SINCE 2003, 72 yuan billionaires in the PRC have met an unnatural demise, with 19 illnesses, 17 suicides, 15 homicides, 14 executions and seven ‘accidents.’
And this month, Mainland Chinese prosecutors have begun targeting perceived executive excesses in the telecom industry, with former China Mobile vice-chairman Zhang Chunjiang recently handed down a death sentence for accepting bribes.
A Chinese language piece in New Culture News asks whether being ultra rich is becoming somewhat of a health hazard.
In a piece entitled: Wealth and Death, the Shortened Lives of the Super-rich, an expert on the social impact of rapid wealth in society says: “In Mainland China it is quite ironic that for a growing number of tycoons, that for which so many of us strive (supreme wealth) and that which we take so many precautions to avoid and delay (death) are becoming oddly intertwined of late.”
China's 'Dead Billionaires Club' accepting new members at somewhat alarming rate
For reference’s sake, let’s begin with the start of the period under study, January 22, 2003.
That marks the fateful, and fatal, day when two childhood friends met in adulthood to discuss a proposed property deal – Feng Yinliang was seeking to sell a parcel of land to Haixin Steel’s billionaire Chairman Li Haicang.
When Li turned his old friend down, Feng pulled out a shotgun, put the sawed-off barrel to his tycoon friend’s head, and pulled the trigger. He then turned the gun on himself, saving the authorities the speedy trial with the identical outcome.
The authorities called it a “commercial dispute” that went horribly wrong, ending in a murder-suicide.
However, it was one of many deaths of PRC billionaires over the past eight years that smack of a latent rage ignited by economic jealousy.
Li had risen from economic obscurity to become the wealthiest and most powerful man in Wenxi County, a region in relatively backward Shanxi Province that it seeing the steady rise of a small number of coal and steel barons to billionaire status while the larger masses of people generally remain stuck at slightly above subsistence wages.
Before Mr. Li’s coldblooded murder, his steel firm contributed two out of every three yuan in tax revenue destined for the public coffers in Wenxi County, population 340,000. Therefore, his death caused quite an uproar at the time because he was gunned down for doing what all tycoons do – bargain for the best terms possible.
That is, after all, how most peasants come to attain tycoon status.
The New Culture News survey of the 72 late billionaires ends on June 28, 2011, when Fujian Province-based athletic footwear maker Deerway (China) Co Ltd lost its Chairman Ding Mingliang to cancer.
The report said that according to the Hurun Wealth Report, Mainland China had 55,000 yuan billionaires in 2009, with the figure rising 9.1% to around 60,000 in 2010.
Therefore, the loss of 72 to non-natural causes (ie: old age) over the past eight years, while somewhat shocking in headline format, is less eyebrow raising when one considers that this only represents 0.12% of the current crop of living and breathing yuan billionaires in the PRC, and represents around 1.5 per 10,000.
Nevertheless, the general public is still very interested to know who these 72 are (or were), how they made their fortunes, and how they met their maker.
It can also be argued that to be a billionaire, you have to be extremely hard working, willing to put in long hours seven days a week.
And for many rags-to-riches tycoons, the fear that it will all go away as fast as it was accumulated is a constant source of anxiety, and contributes to a whole range of ailments including heart disease, strokes, depression, etc.
This could be a reason for so many billionaires taking ill before their meter has expired.
Of the 72 late tycoons, 19 died “prematurely” from illnesses, representing 26% of the study group, with their average age being just 48 years old.
Therefore, premature death by illness ranks as the biggest killer of the 72, with the lesson perhaps being: If you can afford top-of-the-the line medical care, get it. And if you are a billionaire, you are certainly in a position to delegate authority once in a while to take a breather.
Autopsy reports for these 19 late billionaires include nine succumbing to cardiovascular disease, with notables including: Shanghai Zonfa Electric Group Chairman Nan Min, Hubei Fuxing Science & Tech President Zhang Shoucai, the “Father of China’s Anti-virus Software” Wang Jiangmin, Jiangsu Fengli Group Chairman Wu Yueming, lumber giant Anhui Luye Chairman Xu Weilin and Hempel China Chairman Gao Zhiwei.
Seven were stricken down with cancer including: Juneyao Group Chairman Wang Junyao, Xingye Group Chairman Wang Jincheng and Guangxi Beisheng Pharmaceutical Chairman He Yuliang.
If the departed were afflicted with an illness for a long period of time and they were getting on in years, then these deaths could be considered “natural causes.”
However, what is worth noting is that the average age of these late 19 billionaires was just 48!
The youngest was Shanghai Zonfa Electric’s Nan Min, at just 37, and Juneyao’s Wang Junyao was just a year older.
Meanwhile, the oldest of these 19 was just 59, still far below the average life expectancy of a modern day Chinese citizen, which is now well over 70.
“This is far younger than the national average. Responsibility-based stress may play a large part as well as failure to adhere to the four pillars of healthy living: Good nutrition, regular exercise, no tobacco/moderate alcohol and a balanced temperament,” said Ding Chunsheng, director of the Changchun Health Education Center.
Mr. Ding added that given the nature of billionaire’s duties, he doubted that many had the self-discipline or time to adhere to these four basic rules for a long life.
“Most tycoons got to where they are through tireless diligence. And once they get to a certain point, many are afraid it will all disappear overnight if they suddenly take their foot off the gas.”
The next most common way by which billionaires in the group of 72 left this world over the past years was by their own hand.
Of the 72 late tycoons, 17 committed suicide, with the average age of the felo-de-se just 50, with all dispatching of themselves via violent means.
Some of the more notables include: Jingdezhen, Jiangxi property magnate Shao Hexie and seven others choosing to hang themselves, and Heilongjiang hedge fund GM Zhao Qingbin along with five others opting to leap to their deaths.
Just this April, police found a burned out car with the body of Inner Mongolian food baron Jin Libin inside, with homicide or accidental death already being ruled out.
Two of the suicides indicated that they simply could not handle the pressures of the job: Shaanxi Jinhua Group VP Xu Kai and Huagang Development Chairman Ma Hao, with the extreme volatility of both agricultural commodity prices and property values likely contributing to their states of unease.
Meanwhile, 15 of the 72 late tycoons were murdered since 2003, with the victims' average age a wet-behind-the-ears 44.
These include the abovementioned steel baron Li Haicang and Linhai Jianghai Shipbuilding Chairman Yan Baolong, who was murdered by an acquaintance after failing to capitulate to extortion.
Economic envy at its very worst?
An in addition to the former China Mobile executive (on death row) and the ant farm salesman (already executed) mentioned above, 13 others of the 72 magnates were given the death penalty, with their average age being just 42.
In one rather sensational case, highflying stockbroker Yuan Baojing was put to death in 2006 for the killing a patrolman who had attempted to blackmail him. Yuan, just 40 at the time, was a rags-to-riches farmer-to-financier fairy tale of a story that ended very badly.
Another was the much-publicized case of Wang Zhendong, put to death in 2007 for swindling naïve villagers out of nearly 400 mln usd in an ant farm-based Ponzi scheme.
Whether or not the occupation of “billionaire” in the PRC will continue to climb up the list of the country’s most dangerous occupations is a story that has yet to be fully told.
But one thing for sure is that even if the mortality rate of billionaires in a booming China outdoes that of coal miners, fishermen and policemen – it is doubtful that any struggling parents in the countryside will dissuade their young son or daughter from pursuing their dreams when they answer the age old question of What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up as thus...
“I want to be a billionaire.”
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