Chinese Bottled Water and Vaccine Mogul Becomes Asia’s Richest Person

This photo taken on July 12, 2018 shows polluted water that has been collected in mineral water bottles at a roving exhibition created by Chinese performance artist Nut Brother, known for his advocacy work on environmental and social issues, in Beijing. - At first glance, it may seem like just …
GREG BAKER/AFP via Getty Images

Chinese bottled water tycoon and vaccine manufacturing mogul Zhong Shanshan has become Asia’s richest person, financial media outlets reported Wednesday.

Zhong’s net worth increased by $70.9 billion in 2020 to $77.8 billion, making him the 11th-richest person in the world, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

“It’s one of the fastest accumulations of wealth in history,” Bloomberg News reported Wednesday.

Zhong’s net worth surge places him above the previous richest person in Asia, Indian business magnate Mukesh Ambani, whose net worth is estimated at $76.9 billion. The bottled water giant also outranks fellow Chinese business titan Jack Ma, whose net worth decreased from $61.7 billion to $51.2 billion in October amid increased scrutiny of tech companies by the Communist Party, to which Ma belongs.

Zhong, 66, surpassed Ma to become the richest person in China in September. Prior to the feat, Zhong remained relatively unknown outside of China.

Zhong owes his wealth to two separate business endeavors: a bottled water company called Nongfu Spring Co. and the vaccine manufacturer Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy Enterprise Co.

The IPO of Nongfu Spring Co. in September pushed Zhong into the rankings of China’s top three wealthiest people for the first time. The beverage company has become one of the most popular brands among Hong Kong retail investors.

Zhong controls Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy Enterprise Co. as chairman. The vaccine manufacturer went public on the Shanghai Stock exchange in April, leading to a $20 billion increase in the tycoon’s net worth by August.

“Nongfu shares have jumped 155 percent since their debut, and Wantai’s are up more than 2,000 percent,” according to Bloomberg on Wednesday.

Zhong was born in Hangzhou, the capital of China’s eastern Zhejiang province in 1954. He dropped out of elementary school “during China’s chaotic Cultural Revolution [1966-76]” and eventually went on to work as “a construction worker, a newspaper reporter, and a beverage sales agent before starting his own business,” according to Forbes.

Zhong is allegedly known as a “Lone Wolf” within China “for his eschewing of politics and clubby business groups” typical of the elite Chinese business class, Bloomberg noted in September.

He leads a wealth ranking in China normally reserved for owners of tech giants and continues to distinguish himself from other traditionally wealthy subsets of Chinese society, such as property tycoons.

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