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10 Richest People in China (and How they Got There)

China is the fastest developing nation, growing at an average rate of 10% a year since 1978. In 2010, it passed Japan as the world's second largest economy and currently has a GDP of more than $7.2 trillion USD. The country even has the second most billionaires with 115. So who's at the top of the pyramid in this land of newfound wealth, and how did they get there? Here are China's ten richest people based on estimated net-worth value.

10) Zhang Jindong 张近东 (4.5 billion USD)
The Anhui native is the co-founder and president of Suning Group. In 1990, Zhang and his brother opened a small air conditioner shop in Nanjing. After making some cash, he broadened the product line with other domestic appliances and diversified his assets by entering China's booming real estate market in 1992. Two decades after its founding, Suning Appliance Group now has stores in over 300 Asian cities while his subsidiary Suning Real Estate Group is one of the top property developers in the nation with over 100 projects. He even has a hand in the car trading, luxury hotel and mining industries.

9) Yang Huiyan 杨惠妍 (4.7 billion USD)
One of two women on the list, Yang was born with a silver spoon in her mouth. Her father Yang Guoqiang founded Country Garden Real Estate in 1997 with a concentration in property management and hotel development. With the future in mind, he regularly brought his teenage daughter Huiyan to business meetings and sent her to study in the U.S. to prepare her to take over the family business. Before going public in 2007, Guoqiang handed Huiyan 70% of Country Garden. When shares increased 35% on its IPO debut (earning 1.66 billion USD), it added to Huiyan's fortune and made her one of the richest people in the country overnight. She is the youngest billionaire on the list at age 30.

 

8) Ma Huateng 马化腾(4.7 billion USD)
Ma is the founder of Tencent Inc., the makers of China's extremely popular instant messenger client, QQ . He started the instant messaging portal in 1998 but faced several sluggish years of minimal growth. Poor performance didn't discourage Ma, though. By investing heavily in R&D (in which more than 50% of Tencent's workforce is involved in) and adding new services like multi-player games, social networking, e-commerce portals and, more recently, mobile phone apps, QQ's earnings took off. Presently, Tencent QQ is host to one of the world's largest online communities with more than 721 million active users (behind Facebook's 845 million), and is one of the world's largest internet companies with a market cap of $38 billion USD (twice that of Yahoo's).

 

7) Wu Yajun 吴亚军 (5.7 billion USD)
Wu embarked on a 16 year career in journalism after college, but the company behind her newspaper was also in charge of Chongqing's municipal construction bureau; a factor that allowed her to build guanxi with high ranking officials in the sector. In 1995, she established Longfor Properties with 10 million RMB (the origins of this capital remain a mystery). By having a tremendous eye for detail and receiving exceptional marks for customer satisfaction, she created successful projects in ten other Chinese cities, thus turning Longfor into one of China's largest real-estate enterprises and Wu into a billionaire. Recently, Longfor's stock took a hit after a Moody's 2011 report "expressed concern" about the company's accounting and business model, causing Wu to step down from CEO to chairwoman.

 

6) Liu Yongxing 刘永行(5.8 billion USD)
With the equivalent of only $120 USD, Liu and his brothers began raising chickens and quails in Sichuan Province during the early 1980s. With the Chinese consumers' rising demand for meat, they saw an opportunity and capitalized on it by developing a brand of livestock chow. Their business Hope Group sold enough of it to become one of the largest producers of animal feed in the Middle Kingdom. In 1995, the four Liu brothers restructured the company into four separate units and Yongxing became the chairman of East Hope Group. Apart from selling animal feed in China and SE Asia, Yongxing's East Hope Group ventured into an array of other profitable businesses, including portfolio management and the production of cement, aluminum and plastics.

 

5) Hui Kayan 回卡宴 (5.8 billion USD)
Hui is the founder of Evergrande Real Estate Group. From 1997-1999, he implemented a policy based on "short development time, low price and fast construction and sales." This lightning strategy paid off while the competition laid low during the Asian Financial Crisis, enabling his corporation to quickly become one of the top realtors in all of Guangzhou. The firm continued with terrific growth throughout the 2000s by developing high-quality real estate projects outside of Guangdong, and is now China's leader in luxury property developments. At the time of writing, the company is rushing forward with 112 extensive projects in 62 cities across the Mainland. Apart from real estate, Hui started the Guangzhou based Evergrande Football Club and is a management professor at Wuhan University of Science and Technology.

 

4) He Xiangjian 何享健(6.2 billion USD)
Unlike most private Chinese companies, He's business Midea Group has been up and running for more than 40 years. In 1968, he raised 5,000 RMB from 23 local residents in the Guangdong town of Beijiao to start a bottle lid production company. During the early years of Reform and Openness, he used his hard earned cash to start a fan business. In the 1990s the entrepreneur continued forward using his profits to expand, manufacturing and selling refrigerators, AC s, heaters, microwaves, dishwashers, rice cookers, vacuum cleaners and other useful consumer goods to China's growing middle class. His earnings have been ascending ever since, making Midea the second largest household appliance manufacturer in the world. He is also a forerunner in China's green initiative and a philanthropist, donating $16 million USD to charity in 2010.

 

3) Zong Qinghou 宗庆后(6.5 billion USD)
Zong quit studying after secondary school and worked several menial jobs until he moved to Hangzhou in 1987 to sell milk in a school market. Realizing the potential profits to be made in the milk industry, he borrowed 140,000 RMB and began producing and selling his own milk drinks. In the 1990s, his company Wahaha blossomed and began making bottled waters, sodas, teas, health drinks, baby formulas and juices. But perhaps Wahaha's biggest success was the introduction of Future Cola. In 1998, Future Cola production topped 600,000 tons to become China's 3rd best selling soft drink behind Coca Cola and Pepsi. With decades of hard work, drive and the creativity to come up with new ideas, Zong turned Wahaha into the largest drink manufacturer in China with 70 subsidiaries and 40 manufacturing factories.

 

2) Liang Wengen 梁稳根(8.1 billion USD)
Liang is the founder and chairman of Sany Group. In 1986, he started a humble welding company in rural Hunan Province. After moving the group to Changsha, Liang created the subsidiary Sany Heavy Industry and began making heavy machinery for building projects. They entered the market right in the middle of China's construction boom and profited heavily from it, causing the company to grow at an astonishing rate of 50% a year since its founding. Now Sany is the world's sixth largest manufacturer of heavy equipment, one of China's most globally connected enterprises with operations in four continents and employs more than 70,000 workers at home and abroad. It's also the first Chinese company to enter the FT Global 500 and the Forbes Global 2000.

 

1) Robin Li李彦宏(10.2 billion USD)
The computer whiz kid is the co-founder of Baidu, China's largest search engine with nearly 70% of total market share and the third largest search engine on the web. Before creating the Internet giant, Li (the son of two factory workers) rose above his classmates due to his outstanding test scores. After graduating from the prestigious Peking University and receiving his masters in America in 1994, he got a U.S. patent for his Rankdex site-scoring algorithm and worked for Infoseek in Silicon Valley. In 2000, he returned to China with a vision and used his tech experience and Rankdex system to create Baidu. The website spiked as more Chinese began using the internet, but profits really soared when they added maps, news, image search, social networking, Baidu encyclopedia, Baidu TV, Baidu games and dozens of other popular programs.