China Boasts Most Billionaires After U.S.

And nearly all are self-made — fewer than one in 10 inherited their wealth

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Kim Kyung-Hoon / Reuters

Wealthy Chinese look around Bentley's showroom in Beijing on June 6, 2013.

China now has more billionaires than any country in the world except the U.S., according to a report published by Wealth-X and UBS last month.

According to the Billionaire Census 2013, China now has 157 billionaires with a combined net worth of $384 billion. Reflecting China’s rapid economic rise of recent years, nearly all of the surveyed billionaires are self-made — fewer than one in 10 inherited their wealth. The country’s new super-rich are also relatively young. China’s billionaires have an average age of 53 — nine years younger than the global average.

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While the statistics are impressive, observers of China’s new upper class warn that the group is feeling the pinch from the country’s slowing economy. The 2013 Hurun Wealth Report, published in August, noted that growth in the numbers of wealthy Chinese had dropped to the slowest rate in five years. The report noted a 3% rise in the number of people worth more than RMB 10 million ($1.64 million) and just a 2% growth in the wealth of those worth more than RMB 100 million ($16.4 million). According to Hurun, 30% of the wealthy Chinese it surveyed in 2012 are professional stock investors and real estate speculators.

A place on a super-rich list isn’t necessarily highly coveted. Some of China’s new rich fear scrutiny from the country’s tax authorities after their wealth is made public. Others may be afraid of the effects of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ongoing anti-corruption crackdown. Previous government attempts to crack down on the illicit nexus between money and power have led to the arrests of several people who used to grace lists of China’s richest individuals.

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