China’s Harsh Covid Curbs and an Economic Slump Have Erased Hundreds of Billionaires

The number of Chinese billionaires fell below 1,000 in 2022 after fortunes sank amid an economic slump worsened by zero-Covid restrictions.

Alibaba founder Jack Ma
Alibaba founder Jack Ma. VCG/VCG via Getty Images

A year of harsh Covid restrictions, a domestic real estate crisis, and a global stock market slump have badly hurt China’s super rich, erasing more than half a trillion dollar in their collective wealth and relegating hundreds from billionaire status, according to the 2022 Hurun Rich List published this week.

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Hurun Rich List is an annual ranking of the wealthiest individuals in greater China, including Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. As of Sept. 15, there were only 946 people with a net worth of more than $1 billion in China, down 20 percent from last year’s 1,185, according to the list.

Those on the very top were impacted the most. The number of individuals worth more than $10 billion dropped to 56, down from last year’s 85.

The Hurun list ranks every Chinese person or family with a fortune greater than 5 billion yuan, or $690 million. It counted only 1,305 such people this year, 160 fewer than 12 months ago. Those remaining on the list saw their wealth fall by about $770 million, or 18 percent, from a year ago.

The decline in both the number of billionaires and the amount of wealth is the largest on record since Hurun began counting China’s super rich 24 years ago, noted Rupert Hoogewerf, chairman of Hurun Report, the publisher of the Hurun Rich List. Hoogewerf is a British accountant who has researched China’s private-sector economy since the late 1990s. The Hurun Report is branded after his Chinese name, Hu Run.

The Ukraine War and zero-Covid policies helped destroy wealth

Factors leading to the historic wealth decline include “a global economy downturn, led by the fallout from the Russia-Ukraine war, a sharp drop in tech prices and the generally slow post-Covid economic recovery,” Hoogewerf said. He added that, to the Chinese economy specifically, “the continued disruptions” from “localized Covid outbreaks” also played a role, referring to China’s zero-Covid policy that has caused frequent regional lockdowns this year.

The richest person in China this year is Zhong Shanshan, the owner of both Chinese bottled water maker Nongfu Spring and Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy Enterprise, a vaccine developer, with a net worth of $65 billion. Zhong, 68, saw his fortune grow 17 percent in the year ended September. Zhong is the 16th richest person in the world, according to Bloomberg Billionaire Index.

The second place on the Hurun list is Zhang Yiming, the founder of TikTok’s parent company ByteDance, with a net worth of $35 billion. Zhang’s wealth fell 28 percent in 2022 due to a sharp drop in ByteDance’s private valuation.

Several of China’s top real estate tycoons saw their fortune slide amid a domestic housing market crash. Yang Huiyan, the co-chairman of Country Garden Holdings, one of China’s largest property developers, saw her wealth shrink by $15.7 billion, the biggest drop on this year’s Hurun list.

Xu Jiayin, chairman of Evergrande Group, the Chinese property developer that defaulted on billions of dollars in debt earlier this year, was the richest person in China five years ago with a net worth of $43 billion. He saw his wealth crash 60 percent this year to just $4 billion.

“The number of entrepreneurs who made their fortunes from real estate continues to drop,” from making up half of Hurun Rich List 20 years ago to just 10 percent this year, said Hoogewerf.

China’s top two internet billionaires, Alibaba’s Jack Ma and Tencent’s Pony Ma, both saw their net worth dwindle about 30 percent as their companies’ share prices fell sharply. Pony Ma and Jack Ma are currently China’s fifth richest and ninth richest persons, respectively.

China’s Harsh Covid Curbs and an Economic Slump Have Erased Hundreds of Billionaires