China rich list compiler Hurun clarifies Tsinghua graduate Zhang Zetian’s ranking to quell online controversy

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The Hurun Research Institute, a rich list compiler run by Rupert Hoogewerf, has clarified its decision to list Zhang Zetian, wife of Chinese tech billionaire Richard Liu Qiangdong, as the third-richest person to have graduated from the prestigious Tsinghua University after the ranking stirred controversy online.

According to a list published by Hurun last Friday, Tsinghua University and Zhejiang University have produced the most graduates to become billionaires in China. And 30-year-old Zhang was ranked as the third-richest graduate from Tsinghua, with a net worth of 60 billion yuan (US$8.4 billion).

Zhang ranked behind 44-year-old Wang Xing, 44, founder of food delivery giant Meituan and 62-year-old Xu Hang, founder of property developer Parkland Group. However, many Chinese netizens questioned on social media platforms whether Zhang actually owns such massive wealth.

Hurun issued a statement on Monday to clarify its methodology for the ranking of rich Chinese alumni. “In the case of Tsinghua’s Zhang, her 60 billion yuan worth falls under her and [husband] Liu jointly.”

Chinese tech billionaires move up Hurun 2023 Rich List amid internet rebound

The controversy comes amid greater scrutiny of personal wealth and income inequality in China. According to a separate rich list published by Forbes in November 2023, the net worth of Liu, founder and chairman of e-commerce giant, was US$4.7 billion, ranking No. 69 in China’s top 100 rich list.

Liu’s celebrity-style marriage to Zhang is also rare among Chinese tech billionaires, with many maintaining a low profile when it comes to family matters.

The Tsinghua alumni rich list was part of a Hurun Most Successful University Alumni 2023 ranking the research firm released. Hurun defined the “most successful alumni” to include former full-time undergraduates, postgraduates and those entrepreneurs holding doctoral degrees on the Hurun China Rich List 2023.

A total of 58 universities, 45 Chinese and 13 overseas, have at least three alumni on the Hurun China Rich List 2023. Tsinghua and Zhejiang University topped the list, each with 32 alumni on the list.

Peking University, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, and Wuhan University came in third, fourth and fifth with 22, 21, and 17 alumni respectively on the list.

Robin Li Yanhong, founder, chairman and CEO of Baidu, and Xiaomi chairman and CEO Lei Jun are two of the most high-profile and richest graduates to have come from Peking University and Wuhan University, respectively, according to the list.

Outside China, Stanford University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of California, Yale University and Harvard University from the US were the top five institutions with the most Hurun China Rich listers.

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