As word spread of the spectacular wedding on Hainan island of the daughter of Xing Libin, some Chinese reacted with envy, some with anger, but the most common reaction was – who is he?
That’s because Xing, 44, is little known in China, despite the Shanxi coal baron being one of the wealthiest men in the country.
According to Xin Caifu magazine, Xing was worth at least Rmb5 billion ($793 million) in 2011, having added about Rmb1 billion to his fortune since 2010.
That makes him the 252nd richest Chinese, the magazine said. But International Coal Online, a Chinese website, reported that villagers in Liulin county, where local boy Xing got his start with a single mine in 1990, believe he’s worth at least double that.
“Tens of billions” is the guess, that reflects both the fabulous wealth that has been amassed in China’s “black gold” triangle of coal provinces in Shanxi, Shaanxi and Inner Mongolia; likewise it points to the fact that few outsiders really know quite how much the often secretive barons have managed to stash away.
A thin and bespectacled man, Xing looks more like an accountant than a coal baron, judging by photographs that made it online from his daughter’s wedding in Sanya on March 18. In a rare interview with 21CN Business Herald in 2010, he was also described as being “dully” dressed and looking “nervous”.
“In the past I haven’t dared say that I’m a coal mine owner or that I run a coal mine,” he told the newspaper. But the Hainan wedding seems to indicate that the low-key approach has now been jettisoned.
Attracting most attention was the sheer cost of the event: reportedly more than Rmb70 million, as dozens of media outlets reported.
Then there was the bride’s ostentatious dowry: six Ferraris (see photograph of the cars lined up outside the hotel venue, above).
The groom is Li Bo, the son of an unnamed Hainan Island property developer (the bride herself was not named in any of the reports on the wedding).
Other wedding costs included the hire of three aircraft to fly guests and entertainers from both Beijing and the Shanxi capital of Taiyuan to Hainan, where the proud father had booked the Ritz-Carlton, the Marriott and Hilton hotels for the celebration, Chinese media reported.
CCTV presenters Zhu Jun and Zhou Tao then hosted the evening festivities on a giant, high-tech stage constructed especially for the party at the Ritz-Carlton, according to media reports.
Taiwan singer Jay Chou turned up to perform, as did Wang Lihong and Han Hong. In all over a dozen of the country’s top stars entertained the crowd in an event that was compared to CCTVs own annual Spring Festival Gala (see WiC136).
A white, horse-drawn carriage, driven by a (presumably bemused) foreign coachman, delivered the bride to the venue.
The event has drawn plenty of comment, including comparisons with feudal times.
In an online post on Xinhua’s weibo, or microblog, commentator Lei Zhongzhe said the wedding reminded him of two of the most famous lines of classical Chinese poetry, by Du Fu:
“Wine and meat rot behind vermilion gates/ while on the road people freeze to death.”
Xing hasn’t given any post-nuptials interviews himself, so we don’t know what made him put on such a high-profile ceremony after so many years of attempted anonymity.
While there is a dearth of information about the mysterious coal baron, we do know that he was born in May 1967 and attended Shanxi University, where he studied law.
Graduating in 1990 aged 23, Xing worked first at a steel mill, setting up several companies and making his first real money renting the Jinjiazhuang coal mine in nearby Liulin from the cash-strapped local government, Zhejiang Online reports.
According to China Entrepreneur magazine, an unnamed “technological innovation” of Xing’s then enabled him to increase the mine’s output from 100,000 tonnes to 600,000 tonnes.
By 2002 he had bought the far larger, state-owned Xingwu coal mine, also near Liulin, six kilometres away from the nearest public road, for just Rmb80 million.
He paid “a cabbage price,” or very little, remarked 21CN.
With an estimated 15 million tonnes of coal, the mine was “cheap in the extreme,” agrees China Entrepreneur.
Xing promptly set up another company, Shanxi Liansheng Energy Group. In 2008, having bought several more mines, Xing listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange as part of a deal with Fushan International Energy and Fulong Group, www.xici.net, a business news website, reported that year.
Xing has only become richer since then. In 2009, of the 24 large coal mines in Liulin county, Liansheng controls about a third. Xing also has a joint venture with state-owned China Resources Group in which he holds 42% of the shares.
According to Xing, the long-term goal of China Resources Liansheng Group is to own an annual production capacity of 100 million tonnes of coal. The company has spent Rmb7 billion annexing coal mines in Lüliang’s Xingxian and Shilou counties, as well as other emerging resource areas, the Economy and Nation Weekly reported.
Xing has also turned his attention to agribusiness recently, taking over a 154 square kilometre area of Shanxi province, or 52 villages and their surrounding land, which he is turning into an “agricultural business district” where he plans to plant walnut trees, among other things. The investment here may total Rmb10 billion, according to 21CN.
“Money is not a sin, but we have to make good use of the money,“ he told 21 CN.
Maybe so. Yet the public interest in his daughter’s lavish wedding has been ongoing, with thousands posting their opinions online.
The main debate is whether it is morally right to spend this kind of money on a wedding in a country where annual per capita income still averages just Rmb6,000 for rural residents and Rmb19,000 for urban ones.
Xinhua quoted the views of netizens who lamented how many impoverished children could be fed and clothed for such a huge sum of money. Xinhua’s commentator Lei also added that many other online remarks complained of the wedding’s ostentation and contrasted that with the many Chinese miners who had died in mining disasters.“Shanxi’s Black Gold is soaked in blood. So many families who have lost members, so many poor workers,” wrote Lei.
But Lei also cautioned that some of the criticism of the Xing wedding was simply envy.
“Doesn’t Rmb70 million spent on hiring airplanes and hotels, paying performers and buying goods also help other people’s incomes?”
That seems to strike a chord with an earlier comment from the Shanxi coal magnate.
“Helping other people out of poverty is a pleasure,” Xing is reported to have told a reporter from the Economy and Nation Weekly.
© ChinTell Ltd. All rights reserved.
Exclusively sponsored by HSBC.
The Week in China website and the weekly magazine publications are owned and maintained by ChinTell Limited, Hong Kong. Neither HSBC nor any member of the HSBC group of companies ("HSBC") endorses the contents and/or is involved in selecting, creating or editing the contents of the Week in China website or the Week in China magazine. The views expressed in these publications are solely the views of ChinTell Limited and do not necessarily reflect the views or investment ideas of HSBC. No responsibility will therefore be assumed by HSBC for the contents of these publications or for the errors or omissions therein.