All the Paper in China

  • September 6, 2010
  • Editor: Frank Zhao
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A list of the richest people in China has revealed the world's wealthiest woman: Cheung Yan, a 49-year-old scrap paper queen who has more money than Oprah Winfrey, JK Rowling and the actual Queen.

Ms Cheung (right), who is worth $3.4 billion (£1.8 billion), came top of the Hurun Report Rich List by virtue of her recycling business, Nine Dragons Paper, which exports masses of paper waste from America and turns it into retail quality cardboard in some of the world's largest paper mills in southern China.

She leapt from number 36 in the list of 500 last year on the back of a successful float on the Hong Kong stock exchange in March. Her 72 per cent stake in Nine Dragons was enough to carry her past Huang Guangyu, the 36-year-old founder of the electronics retailer, Gome, who is China's most famous market-stall-to-billionaire success story.

Ms Cheung is one of 35 women in the Hurun Report's 500 — a rival to the Forbes list and compiled by Forbes's original China researcher, a Shanghai-based accountant called Rupert Hoogewerf.

Her presence led Mr Hoogewerf to point out that "China's women are becoming more visible in business", an observation that had us wondering what to make of No. 82 on the list "Liu Hanyuan & wife", the bosses of the Tongwei Group, a fish food empire. (That said, Ms Cheung's husband, Liu Ming-chung, who serves as a her deputy chairman and chief executive, doesn't get much of a look-in either).

With the heavy emphasis placed on China's manufacturing industries and worrying appetites for cars, oil and all things polluting, it is reassuring to see Ms Cheung at the head of a handful of environmentally-friendly entrepreneurs: Shi Zhengrong of Suntech (solar energy, number 5), Guo Hao & family (organic farming, 56) and Yu Jianqiu (bio-diesel maker, 92).

That said, don't be misinformed, among the dozens of real estate tycoons who dominate the list, there are plenty of businesses more interested in building and burning things than anything else: take Li Xinyan, in at 39 with his Longgong Group of "heavy earthmoving vehicles", and Wu Ruilin (40) "terminal electrical production" and Jia Tingliang & Wang Suolan of "Shanxi Datuhe Coke & Chemicals" (48).

To qualify for the list, China's richest needed $100 million -- up sharply from just eight years ago, when $6 million was enough to join the top table. "The rich in China are getting rich and fast," said Mr Hoogewerf. Quite right. Although there's some way to go before things get American, where for the first time this year, you needed a cool $1 billion to get on the Forbes radar.

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