Water tycoon is China's richest as wealth crackdown batters Jack Ma
27th October 2021

Jack Ma falls from China’s richest man to fifth after Beijing campaign to rein in the super-rich saw him lose $20BILLION – a third of his wealth

  • Jack Ma now ranks fifth on China’s rich list, having been toppled from first place 
  • His fortune shrank by some $20billion after state crackdown on his businesses
  • Came after Ma criticised China’s financial regulators in now-infamous speech 
  • Zhong Shanshan, a bottled water tycoon, now tops the list with $60bn hoard 

Jack Ma has slipped to fifth on the list of China’s wealthiest after $20billion was wiped off his fortune amid a government crackdown on his business empire.

The Alibaba founder, who was targeted after he dared criticise China’s financial regulators, is now worth an estimated $39.6billion.

Zhong Shanshan, a journalist-turned-bottled water tycoon, is now top with a fortune estimated at $60.5 billion, according to the newly-published Hurun Rich List. 

Ma has been keeping a low profile in recent months, but recently made his first trip abroad since the scandal erupted – holidaying in Spain and the Netherlands. 

Jack Ma now ranks fifth on a list of China’s richest people after seeing his fortune drop by $20billion in the last 12 months (pictured on holiday last week in Mallorca)

Ma was targeted after he gave a speech criticising regulators, but crackdown now appears to be easing as he takes first vacation since scandal broke (pictured, his yacht in Mallorca)

The billionaire was pictured departing his yacht off the coast of Mallorca and taking a low-key walk through the streets of Santa Ponsa last week.

He was then seen touring greenhouses in the Netherlands, with the South China Morning Post – which he owns – saying he was there to research ‘agriculture technology’ as part of a ‘personal visit’.

Alibaba shares rose 9 per cent off the back of the news, along with reports that the company will produce a new kind of computer chip, though is still a far-cry away from where it was before the crisis began. 

Ma has been beset by legal and financial woes ever since he spoke out against China’s financial regulators in a speech in October 2020.

It came ahead of the stock market launch of Ant Pay, Ma’s financial technology firm that was set to shift power away from traditional banks.

Ant Pay was due to hit the market with a value of $37billion, the largest ever initial public offering which would have cemented Ma’s position as China’s richest man.

But, in the wake of the speech, the sale was suspended amid news that China’s regulators were looking into the business, while Ma vanished for three months in an absence that has never been officially explained.

Ma did finally reappear, in January the following year, only to see his Alibaba web store hit with a $2.8billion fine for anti-competitive practices.

Ant Pay was subsequently forced to restructure its business model to act more like a traditional bank, wiping out a huge portion of its value.

Bloomberg now estimates the value of Alibaba Group Holding – an umbrella company that includes all of Ma’s businesses – has dropped $344billion in the last 12 months, in the biggest stock market plunge on record. 

By contrast, China’s new richest man Zhong keeps a very low profile with almost nothing known about his private life.

A school dropout who worked for a time as a construction worker, he went into journalism in 1983 where he covered agriculture for the Zhejiang Daily.

After a five-year stint at the paper, he began trying out various business ventures including founding his own newspaper, growing mushrooms and selling curtains. 

He founded Yangshengtang, a health company, in 1993 and then beverage brand Nongfu Spring in 1996.

Yangshengtang later transformed into pharmaceutical firm Beijing Wantai, and Zhong’s wealth is largely based on controlling stakes in Wantai and his water brand.

Wantai, which developed a Covid test that was granted emergency approval in the US and is developing a vaccine, went public in April last year.

That was followed by the $1billion stock market debut of Nongfu in September, which brought Zhong to the world’s attention.

Both companies have increased substantially in value since, and Zhong’s fortunes have swelled along with them. 

Pony Ma, the owner of gaming firm Tencent, dropped from second on the list to fourth after his company was also hit by a state crackdown

Pony Ma, boss of gaming giant and WeChat owner Tencent, dropped two spots to fourth as Chinese restrictions on video gaming reduced his fortune by 19 per cent.

Second place was taken by TikTok founder Zhang Yiming.

The Hurun Research Institute, which compiles the list, said that for the first time the real estate sector had no names in the Top 10.

The sector’s biggest loser was Xu Jiayin, founder of deeply troubled property giant Evergrande Group.

Xu had topped the list in 2017 and was fifth last year. But he has fallen to 70th with a nearly 70 percent reduction in his wealth to $11.3 billion, according to Hurun.

A liquidity crunch at Evergrande has hammered investor sentiment and rattled the country’s crucial real estate market, while fanning fears of a possible contagion in the wider economy.

Chinese authorities have told Xu to use his dwindling personal wealth to alleviate the embattled company’s debt crisis, according to media reports this week.

However, the overall number of individuals in China worth at least two billion yuan ($310 million) grew by 520 to a total of 2,918, Hurun said.

Growth in the electric vehicle market, in particular, fuelled the rising fortunes of several entrepreneurs, according to the list.

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