Woman tops list of China's richest
Updated: 2006-10-11 07:20

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - A woman has topped a list of China's richest people for the first time, elbowing past two-time leader Huang Guangyu of GOME Electrical Appliances and a coterie of CEOs at old-economy government enterprises.

Ms Cheung Yan
Newly minted billionaire Cheung Yan -- the 49 year-old founder and chairwoman of top Chinese paper packager Nine Dragons Paper (Holdings) Ltd. -- saw her fortune balloon nine-fold to US$3.4 billion boosted by her firm's March initial public offering.

The entrepreneur, who controlled 72 percent of Nine Dragons as of August 31, has lapped up a 165 percent rally in the company's stock, according to an annual survey compiled by Rupert Hoogewerf, who pioneered a list for Forbes.

Cheung's stellar ascent is rare in a country whose largest corporations are state-owned or run by well-connected male executives.

"China's women are becoming more visible in business," said Hoogewerf, who has published the list since 1999.

"Traditionally women have always been on the inside and men have been on the outside. It hasn't been until the economic reforms that women have actually started to make inroads into the public arena."

Cheung, born in northeastern China's Heilongjiang province and now a Los Angeles native, began building her fortune in 1985, when she set up a waste-paper trading business in Hong Kong.

She later became the top exporter of scrap paper by volume in the United States, processing the paper in China to make containerboard.

Her personal wealth leapt from $375 million last year, when she was logged as number 36 in the survey, surpassing appliances king Huang's $2.5 billion, according to the report.

Huang, chairman of GOME -- the country's top retailer of household electronics -- had topped the list in 2005 for the second consecutive year, with a fortune of $1.7 billion.

The man who started his career with $500 and a Beijing roadside stall hawking radios and gadgets built GOME into a multi-billion dollar empire spanning nearly 100 cities across the country.

The number of Chinese billionaires on the Hurun list increased to 13, from seven last year and just three in 2004.

The rise in the number of China's super-rich comes amid a widening gulf between rich and poor that analysts say threatens social stability even as the economy booms.

Chinese President Hu Jintao in July called for stronger efforts to tackle the wealth gap, saying salaries should be market-oriented but that the country must focus on fairness.

The 500 richest Chinese in the Hurun report are now worth an average of US$276 million, a 48 percent rise over the previous year, controlling a total US$138 billion in assets.