Most people are aware of the enormous scale and scope of entrepreneurship in China. The Middle Kingdom’s economy continues to grow every day, with the number of new registered businesses up 13.2% year on year in the first half of 2017. Yet, there is a shining minority group that is rarely spoken about – female entrepreneurs. The last few years have been remarkable for Chinese businesswomen, so much so that China is now the de facto capital of the self-made female billionaires’ club. Even so, 2017 has been an especially significant year as nine female entrepreneurs made their debuts in Forbes self-made women billionaires list ranking China far ahead of the second-placed U.S., which listed only five women this year.
Chinese women fare better in a gender context as well. Today, almost 6% of Chinese billionaires are self-made women, topping all other parts of the world where they number just under 2%, according to Forbes Billionaires List 2017.
There are two key characteristics that distinguish Chinese female billionaires from their counterparts around the world. First, they tend to focus on single industry and secondly, they are generally politically inactive compared to their male compatriots.
Several years ago, real estate was the fastest path to wealth for women billionaires. Even in 2017, the top three places on China’s wealth ladder have been occupied by real estate sourced capital, namely in the hands of Yang Huiyang, Wu Yajun and Chen Laiwa. However, the majority of the real estate women billionaires in China have entered list before 2010. Many newer Chinese female billionaires such as Wu Lanlan, Chen Liying and Tang Jianfang acquired their wealth through optimizing supply chains, specializing in the logistics, packaging and postal services industries – acting as efficiency enablers with their husbands.
China’s richest females also seem to be more charitable than their male counterparts. One in three women billionaires from the list have launched philanthropic projects with their ten-digit fortunes. The environmentalist entrepreneur He Qiaonv’s preservation initiative is one just one example of this trend. She is founder of Beijing Orient Landscape & Environment Co Ltd, one of Asia's largest landscape architecture companies. Ms. Qiaonv has recently committed $1.5 billion for wildlife conservation a much much higher figure than anyone else for this specific area, probably driven by her own background.
Another philanthropist businesswoman, Lei Jufang, made the donations through her company, Tibet Cheezheng Tibetan Medicine, of which Lei is a founder. She donated at least $7 million to support education, arts, culture and social services. Furthermore, her company made a donation of $1 million to set up the Special Fund of Tibetan Culture Heritage and Protection for the China Society for Promotion of the Guangcai Program in 2007. The company also donated $1 million worth of medicine in support of Sichuan earthquake victims in 2008.
In some cases, Chinese super-rich make donations through their companies due to the lack of talent in the philanthropy field and mistrust to the current governance system of the foundations like Lei Jufang. In the years to come, we’re likely to see many other women philanthropists in China, especially considering the rise of self-made entrepreneurs.
These changes have set a new precedent as the global architecture of wealth has shifted from multi-generational to entrepreneurial ownership over the last decade. This shift has had visible implications for China’s women, especially considering that they were mostly benefited from inherited capital in the past.
Combined total wealth of women from inheritances has decreased by 20% while self-made wealth has doubled since 2010. In addition, they managed to become unprecedentedly successful in mingling business with family. This pattern has brought a new understanding to the old "family business" term: key stakeholders of the family business are husband-wife affinity rather than traditional father-son agnatic kinship.
Hard work, adaptive culture and small family partnership associated with the early business triumph are connecting dots of a shape that describe today’s wealthy Chinese woman.