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China's super-rich bounce back from crisis

China's super-rich have bounced back from the financial crisis with a vengeance, and China now has more known dollar billionaires than any other country bar the United States.
/ Source: Reuters

China's super-rich have bounced back from the financial crisis with a vengeance, and China now has more known dollar billionaires than any other country bar the United States, according to a new report released on Tuesday.

The annual Hurun Report said China has 130 known dollar billionaires, up from 101 last year. The number in the United States is 359 while Russia has 32 and India 24, according to Forbes magazine.

China's rich are getting richer, with the average wealth on the list $571 million, up almost one-third from last year, said compiler Rupert Hoogewerf.

"With the greatest wealth destruction in the west of the last 70 years, we've seen China buck the trend and the wealth seems to be still growing," Hoogewerf told Reuters on the sidelines of an event to unveil the 2009 rich list.

"They've put the credit crunch behind them," he said. "The key driver has been urbanization. You've got all these cities being built, and that requires property developers, iron and steel manufacturers. The latest thing is cars."

Topping the list was Wang Chuanfu, chairman of electric car and battery maker BYD Co. Ltd. in which U.S. billionaire Warren Buffett holds a stake, with an estimated personal wealth of $5.1 billion. He was also the fastest riser from last year, up 102 places.

Second place went to Zhang Yin and family, owner of paper recycler Nine Dragons Paper, while in third place was Xu Rongmao and family, owner of Shimao Property Holdings Ltd.

Huang Guangyu, who founded GOME Electrical Appliances Holdings Ltd and owns unlisted property businesses, sank to 17th place from the top position he held last year. He is currently being probed for alleged financial irregularities.

Hoogewerf said the actual number of dollar billionaires could be higher than estimated.

"Either they are super-discreet, or perhaps they haven't come to the surface," he said. "Having said that, the transparency of wealth ... is now very much in the open. There's many more listed companies."

Hoogewerf said people who probably should have been listed, but about whose wealth not enough in known, included Liu Chuanzhi, chairman of the world's No. 4 PC maker Lenovo, and Chen Feng, founder of Hainan Airlines.

China's ruling Communist Party once condemned entrepreneurs and private business people as capitalist exploiters, but now welcomes them since late reformist leader Deng Xiaoping began landmark economic reforms in the 1970s.

One third of the people on the 1,000-name rich list are estimated to be Party members, according to the report.

Still, one famous name fell off the list this year -- NBA basketball player Yao Ming, who has struggled with a foot injury for the last few months.