China's Number of Billionaires Surges As Country's Superrich Thrive Amid Pandemic

The number of billionaires in China grew by nearly 30 percent this year, as the country's superrich thrived during the coronavirus pandemic.

There are now 878 billionaires in the country, up 257 from 2019. This further widens the billionaire gap between China and the U.S., which has nearly 700 individuals who qualify for the moniker, according to Hurun Report.

Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma retains top spot for the third year, ahead of Pony Ma and Zhang Shanshan.

The China Rich List 2020, put out by the Hurun Research Institute and its founder Rupert Hoogewerf, shows a wealth increase of $1.5 trillion, far exceeding expectations.

"The world has never seen this much wealth created in just one year," Hoogewerf wrote in the report. "China's entrepreneurs have done much better than expected. Despite COVID-19 they have risen to record levels."

Jack Ma's upcoming Ant Group IPO and a strong reliance on e-commerce platform Alibaba during COVID-19 lockdown have seen the 56-year-old's value shoot up 45 percent to $58.8 billion.

China Jack Ma Alibaba
File photo: Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma. Wang He/Getty Images

Pony Ma, who owns Tencent and ubiquitous Chinese app WeChat, increased his wealth to $57.4 billion, up 50 percent.

Top among the 257 new billionaires this year is Shanshan, of Nongfu bottled water fame, who is now valued at $53.7 billion and is the third-richest person in the world's second-largest economy.

Despite a debilitating coronavirus lockdown in the first quarter of 2020, China continues what it has dubbed a "V-shaped recovery" and will be the only major economy to grow this year, according to the country's National Bureau of Statistics.

"This year has seen the biggest wealth increase in the 22 years of the Hurun China Rich List. Stock markets boom and a flurry of new listings have minted five new dollar billionaires in China a week for the past year," Hoogewerf wrote.

He added: "China's rich listers added US$1.5tn, the equivalent of half the UK's annual GDP, to take them to US$4 trillion, more than the GDP of Germany, the fourth-biggest economy in the world.

"The Hurun China Rich List recorded more wealth created this year than the previous five years combined, suggesting that the structure of the economy has evolved, moving away from traditional sectors like manufacturing and real estate, towards the new economy."

Against the odds, China's superrich, in industries such as e-commerce, online gaming, food delivery and logistics, have managed to cash in on the circumstances brought on by the coronavirus, which was first reported in the city of Wuhan in central China's Hubei Province in December 2019.

Wang Wei, whose SF Express is known as the "FedEx of China," doubled his wealth to $35.3 billion and shot into the top 10 at number four.

Meanwhile, Wang Xing, the founder of food delivery app Meituan, is 13th on this year's China Rich List. The 41-year-old quadrupled his wealth to $25 billion during the pandemic.

According to the Hurun Report, the average age of this year's rich list, which had a wealth cut-off at just under $300 million, was 55, with 256 people under 40 making the list.