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Property regains top spot as driver of wealth for China's richest

Wang Jianlin, chairman of Dalian Wanda Group, touches his face during an interview at his office in the company's headquarters in Beijing De
Wang Jianlin, chairman of Dalian Wanda Group, touches his face during an interview at his office in the company's headquarters in Beijing De

By Adam Jourdan

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China's property industry reclaimed its spot as the number one source of income in the past year for the mainland's wealthy, according to the China Rich List published annually by Hurun Report Inc.

One in four members on the rich list made their money in China's real estate industry, overtaking manufacturing as the most common source of wealth. Six out of the top 10 made their money in the construction sector.

Land prices in China have hit record highs in recent weeks, reflecting strong demand for property and presenting a quandary to China's leaders who are trying to prevent a housing bubble while supporting the sector, which is a key driver of economic growth.

Real estate tycoon Wang Jianlin, chairman of Dalian Wanda Group, rose to the number one spot as his fortune doubled to $22 billion, overtaking beverage magnate Zong Qinghou.

Wang, the head of China's largest commercial real estate developer, bought UK luxury yacht maker Sunseeker for $1.6 billion and is planning billion-dollar luxury hotel developments in London and New York.

Zong, chairman of privately-held Wahaha Group, China's leading beverage maker, saw his personal fortune climb 48 percent, but still fell to second place with $18.7 billion.

The 1,000 wealthiest people in China saw their combined worth rebound 27 percent after last year's decline and nearly six in 10 saw their personal fortunes climb, the report added.

The top five richest individuals, including new faces like Tencent Holding's <0700.HK> Pony Ma, real estate developer Yang Huiyan of Country Garden Holdings Co Ltd <2007.HK> and auto maker Wei Jianjun of Great Wall Motor Co Ltd <601633.SS>, saw their wealth climb a combined 80 percent against 2012.

The total number of billionaires in China rose 25 percent to a total of 315 individuals, according to the report, even as China's broader economy has slowed for nine of the past 10 quarters.

China's wealthy do not always enjoy the limelight of making the rich list. President Xi Jinping has been leading a crackdown on extravagance that has ensnared senior politicians and business people, while shows of excess often spark online naming and shaming from China's army of microbloggers.

Sectors that rose on the list included IT and entertainment, pharmaceuticals, investment and cars, the report said. However, natural resources, retail, manufacturing, steel and apparel all saw their numbers fall between 5-10 percent.

The close ties between business and politics were also apparent as 153 individuals on the 2013 list were appointed to either the National People's Congress or the China's People's Political Consultative Conference, the report said.

"Strong performances in real estate and IT have driven China's richest to new records," Rupert Hoogewerf, founder and chairman of Hurun Report, said in a statement.

Hoogewerf, a British accountant, began publishing the list in 1999. It draws from a broad range of sources and the report has conceded that "valuing the wealth of China's richest is as much an art as it is a science".

(Editing by Matt Driskill)

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