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China building boom helps make machinery magnate richest man

China’s richest man Liang Wengen overtook Wahaha soft drinks boss, Zong Qinghou, and Robin Li of internet search giant Baidu with £6bn fortune

China’s addiction to bricks, mortar, bridges and motorways has made a heavy machinery magnate the country’s richest man, according to its latest rich list.

Liang Wengen overtook the Wahaha soft drinks boss, Zong Qinghou, and Robin Li of the internet search giant Baidu as his fortune rose to bn (£6bn). His rivals were valued at a mere .7bn and .8bn respectively.

Yan Bin is fourth on the list with .8bn thanks to Red Bull, investments and property. Another four property billionaires figure in the top 10.

Rupert Hoogewerf, who compiles the Hurun Rich List, said the number of billionaires had more than doubled in the last two years, from 130 to 271. But he believes the real total in China is closer to 600 due to hidden wealth. Last year, one needed 0m to figure in the first 1,000 names; this year, it took 0m.

Hurun suggested the key drivers of the growth in wealth were China’s construction boom and a growing domestic retail market, although stock market listings helped.

Liang, 55, holds 58% of the Sany Group, which sells construction and transport machinery – such as pile drivers – as well as wind turbines.

Duncan Innes-Ker of the Economist Intelligence Unit in Beijing said the 2008 stimulus package had sent already rapid construction into overdrive.

“On infrastructure there was spending on everything from airports to new railway lines and then there was a housing boom after the government relaxed rules,” he said. “Although the government has been clamping down on property demand since 2010, there hasn’t been a noticeable slowdown on the construction side.”

The rich list underlines China’s inequality. Experts said last year the gap between rich and poor had exceeded what is internationally regarded as a warning level. One estimated that by 2007 the income of the richest 10% was 23 times that of the bottom 10%, compared to 7.3 times in 1998.

Yet rather than relishing their position, many of China’s wealthy appear insecure. This spring a report by China Merchants bank and US consultants Bain and Co suggested many of China’s richest citizens wanted to leave. It said that 27% of the 20,000 Chinese citizens with more than m in individual investment assets had emigrated and 47% were considering it.

The wealthy often cite better educational opportunities for their children and quality of life concerns, though cynics suggest many are worried about protecting sometimes ill-gotten gains.Hoogewerf told AP that getting a foreign passport is like “taking out an insurance policy”.

He added: “If there is political unrest or suddenly things change in China … they already have a passport to go overseas. It’s an additional safety net.”

Several former tycoons have seen swift reversals in their fortunes. An electronics magnate, Huang Guangyu, who led the list in 2004 and 2005, is serving a 14-year sentence for bribery and insider trading.

But Hurun said he had risen back up the list to 16th place after a resurgence in the share prices of his firm, Gome. © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds