While more than 200 people became billionaires in China last year, curbs on e-commerce giant Alibaba saw tycoon Jack Ma lose his title to bottled water Nongfu Spring’s maker Zhong Shanshan, a new report shows.

Nongfu Spring founder Zhong Shanshan's (right) net worth reaches $85 billion and Jack Ma's $55.63 billion, says Hurun Global Rich List in 2020.
Nongfu Spring founder Zhong Shanshan's (right) net worth reaches $85 billion and Jack Ma's $55.63 billion, says Hurun Global Rich List in 2020. (REUTERS/ NONGFUSPRING.COM)

Alibaba and Ant Group founder Jack Ma has lost the title of China’s richest man after his peers prospered when his empire was put under heavy scrutiny by Chinese regulators.

Ma and his family had held the top spot for China's richest in the Hurun Global Rich List in 2020 and 2019 but now trail in fourth place behind bottled water maker Nongfu Spring's Zhong Shanshan, Tencent Holding's Pony Ma and e-commerce upstart Pinduoduo's Collin Huang, a list published on Tuesday showed. 

His fall out of the top three comes "after China's regulators reined in Ant Group and Alibaba on anti-trust issues."

READ MORE: Zhong Shanshan: The water tycoon who just became China’s second richest man

Anti-trust probe into Alibaba

Ma's recent woes were triggered by an October 23 speech in which he blasted China's regulatory system, leading to the suspension of his Ant Group's $37 billion IPO just days before the fintech giant's public listing.

Regulators have since tightened anti-trust scrutiny on the country's tech sector, with Alibaba taking much of the heat; the market regulator launched an official anti-trust probe into Alibaba in December.

Chinese regulators also began to tighten their grip on the fintech sector and have asked Ant to fold some of its businesses into a financial holding company to be regulated like traditional financial firms.

Ma, who is not known for shying away from the limelight, then disappeared from the public eye for about three months, triggering frenzied speculation about his whereabouts. He re-emerged in January with a 50-second video appearance.

READ MORE: China derails Ant Group's giant $34.5B IPO

Zhong hold title with $85 billion riches 

China's current richest man, Zhong, made his first appearance at the top spot with a fortune of 550 billion yuan ($85 billion), largely thanks to the share price performances of Nongfu Spring and vaccine maker Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy Enterprise, which he also controls.

Tencent's Ma saw his wealth swell 70 percent over the year to 480 billion yuan ($74.18 billion) while Pinduoduo's Huang's fortune grew 283 percent to 450 billion yuan ($69.54 billion), the list said. In comparison, the wealth of Ma and his family grew 22 percent, to 360 billion yuan ($55.63 billion). 

Zhang Yiming, founder of TikTok owner ByteDance, broke into the top five rankings among Chinese billionaires in Hurun's Global Rich List for the first time, with an estimated personal wealth of $54 billion.

China's billionaires club swells 

More than 200 billionaires were created in China last year as booming stock markets and a flood of new listings offset the ravages of the virus pandemic, The Hurun report said on Tuesday.

The size of China's exclusive billionaire's club has almost doubled in the past five years as the world's number two economy continued to outpace most others, and its ability to mostly avoid the worst of the coronavirus meant it was one of the few to expand in 2020.

Hurun list showed 259 people breaking into the billion-dollar bracket –– more than the rest of the world combined –– taking China total to 1,058, the first country to break the 1,000 mark.

In comparison, second best performer the United States saw 70 new billionaires created, taking its total to 696.

READ MORE: Alibaba: a Chinese success story comes under scrutiny

Source: Reuters