11 December 2017
Chen Lihua made her initial property fortune in Hong Kong before she returned to China to build a huge commercial real estate empire. Photo:
Chen Lihua made her initial property fortune in Hong Kong before she returned to China to build a huge commercial real estate empire. Photo:

How Chen Lihua became China’s richest woman

Chen Lihua, the founder of commercial real estate group Fu Wah International, has topped the list of China’s richest women with a net worth totaling about 50.5 billion yuan (US$7.45 billion), according to a report released by Hurun Research Institution on Tuesday.

Most women billionaires in China suffered an erosion of wealth last year amid a slower economy, but Chen managed to buck the trend and boost her net worth, thanks to judicious property investments.

Known as the queen of Beijing’s real estate market, Chen owns numerous properties in prime locations in the capital city.

The story of Chen’s ascent to riches is quite unique.

A descendant of a noble Manchu family of the Yellow Banner, Chen has a blue-blood background. But at the time of her birth, the Manchu Qing dynasty had already collapsed.

Yet, her family still owned some valuable antique furniture. The story goes that Chen had them buried underground for years until the Cultural Revolution came to an end. She then sold them off and started an antique business afterwards.

In 1982 when she was 41, Chen moved to Hong Kong. Thanks to her antique business, she was able to pour some money into the property market.

She made a big killing by investing in luxury apartments in Happy Valley.

Fu Wah International was registered and headquartered in Hong Kong, but soon Chen decided to go back to Beijing to build a bigger property empire.

Leveraging on her connections and superb social skills, she was able to snap up several prime land slots, including one not far from Tiananmen Square. The site was developed into Chang’an Plaza and Chang An Club, a top-class business club.

Its rumored that three of the nine members in the last Politburo Standing Committee are very close to Chen.

In 2000, Fu Wah won a bid for a renovation project along Jinbao Street in Beijing. Under the venture, the company dismantled over 2,100 courtyard houses and built high-rise structures.

Jinbao Street is now a hotspot for luxury shopping, an equivalent to the Fifth Avenue in New York and Canton Road in Hong Kong’s Tsim Sha Tsui area.

The street now boasts a collection of luxury hotels, high-end shopping malls, Class-A office buildings, serviced apartments, club houses and other high-end properties.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct. 27

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal columnist

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