By Aaron Mok
April 15, 2023
TikTok may soon be banned in the US over national security concerns.
A ban would be a blow to the company's bottom line: Used by more than 150 million users in the US, TikTok is expected to generate $8 billion in advertising revenue by 2024 from Americans alone, according to Insider Intelligence, and the company's US business, alone, could be worth between $40 and $50 billion, per Bloomberg.
In turn, Zhang Yiming, the CEO of TikTok's Chinese parent company ByteDance, may see his net worth — which sits at $42.3 billion as of April 14 — drop. He is one of many Chinese billionaires who got rich from starting successful tech giants.
These Chinese billionaires are also navigating policies in their own country. In 2020, the Chinese government began cracking down on tech companies with increased regulations. Since then, the Chinese Communist Party has launched initiatives like "Common Prosperity" that aim to redistribute wealth to the masses in a country where income inequality is high.
Earlier this year, China reversed some of these policies in response to low GDP growth.
From the CEO of ByteDance to the founder of WeChat, here are the 10 wealthiest Chinese tech billionaires.
All net worth figures are based on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index as of April 14 at 3:30 p.m. ET.
Richard Liu, the 50-year-old also known as Liu Qiangdong, is the founder of JD.com. The e-commerce giant has more than 569 million active users who buy products like clothes, home appliances, and books, according to Bloomberg.
Liu owns a 14.5% stake in JD.com, per Bloomberg, which has a market cap of about $67 billion, per Yahoo Finance. He is the single largest shareholder of the company as of 2022, the South China Morning Post reported.
Last year, Liu donated $2 billion to charities — though he didn't disclose which — as part of China's "common prosperity" campaign for wealth redistribution among tech giants, per SCMP.
Robin Li, 54, is the cofounder and CEO of China's popular search engine Baidu.
Founded in 2000, Baidu's search engine now has roughly 622 million active users per month, Bloomberg reported. The company is also behind Baidu Encyclopedia, the largest crowdsourced Chinese-language encyclopedia in the world.
The majority of Li's wealth comes from his 20% stake in Baidu, per Bloomberg, which has a market cap of $46 billion, per Yahoo Finance.
In 2018, Li, his wife Melissa Ma, and Baidu together donated $104 million to Peking University, the South China Morning Post reported. The university used its donations to set up a fund to support research in Baidu's AI technology. Five years later, Baidu is now developing an AI chatbot rival to OpenAI's ChatGPT.
Serial entrepreneur Gong Hongjia, also known as Kung Hung Ka, is the cofounder of Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology, which supplies surveillance products, according to Bloomberg.
Hongjia, 58, is also the founder of mobile internet company Funinhand, radio manufacturer Tescun, and security firm Watchdata Technologies, according to Bloomberg.
Most of the billionaire's fortune comes from Hikvision. He is the company's biggest individual shareholder with 18% of the company, per Forbes, which has a market cap of about $60 billion, per Yahoo Finance.
Known as China's best angel investor, Hongjia has poured money into at least 15 tech companies as of 2019, according to the South China Morning Post. He donated $1.5 million to the Huazhong University of Science and Technology, where he studied, to create a seed fund, per SCMP.
Lei Jun is known as "China's Steve Jobs," according to the South China Morning Post.
Jun, 53, is the founder and chairman of Xiaomi, a Chinese electronics conglomerate dubbed "China's Apple" for bringing a cheaper smartphone to Chinese customers. As of 2022, Xiaomi was the third best-selling smartphone brand in the world, according to Forbes.
Jun has a 24% stake in the company, according to Bloomberg, which has a market cap of around $39 billion, per Yahoo Finance.
On a single day in 2021, his net worth fell by more than $2 billion after he donated 616 million of his shares to two charities, per Bloomberg.
Jun also owns 9% of JOYY, an entertainment and social media platform with a $2.1 billion market cap, and 13% of Kingsoft, a gaming and security software with a $2 billion market cap, per Bloomberg.
Zhang Zhidong, also known as Tony Zhang, made his fortune as the cofounder of Tencent, where he owns a 3.4% stake, according to Bloomberg.
The 51-year-old tech whiz helped start the Chinese internet giant with Ma Huateng in 1998 after they met as students at Shenzen University. Under his leadership, Tencent launched WeChat, one of the most widely used instant messaging app in China, according to The Guardian.
