China has passed the United States in the number of billionaires it boasts, driven by the rise of fortunes in technology and manufacturing, according to a survey released Thursday. Despite a cooling economy, the number of Chinese billionaires rose by 242 this year to 596, according to the Hurun Report, which follows China's wealthy. It said that surpassed the 537 the company found in the United States. The report reflected the success of online retailing, entertainment, and other service businesses, while traditional industries such as steel and natural resources have declined. No. 1 on this year's list is Wang Jianlin, chairman of Wanda Group, which operates hotels, shopping malls, and cinemas, at $34.4 billion, up 52% from last year.
No. 2 is Jack Ma of e-commerce giant Alibaba Group at $22.7 billion, followed by Zong Qinghou of the Wahaha soft-drinks empire with $21.2 billion. "Despite the slowdown in the economy, China's richest have defied gravity, recording their best year ever, and creating more wealth than any country has ever done before in a year," Rupert Hoogewerf, chief researcher for the Hurun Report, said in a statement. But most of that wealth exists only on paper, and it may already have shrunk, according to the Financial Times, which notes that the report is based on equity values from just before China's "Black Monday" in August and that the Shanghai stock index has dropped 16% since then. (Read more billionaire stories.)