- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 11, 2006

SHANGHAI, China (AP) — China’s wealthiest person prospered by turning recycled paper from the United States into Chinese packaging products — and, like many fellow tycoons, by listing her company on an overseas stock market.

Zhang Yin, 49-year-old founder of the Nine Dragons Paper Co., with a fortune estimated at $3.4 billion, is the first businesswoman to top an annual list of China’s richest individuals, published by Shanghai researcher Rupert Hoogewerf.

Mrs. Zhang’s company listed shares on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in March, becoming one of scores of mainland companies enriched by international investors’ fervor for Chinese assets. The company recently saw its share price surge after reporting that its fiscal 2006 net profit more than quadrupled to $174 million.

Lists of China’s wealthiest people tend to reflect shifting economic trends. Dot-com magnates of years past have yielded rank to real estate tycoons and electronics retailers, who in turn are ceding ground to newcomers such as Mrs. Zhang and fifth-ranked Shi Zhengrong, chairman of Nasdaq Stock Market-listed Suntech Power Holdings Co., a maker of photovoltaic cells for solar panels.

No. 2 is Huang Guangyu, also known as Wong Kwong Yu, who founded GoMe Appliances, China’s biggest electronics retailer. Mr. Huang, who was ranked first last year, has personal wealth estimated at $2.5 billion, according to the list.

His brother, property developer Huang Junqing, has an $800 million fortune, and together the Huangs hold wealth estimated at $3.3 billion.

“Urbanization and ever-increasing household incomes have continued to be the key drivers for wealth creation in China,” said Mr. Hoogewerf, who has been compiling lists of China’s wealthy since 1999.

Paper tycoon Mrs. Zhang, the eldest of eight children born to a military family in northeastern China, emigrated to Hong Kong as a young adult and built up her business shipping wastepaper from the United States to China, where it is recycled into container board at factories in southern and eastern China.

As is true elsewhere, real estate is key to many personal fortunes: Seven of the top 10 richest Chinese are at least in part property developers. Likewise, seven of the top 10 have companies with shares traded in Hong Kong.

Among other top female tycoons is Chen Ningning, a metals trader, who with her mother, Lu Hui, is 19th on Mr. Hoogewerf’s list, with wealth estimated at $813 million.

The ranks of China’s wealthiest have expanded, with 14 persons having fortunes exceeding $1 billion, up from seven last year, Mr. Hoogewerf said. The average size of the wealth held by each individual also rose, by 48 percent over a year earlier, to $276 million.

The growing divide between rich and poor is a politically volatile issue in China, despite the ruling Communist Party’s wholesale shift away from central planning toward a more capitalist-style economy.

Helping the vast majority of have-nots was to top the agenda at closed-door meetings held in Beijing this week.

Although most of China’s newly affluent are little affected by such high-level politicking, fortunes are sometimes made and lost quickly amid power plays by top leaders, Mr. Hoogewerf noted.

One of the tycoons absent from this year’s list was Zhang Rongkun, a Shanghai real estate and highway millionaire implicated in a sweeping probe into charges of corruption and misuse of city pension funds that toppled the city’s Communist Party chief, Chen Liangyu.

Mr. Zhang, owner of Fuxi Investments, ranked 48th on last year’s list.

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