Zhidong stepped down from his role in 2014 "due to personal reasons," Forbes reported. He is now the president of Tencent Academy where he trains the company's staff as a lecturer, per Forbes.
Colin Huang is the founder and former CEO of PDD Holdings, the company behind Pinduoduo, a widely used Chinese e-commerce platform that sells products ranging from cosmetics to fresh produce to 733.4 million active users each month, Bloomberg reported.
Huang, who is 43 years old, became a billionaire in less than three and a half years thanks to his stake in Pinduoduo, which Bloomberg pegs at 28%.
In 2020, Huang gave away $1.85 billion of his fortune to charities, according to the South China Morning Post. A year later, his Starry Night Foundation pledged $100 million to Zhejiang University to support its research in medical sciences and food systems, per Bloomberg.
He stepped down as chairman of his company in March 2021 to focus on his personal interest in biotech research, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Nearly two years later, Huang lost $3.1 billion worth of shares in one day after investors disagreed with the company's pledge to spend $1 billion to subsidize its offerings, Forbes reported.
William Ding is the CEO of NetEase, a Chinese internet services provider that helped bring popular games like "World of Warcraft," "Overwatch," and "Westward Journey" to Chinese locals, per Bloomberg.
The 51-year-old businessman is also known for bringing Marvel comic books like "Captain American" and "Iron Man" from the US to China, according to the South China Morning Post.
Ding's wealth is largely thanks to his 44% stake in NetEase, per Bloomberg, which has a market cap of $59 billion, per Yahoo Finance.
In 2020, Ding reportedly purchased one of Elon Musk's homes in Los Angeles for $29 million.
Last year, Ding stepped down from multiple leadership roles at Beijing NetEase Media Co, a subsidiary of NetEase, in response to China's crackdown on its tech industry, SCMP reported.
Jack Ma is the cofounder and former CEO of Alibaba, China's e-commerce giant known as the "Amazon of China."
The 58-year-old's fortune is linked to his 3.9% stake in Alibaba — which has a market cap of $245 billion — as well as his stake in Alibaba's affiliate company Ant Group, an online payment service, according to Bloomberg. He also has stakes in Chinese entertainment companies like Beijing Enlight Media and Huayi Brothers, according to Forbes.
Despite Ma's celebrity status in China, friends of his have said he doesn't flaunt his wealth with large purchases.
In 2019, Ma stepped down from Alibaba's board to focus full time on philanthropy through the Jack Ma Foundation, Forbes reported. A year later,Ma donated close to $500 million to efforts like flood relief, the South China Morning Post reported.
In 2021, Alibaba pledged to donate $15.5 billion to support China's "common prosperity" initiative, Fortune reported.
Ma Huateng — who also goes by Pony Ma — is the cofounder and CEO of Tencent, the Chinese tech conglomerate behind the popular mobile messaging app WeChat. The app is used by around 1.3 billion monthly active users to talk to friends, send money, and order taxis, according to Bloomberg.
Huateng, 51, fortune is largely made up of his 7.4% stake in Tencent, per Bloomberg, which has a market cap of $439 billion, per Yahoo Finance.
Tencent also owns 30% of WeBank, China's first digital-only private bank, and Chinese game developers like TiMi Studio Group, which is behind popular internet games like "Honor of Kings."
In 2021, in response to China's regulatory crackdown, Tencent pledged to spend $15 billion as part of its wealth redistribution efforts — one of the largest charitable donations by a Chinese tech giant, Bloomberg reported.
Zhang Yiming, 40, is the founder and former CEO of ByteDance, the parent company behind the social media platform TikTok. ByteDance also owns FlipChat, a WeChat competitor; Duoshan, a video-messaging app; and Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok.
Yiming's wealth is linked to his stake in ByteDance. The company was valued at $220 billion and made $80 billion in revenue as of 2022, according to Bloomberg. TikTok's US business alone may be worth between $40 and $50 billion as of March this year, per Bloomberg.
In 2021, Yiming donated $1.85 billion to create an education fund called "Fang Mei" based in his home town of Longyan, according to the South China Morning Post. The donation came in response to China's crackdown on its tech industry, per SCMP.