Zong Qinghou, founder and chairman of Hangzhou Wahaha Group. [File photo]
Beverage tycoon Zong Qinghou, 68, tops a ranking of the 500 richest people on the Chinese mainland this year - a list that records a huge increase in the wealth of billionaire entrepreneurs despite a perception that private businesses may be struggling.
Zong, founder and chairman of the Hangzhou Wahaha Group, is top of the 2013 New Fortune 500 Rich List with 70 billion yuan (US$11.38 billion) in personal assets.
After a brief downturn in 2012, the cut-off point to make the list is 3 billion yuan, equaling the top-10 benchmark of a decade ago. Average wealth grew 16.7 percent to 7.16 billion yuan - the second highest level in the list's 11-year history, and the 10 billion yuan club grew from 68 people to 87.
It seems self-contradictory that Chinese billionaires are enjoying a heyday while the country's economy is said to be slowing down, but list maker New Fortune Magazine said that was due to the Matthew effect, a phenomenon under which the rich get richer while the poor get poorer.
When the economic slowdown dampens demand and pushes up costs, large and medium-sized private companies are more likely to survive and lead the recovery with support of policy and finance as well as other resources due to their scale. Small players not having those advantages will struggle to keep their business afloat, and their failure will lead to big ones taking up more market share, the magazine explained.
Despite efforts to cool the housing market, property remains the biggest source of wealth as strong demand drove China's housing prices up more than 8 percent last year.
The property industry accounted for 21.8 percent of individuals on the list, including four among the top 10. Leading the pack is last year's top ranker Wang Jianlin, chairman of Dalian Wanda Group, who came second this year with 54 billion yuan.
The average wealth of real estate moguls amounted to 8.03 billion yuan, 1.12 times the figure across industries.
Another notable trend is that the rich are diversifying their business into the money-spinning finance sector, the magazine said.
Due to the market boom last year, the average wealth of the 21 financiers on the list reached 7.43 billion yuan this year, up 40.5 percent from a year earlier.
Also on the list are Kong Dongmei, granddaughter of late Chinese leader Mao Zedong, and her husband Chen Dongsheng, ranked 242nd with family assets of 5 billion yuan. Chen is chairman of the Beijing-based Taikang Life Insurance Co Ltd.