Hui Ka-yan, China's richest man thanks to soaring property prices. Photo:
Hui Ka-yan, once China's richest man, is now under police suveillance. Photo:

Forget the two “horses”: Alibaba’s Jack Ma and Tencent’s Pony Ma are always close in the wealth stakes, but there is usually someone who runs faster.

China’s richest man for this year was Hui Ka-yan, or Xu Jiayin of China Evergrande, according to the Hurun report on China Rich List 2017.

The Guangdong-based property tycoon saw his net worth surge nearly four-fold to US$43 billion to become the richest man in China for the first time, also beating last year’s “champ” Wanda Group chairman Wang Jianlin, who dropped to the fifth.

Read: HK’s richest woman rakes it in from Evergrande

Thanks to China’s property boom, Hui’s listed flagship China Evergrande rocketed from HK$4.73 (61 US cents) a year ago to as high as HK$31.6 this month. The stock is now trading around HK$27.75 with a market capitalization of HK$364.5 billion.

The wealth explosion dwarfed Tencent founder and chairman Pony Ma (US$37 billion) and Alibaba Group founder and chairman Jack Ma (US$30 billion). The latter also enjoyed a strong rise in share prices over the past year – but not as much as Hui, and other property tycoons.

Ranking fourth was Country Garden chairman Yeung Wai-ying, or Yang Huiyan, with a net worth of US$24 billion, thanks to her father and property tycoon Yang Guoqiang. Ms Yeung, who seldom appears in public, is the only person aged over 80 in the top five. She had slightly more than Wang Jinlin, whose wealth fell 28% to US$23 billion.

While the top five are dominated by property and technology sectors, the top 10 seems to be equally split between the property, technology and manufacturing sectors.

Read: China Evergrande launches employee stock options

Rounding off the list were Wang Wei ($22 billion) of logistics firm SF Express, Li Yanhong ($19 billion) of Baidu, He Xiangjian and He Jianfeng ($17 billion) of home appliance maker Midea, Yan Hao ($17 billion) of China Pacific Construction, Ding Lei of Netease ($16 billion), as well as Li Shufu and Li Xingxing ($16 billion) of Geely Automobile.

Wang Wei of SF Express made the top 10 for the first time. He and Li Shufu of Geely were the big winners this year along with Sun Hongbin of Sunac, Li Ge and wife Zhao Ning of Wuxi Pharma Tech, Peng Lei of Ant Financial, Zhang Yiming of Toutiao, and Yao Liangsong of Oppein, who all saw their wealth shoot to fresh highs this year.

If there is a loser, it must be Jia Yueting of LeEco, who saw his wealth plunge 95 per cent, after his online media company experienced supply chain and cashflow problems.

Read: LeEco postpones disclosure of restructuring plan

Still winners always outweigh losers. Take Alibaba and its affiliate Ant Financial, which have a remarkable 43 shareholders on this year’s rich list.

Hurun report founder Rupert Hoogewerf said: “China’s entrepreneurs have come a long way. Back in 1999, when I put out the first list, I managed to rank 50 people. Today we have almost that number just from Alibaba!”

Read: Jack Ma replaces Wang Jianlin to top Fortune 500 rich list