Why Are Chinese Billionaires $500 Billion Poorer Than Last Year?

The picture is even bleaker in Russia, where total billionaire wealth has plummeted as the country's richest are rocked by sanctions.
China billionaire crackdown
Chinese President Xi Jinping is seen leading other top officials pledging their vows to the Chinese Communist Party on screen ahead of the 100th anniversary of its founding in Beijing on June 28, 2021. Photo: AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File

It’s been a bad year for Kate Wang. Things were looking bright in January 2021 when the Chinese businesswoman’s vaping company listed on the New York Stock Exchange. By the end of the day, the then-41-year-old was worth $9 billion. 

But today, her net worth sits at $500 million—a still sizable but increasingly imperiled fortune, with RLX Technology’s market value plummeting as it has come under increasing scrutiny from Chinese tobacco regulators. 


Wang is not alone, and represents just one of the 87 Chinese citizens to have crashed off of this year’s Forbes billionaire list in the wake of a government crackdown on tech companies in the country over the past year. In total, Chinese billionaires are more than $500 billion poorer than they were a year ago, down from a collective wealth of $2.5 trillion in 2021 to $1.96 trillion today, according to the annual index released on Wednesday. 

Of the 10 worst hit billionaires—those who saw their net worth shrink the most—eight were from China, with two Chinese education entrepreneurs taking the biggest hit to their fortunes of anyone globally. 

This time last year, Zhang Bangxin of TAL Education was worth $13.3 billion. Today, his wealth has plummeted 94 percent, and he is worth $890 million. Likewise, Larry Xiangdong Chen, founder of industry rival GSX Techedu, lost $15 billion in just six months between January and July last year, and is now worth a reported $235 million

This dramatic fall in wealth was the result of a Chinese government crackdown on the country’s after-school tutoring industry, which it accused of causing unnecessary stress to young children. In July, Beijing upended one of the country’s most lucrative sectors as it announced a sweeping ban on for-profit classes run by tutoring institutes on academic subjects like mathematics, English, and science.


Billionaires falling afoul of Chinese regulators is no accident, and has come as President Xi Xinping has spoken publicly in recent months of curbing “excessive” wealth in China in pursuit of “common prosperity.” Besides the education sector, internet companies have also found themselves in regulatory crosshairs, with online retail giant Alibaba handed a $3.7 billion fine in April last year for monopolistic practices.

But billionaires in China aren’t the only big losers in this year’s list. Also badly hit over the past 12 months have been Russia’s cohort of billionaires. Swingeing global sanctions and a plummeting ruble in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 has seen the total wealth held by the country’s billionaires fall from $584 billion to $320 billion in just one year.

While 117 Russians populated 2021’s index, just 83 remained this year as 34 people dropped below the billion-dollar threshold. Six Russian tycoons experienced a double-digit drop in their wealth—the worst hit among them steel oligarch Alexey Mordashov, who lost $15.9 billion in the space of 12 months and is now worth $13.2 billion. 

Vladimir Lisin, Russia’s richest man and one of the country’s first billionaires to criticise President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine, lost 30 percent of his fortune, which fell to $18.4 billion. In a letter to his staff published on LinkedIn in March, Lisin called the war a “huge tragedy that is impossible to justify.”

Elon Musk topped this year’s billionaire list for the first time, rising above Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. The Tesla and SpaceX co-founder’s fortune sat at $219 billion, an increase of $68 billion from 2021, with his rise to the top of the list coming after it emerged on Monday that he purchased a 9.2 percent stake in Twitter. 

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