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China’s billionaires see fortunes fall amid Covid-19 curbs and slowing economic growth

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The wealth of China’s billionaires this year dropped by the largest amount in more than two decades, according to an annual ranking, as zero-Covid curbs and a property market crisis stall the world’s second-largest economy.

The Hurun China Rich List, released Tuesday, said the total wealth of all individuals with a minimum net worth of 5 billion yuan (US$691 million) dropped by 18 percent to US$3.5 trillion.

Alibaba’s co-founder Jack Ma (right) looks at Tencent Holdings’ CEO Pony Ma during a celebration meeting marking the 40th anniversary of China’s “reform and opening up” policy at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on December 18, 2018. Photo: Wang Zhao/AFP.

Only 1,305 people made it onto the list — an 11 percent net decrease compared with last year, and the biggest drop in 24 years. 

The fortunes of China’s ultra-rich have been battered by Beijing’s harsh zero-Covid policy, which has heavily disrupted production and supply chains.

They have also taken a hit from stock market routs during a two-year crackdown on the tech industry, and suffered from geopolitical volatility caused by events such as the war in Ukraine.

The property and healthcare sectors were hit especially hard, according to the list.

Property developer Yang Huiyan of Country Garden Holdings lost the most personal wealth at US$15.7 billion this year, while Pony Ma, founder of tech and gaming giant Tencent, lost US$14.6 billion after a sweeping crackdown on the gaming industry last year.

Chinese billionaire Zhong Shanshan. Photo: Wikicommons.

China’s three richest people stayed the same as last year, with Zhong Shanshan, founder of bottled water company Nongfu Spring, increasing his wealth by 17 percent to US$65 billion.

Zhang Yiming, the founder of TikTok parent ByteDance, retained second place but saw his wealth drop by 28 percent to US$35 billion after the company’s valuation dropped.

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Alibaba founder Jack Ma fell from fifth to ninth place after losing 29 percent of his wealth to US$25.7 billion, while Pony Ma slipped from fourth place to fifth.

Nearly 300 individuals listed last year were absent from this year’s list, most from the property industry, which has faced a spiralling debt crisis after the government imposed borrowing curbs in 2020. 

The chairman of property giant Evergrande, Xu Jiayin, fell out of the 100 richest to 172nd place as his company sagged under over US$300 billion of debt.

The International Monetary Fund has predicted that China’s annual GDP growth will only reach 3.2 percent this year.

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