Zhang Yin. Wu Yajun. Chen Lihua. These names probably wouldn’t ring a bell to a Western mind. But they could well be household names in the future after a recent Hurun Report ranked these three Chinese women as the world’s richest self-made women billionaires. And the Hurun Report, a publication which tracks China’s wealthy and their lifestyles, doesn’t stop there. As many as six of the Top 10, and 11 of the Top 20, in Hurun’s list of self-made women billionaires are Chinese. Yet another statistic which underscores China’s growing significance in the world economy.
With an estimated personal net worth of $5.6 billion, Zhang Yin made her fortune from recycled paper, and heads Nine Dragons Paper. Wu Yajun, a former journalist, chose a more conventional business when she founded Longfor Property in the steamy basin of Chongqing, one of China’s four municipalities. Chen Lihua too has followed Wu Yajun’s real estate path to success, building her wealth through Hong-Kong based Fuhua International with a focus on residential housing projects. And then there are the other Chinese – Xiuli Hawken, Zhu Linyao and Zhang Xin rounding off the top ten. U.S. talk show queen Oprah Winfrey only appears ninth. It may astonish many that women from a developing country, where the government still controls the largest businesses, dominate this list. “China is the world’s clear leader for women in business,” admitted Rupert Hoogewerf, the founder of the Hurun Rich List.
Sociologists have tried to theorize on the reasons for this domination. Some say that the late Mao Zedong’s stirring “women hold up half the sky,” statement helped the Chinese overcome gender biases and reach equality faster than other countries. Others have speculated that Chinese women are inherently more ambitious and combine that ambition with intense work ethic – something that is reflected in the country itself, which since its emergence from isolation in the 1980s has pushed its way to become an economic super power at an astonishing rate. Chinese women also have easier access to childcare with none of the stigma associated with it. In a society where one-child families are the norm, children are a prized asset, and Chinese women have often found grandparents willing to take care of their child, allowing them to be freer in pursuing their ambition.
Yet, while there are numerous stories of successful entrepreneurs as China transitions into a major economy, there are social inequalities that the ruling Communist Party would no doubt want to address in the future. Even after decades of rapid economic growth, nearly one quarter of all secondary-school-aged girls do not attend school in China. The incentive for the Chinese government to encourage more girls to attend school is clear. A Goldman Sachs report estimates that if more women join the labor force, the gross domestic product of China would rise by as much as 4.1% by 2017. While that may be, the women entrepreneurs in the Hurun List have succeeded against the odds, and in doing so, are inspiring many more in China. Now more than ever, there is incentive, naked ambition and the desire to succeed among China’s brightest. Zhang Yin, Wu Yajun and Chen Lihua exemplify just that.
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