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China billionaires 'second to US'
By Michael Bristow
BBC News, Beijing
China now has more billionaires than any other country besides the United States, according to Forbes magazine.
There are a total of 64 people in that bracket in mainland China, the magazine says in its annual list of the world's richest people.
The figure is perhaps not surprising considering that China's economy has seen rapid growth over recent years.
China is set to overtake Japan as the world's second-biggest economy sometime this year.
According to Forbes, the world now has 1,011 billionaires.
The country with the biggest concentration is the US, with 403. But China comes second with 64 living in the mainland.
That figure jumps to 89 if Hong Kong is included. The former British colony was returned to China in 1997, but largely governs its own affairs.
On Forbes' list of billionaires there are a total of 97 new additions - and 27 of those are from mainland China.
They include people such as Li Shufu, who is chairman of Geely, a car-maker that is currently poised to buy Sweden's Volvo.
The richest man in China, Zong Qinghou, runs a multi-billion-dollar firm, the Wahaha Group, that makes soft drinks.
In an interview with Forbes, he hinted at why his firm has become so successful.
"We're not afraid of competition. To meet competition, however, you have to continuously innovate," he said.
China's increasing prominence on this rich list reflects its growing economic muscle, confirmed on Wednesday with a report that exports rose in February by nearly 50% compared to a year earlier.
But the news that there are now more billionaires in China might not be welcomed by everyone in the country.
Many people, including some officials, say that the gap between rich and poor is already too large.
Just a few days ago in a speech at the start of China's on-going parliamentary session, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said the government must reverse the widening income gap.
"We will not only make the 'pie' of social wealth bigger by developing the economy, but also distribute it well," he said.
Mr Wen added: "[We will] make our society fairer and more harmonious."
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2010/03/11 08:04:04 GMT
Â© BBC MMX
29 September 2010 Last updated at 10:19 ET
US billionaires host banquet for China's wealthiest
The event has inspired debate in China about what it means to give to charity
US billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have hosted a dinner in Beijing for some of China's richest people.
The pair said they wanted to learn about philanthropy in the country. But many suspected they want to persuade their guests to give more to charity.
The two men have already convinced a number of extremely wealthy Americans to give away half their fortunes.
There was great secrecy surrounding the event, which came amid reports wealthy invitees had been reluctant to attend.
It's "a discussion about philanthropy that will be a two-way exchange that we are looking forward to", Mr Gates, the founder of Microsoft, told reporters before the meal.
The state-run Global Times said the guest list of 50 of China's super-rich included Pan Shiyi and Zhang Xin, the CEO of property developer SOHO China, and Niu Gensheng, founder of Mengniu Dairy.
Another of those attending was Chen Guangbiao - a multi-millionaire who made his money by recycling waste material from the construction industry.
He told the BBC that he had already decided to leave all his money to charity when he dies.
"Giving and helping has been part of Chinese culture for 5,000 years. But charity has only really developed in China over the last 30 years, since we introduced economic reforms.
"People have only just started to get rich and we've only recently been able to feed ourselves," he says.
The BBC's Michael Bristow in Beijing says that handing over money to good causes is not as well established in China as in some other countries.
If this dinner has achieved anything, it has been to inspire debate about what it means to give to charity, our correspondent says.
28 September 2010 Last updated at 19:26 ET
China tycoon pledges fortune to charity
US billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are hosting a dinner in Beijing for some of China's richest individuals.
They are hoping to learn about philanthropy in China - and perhaps persuade some of their guests to give more to charity. The BBC's Michael Bristow spoke to one of those invited to dine.
Mr Chen says he learned about charity mainly from the example set by his mother
Businessman Chen Guangbiao has been inspired by the two US billionaires.
The 42-year-old is a well-known philanthropist, but decided to go one step further when he got a call from Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.
Mr Chen sat down and wrote them a letter declaring that all his money will go to charity after he dies.
Perhaps surprisingly, the news was not greeted with universal approval in China, where giving to charity is not as established as in other countries.
There was particular criticism when people found out that Mr Chen does not even give money to his own siblings.
His sister earns 1,800 yuan ($270, Â£170) a month washing dishes in a hotel; his brother earns only slightly more working as a security guard.
On that issue, Mr Chen is unrepentant. He said he had helped them in the past, but they had squandered his money.
He said his brother gambled and his sister began a loan business that eventually failed.
"I'm determined never to help them again," he told the BBC in an interview at his plush Beijing apartment.
Chen Guangbiao's story is a classic tale of rags to riches.
He was born into a poor family in Anhui Province, where it was a constant battle to survive. He said two of his siblings died of starvation.
Mr Chen is not shy about telling people about his charity work
But from an early age Mr Chen began to understand two things that have guided him throughout his adult life: business and charity.
As a schoolboy he soon amassed what was to him a small fortune by selling anything he could - water, ice-cream - and doing odd jobs.
He has worked hard ever since, claiming never to have had a day off since he founded his company, Huangpu Renewable Resources, in 1998.
His firm recycles waste material from the construction industry, and has allowed Mr Chen to amass a fortune estimated at $440m.
Charity was the second idea that the businessman learned about early, mainly from the example set by his mother.
"When other people's kids had no milk, my mother would breastfeed them herself," said the businessman.
She also invited beggars into their home to share their meagre meals.
Mr Chen's first experience of helping others came as a youngster when he handed over his hard-earned money to pay for a neighbour's school fees.
The father of two said giving was a habit he has maintained over the years.
A report on philanthropy in China published by the Shanghai-based Huran Research Institute earlier this year listed Mr Chen as the country's fourth-most-generous giver.
It said he had donated $130m over the last five years to projects involved in health-care, disaster relief and education.
But the Giving Pledge campaign started by Mr Gates and Mr Buffett has pushed Mr Chen to donate even more money.
This campaign urges US billionaires to give away more than half their wealth to charitable causes.
Mr Chen said this inspired him to announce he would give all his money away when he died.
His philosophy can be summed up in a passage from the letter he wrote to the American philanthropists telling them of his intention.
"If you have only a glass of water then one person can drink. If you have a bucket a whole family can benefit."
He added: "If you have a river, then you should share it with everyone."
Mr Chen is not shy about telling people about his charity work.
"Society needs hundreds of hundreds of thousands of Chen Guangbiaos," he wrote in another letter published on his company's website.
He admits that he is brash - but he believes that is the only way to encourage more people to give to charity.