Party now goes out of its way to lavish attention on them and bring them in to the political system.

High profile cases in recent years of the very rich being jailed for corruption or other offences have dragged many names and reputations into the mud.

Disdain for poorer Chinese
Widely publicised cases of rich Chinese treating their poorer countryfolk with disdain has also generated heated debate. Traffic accidents between luxurious cars and farmers have made headlines.

But what is generally not talked about in Communist Party-ruled China is the wealth of those connected with the senior leadership, a taboo subject.

“What about the wealth of the Standing Committee?” wrote one user on the online bulletin board of Beijing’s elite Tsinghua University, referring to China’s ruling inner circle. “Are their relatives being rated too?”

In Taiwan, which China has long claimed as a renegade provinde, the Forbes list showed an increase in the number of bllionaires to 25 from 18, largely thanks to political rapprochement with Beijing in recent years.

Most on the list remained the old families that control Taiwan’s top firms, but the global smartphone craze resulted in a new richest person, HTC 2498.TV. Chairperson Cher Wang and her husband, who run the components maker turned smartphone company.

She topped iPhone maker Hon Hai’s founder Terry Gou from the top spot. One newcomer to the list can thank Apple for his 883rd world placing — Michael Chiang, chairperson of TPK Holdings, which makes touch screens for Apple’s most popular devices.

On the mainland, some rich Chinese are deeply involved in charity, but others wondered about philanthropic contributions, which have yet to reach the scale of Western billionaires.

China’s 50 most generous individuals donated $1,2-billion in 2009, according to the 2010 Hurun Philanthropy List.

“Those who are rich but uncharitable, that’s what I’m most interested in,” wrote Wang Hong CN on renren.com, a Chinese version of Facebook.

Yet the real number of billionaires could be a lot higher, due to the reticence of some Chinese to reveal the true extent of their wealth, fearful of attracting unwanted government attention, or wanting to hide their links with government.

“This has ignored the full strength of China,” wrote a Weibo user called Lixin629 of the Forbes report.

“China has many more rich people who have not announced their assets. If the ‘two sessions’ [parliament] allow government officials and state-owned enterprises to announce their total assets, the results will be different.” — Reuters