Ding Lei, the 30-year-old boss of one of China's most well-known Internet portals, NetEase.com, topped the latest annual list of the richest 100 Chinese.
Fang Xingdong, a senior Internet analyst in China said short message services and on-line gaming had built Ding's success.
Today, Ding Lei (or William Ding), with 52 percent holding in NetEase.com, the Internet company he founded in 1996, has seen his wealth climb to US$900 million on the back of a resurgent NASDAQ.
With a total of 7.5 billion yuan of personal assets, Ding is China's richest person, while two years ago, NetEase's stock price on the NASDAQ was less than US$1 , about 100 times less than today.
The mobile phone is the true driving force for the resurgence of China's Internet companies, because Chinese mobile phone users are forming the habit of sending messages, according to the American Wall Street Journal.
Statistics released by the Ministry of Information Industry shows that China now has 250 million mobile phone users.
Most users are willing to buy interesting short messages from the Internet. Although the price of every message is low, the total number of sold messages is an immense figure, making the industry very profitable.
"China's first three most popular Internet portals, namely Sina, Sohu and NetEase are closely connected with wireless business," said Lu Benfu, director of Internet Research Center under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
He said 20 percent of Sina's annual profit comes from wireless business, while Sohu's figure is 33 percent, and NetEase more than 40 percent.
On-line games are another important business for Internet companies. Last year, one-fourth of NetEase's revenue came from on-line games.
"On-line games are the business letting me easily earn money, even if I did nothing but rest lying on the bed," joked Ding Lei.
The owner of China's most popular on-line game developer Shanda Networking Development, Chen Tianqiao, 30, is also on the list of China's top 10 richest men.
In 2002, Chen's company earned 25 million yuan (US$3 million) just from its on-line game "Legendary".
On-line game market insiders estimate that China's game market could earn two billion yuan (about US$240 million) this year.
Another major Chinese beneficiary of on-line games is Zhang Chaoyang, boss of Sohu.com, China's first Internet portal. He is the 20th richest man on the Chinese mainland now.
Overall, China's major Internet portals have emerged from the shadow of loss. The first quarter of this year saw NetEase earn US$8.3 million of net profit, Sohu US$4.6 million and Sina US$3.38 million.
The enthusiasm of American investors for Chinese Internet companies has returned, and dozens of American venture companies have started to invest in Chinese Internet companies again.
However, the fact that most Internet companies depend only on short message and on-line games to earn revenue is a problem, say insiders.
"We should be sober-minded in the face of the booming business”, warned Fang Xingdong.
NASDAQ's chief representative in China, Huang Guohua, said the rise and fall in stock markets could reflect the economic situation, but could not create economic prosperity.
Although venture capital could help Internet companies skip the long process of capital accumulation, potential challenges still exist. Back two years ago, Ding Lei struggled to hold back tears, when NetEase was suspended from trading on the NASDAQ.
Today, when interviewed over the phone, Ding was guarded about the prospects for his company, saying that "I just passed through a dramatic tremor".
(Xinhua News Agency October 30, 2003)