The recent Hurun Report on the number of multimillionaires in Chinese mainland has once again sparked people's doubts over the fairness of their huge accumulation of wealth.
According to the report drafted by Rupert Hoogewerf, the first of its kind, China now has an army of 825,000 individuals possessing a wealth of more than 10 million yuan, including 51,000 people who possess more than 100 million yuan. The Briton has been drafting the annual Hurun Rich List of tycoons and entrepreneurs in teh Chinese mainland since 1999. Qualified candidates in China's Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan have been excluded from the survey.
The report, if scientific, would mean six out of every 10,000 people in the Chinese mainland possess more than 10 million yuan. Beijing tops the list with 143,000 individuals with more than 10 million yuan, including 8,800 people owning more than 100 million yuan, followed by Guangdong Province and Shanghai, which have 137,000 and 116,000 respectively, according to the report.
Despite deep doubts among many people over its accuracy, the report has to some degree exposed the country's wealth distribution. In a Chinese society where there are still millions of people struggling for sufficient food and clothes, to possess wealth worth multimillions of yuan is a target that is out of reach in the eyes of ordinary people. Under these circumstances, it is reasonable that people find the number of Chinese multibillionaires published by the Hurun Report incredible. However, Hoogewerf has forcefully defended his survey results. The 825,000 figure includes "hidden rich Chinese people", he said.
The Briton's claims have indeed offered us much food for thought. If it is true that there exists a number of hidden multimillionaires or billionaires in China, then a new question arises: Why and how have these people managed to conceal their enormous wealth and assets from the public?
This is possibly the crux of the problem. In a full-fledged, market-oriented society, it is near impossible for any one to attempt to conceal individual wealth from the public. It is known that in a country with a well-developed market economy, a set of effective statistical ways has always been in place to calculate the wealth of the rich, such as timely data published by some influential financial magazines and survey agencies. Although the data offered by one poll agency occasionally differs from that of another, such information usually draws on similar conclusions over the volume of people's wealth. This should be attributed to the fact that a variety of survey agencies base their results on the same data that mainly comes from registered enterprises' reports, the scale of taxation, performances of listed companies, the sales and purchase of luxury commodities, as well as the market prices of their collected articles.
Compared with overseas markets, China has not done enough to open up the publication of domestic data. This is the key as to why Chinese people doubt the number of multimillionaires in the Hurun Report. In a matured market, there always exists a dominant market law that hardworking participants would get deserved returns. In foreign countries and regions, tycoons and those with economic achievements usually build up their economic and social status through toil and moil. Bill Gates and US President Barack Obama are no exception.
The principle of overseas markets offers every one an equal chance to create success. Also, a transparent and open network of information on individual wealth rules out any possibility of people concealing their wealth from society. More importantly, transparent market information, which will make every one' success known to others, will help inspire young people to work hard in pursuit of success. That will also help increase the total wealth of society.
When it comes to the Hurun Group, any survey result will include a lot of subjective information on the rich, undoubtedly affecting its accuracy.
In the Hurun Report, Chinese people with more than 10 million yuan mainly include businessmen, those with high-profile jobs such as celebrities, those who earn money from real estate and professional stock investors. But such categories are obviously not convincing, given that the report only shows the source of wealth but fails to tell where the first pot of gold comes from.
For example, for those who become multimillionaires or billionaires though investing in the country's housing and stock markets, people cannot help but doubt why they have achieved such huge success in the high-risk housing and stock markets at a time when the world is suffering a destructive global financial market. One after another, successful investors have become bankrupt from the latest round of crises. Compared with an open and transparent overseas market, ordinary Chinese people feel particularly puzzled over domestic multimillionaires' key to success.
People's doubts over the Hurun Rich List have reflected some deep-rooted social problems. The antagonist complex among ordinary people toward the rich, if there is any, is detrimental to the advancement of the economy and society. We should not only eliminate such unhealthy attitude but also try to uproot its causes. To this end, the country should try its utmost to create an equitable environment in which every one can enjoy equal chances to become rich through hard work.
The author is an anchorman with the Shanghai-based China Business Network. The article was originally published in the Chinese Business View.
(China Daily April 17, 2009)