China's richest citizens: Soda and the Internet help fuel the growing Hurun Rich List

The 2011 Hurun Rich List identified 271 dollar billionaires in mainland China, up from 189 last year.

As more and more 30-something Chinese buy their own apartments and sit in them sucking down $1 soft drinks while they surf the Internet, it is clear who is really profiting by China's growth.

In a survey of China’s richest citizens published Wednesday, the top spot went to a man whose company makes the heavy machinery used to build apartment blocks. Second spot went to a soft drinks manufacturer. Third spot to the country’s leading Internet entrepreneur.

Liang Wengen, China’s new richest man according to the Hurun Rich List, saw his fortune balloon this year along with the value of the company he founded, the Sany Group. He owns 58 percent of the firm, the biggest manufacturer of concrete pumping machinery in the world.

His $11 billion fades into insignificance on the world stage. When he had $8 billion six months ago, according to Forbes, he ranked only 114 among global billionaires.

Still, that is not bad for a man whose first business venture, according to one media report here, was buying a herd of goats on the eve of the New Year in 1986 because somebody had told him he could earn a $3 profit per goat.

What he had not realized, though, was that the price of goats would drop as soon as the festivities were over. Left with a lot of goats on his hands, Mr. Liang lost a lot of money.

Since then, he has built the small welding machinery company that he founded with three friends in 1989 into one of the largest engineering machinery companies in China and is proud of the high prices it charges.

“Sany’s products are reliable,” Liang said on a visit to Washington earlier this year. “I hope US customers can be reassured about the quality of products made in China,” he added, pointing out that one of his firm’s cranes was used to help rescue the 33 men stranded underground for 10 weeks in a Chilean copper mine last year.

The 2011 Hurun Rich List identified 271 dollar billionaires in mainland China, up from 189 last year, but Rupert Hoogewerf, who compiled the list, said in a statement that there are actually likely to be nearly 600 billionaires here.

Many of them, however, prefer to keep their wealth hidden. Not least from the taxman.

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