Female entrepreneur tops China’s rich list

Female entrepreneur tops China's rich list

Jonathan Watts in Beijing
Wednesday October 11, 2006
The Guardian

Chinese entrepreneur Cheung YanCheung Yan has enjoyed a nine-fold rise in her fortune in a year. Photograph: China Daily/Reuters

A Chinese entrepreneur has surged past JK Rowling and Oprah Winfrey to become the richest self-made woman in the world, and China's wealthiest person, according to a new rich list.

Cheung Yan, the 49-year-old head of Nine Dragons Paper, is said to be worth $3.4bn (£1.8bn) after a nine-fold rise in her fortune in just a year. In comparison, JK Rowling is worth nearly $1bn while Oprah Winfrey earned $200m last year alone. Ms Cheung's wealth jumped after the company listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange amid a global hunger for shares in Chinese firms.

The owner of a recycling and packing company, Ms Cheung heads a rich list dominated by male property speculators, industrial giants and dot.com tycoons. One of eight children born to a military family in Lioaning province, north-eastern China, she entered business in 1985 after periods in the US and Hong Kong.

Her company racks up hefty profits by shipping in waste paper from developed countries and recycling it into boxes and containerboard.

Ms Cheung holds a 72% share in Nine Dragons, which enjoyed a 165% surge in its stock price after listing in April. It pushed her from No 36 in the rich list to No 1, overtaking last year's leader 36-year-old Huang Guangyu, the male owner of GOME Electrical Appliances, who is worth $2.5bn.

Among other top female tycoons is Chen Ningning, a metals trader, and her mother, Lu Hui, who jointly share 19th place with wealth put at $813m.

"China's women are becoming more visible in business," Rupert Hoogewerf, who has been publishing the Hurun rich list since 1999, told Reuters. "Traditionally women have always been on the inside and men have been on the outside," he said, adding that it was not until the economic reforms that women started to make inroads into the public arena.

Their success is only one of the changes in Chinese society reflected in the latest rich list. Even a decade ago, such rankings were treated with suspicion by a China only recently emerging from its Maoist shell. Now, however, the lists are proof of a widening gap between the haves and have-nots.

This year's rankings showed a 48% rise in the wealth of the 500 richest Chinese, who are now worth an average of $276m.

The gap is a growing source of concern for the ruling Communist party, which declared the creation of a harmonious and balanced society a priority at its latest plenum, which ended today.

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