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Of the world’s top 10 richest self-made women, seven are Chinese. And you can bet your bottom yen that they didn’t get that way without throwing out the business rulebook.

The rise of self-made billionaires who are women – particularly in China, which is home to 68 of these powerhouses – is not just a trend, it’s a revolution.

The ‘Richest Self-Made Women in the World 2023’ report released earlier this year notes that there are 109 self-made female billionaires worldwide. And of the top 10, seven are Chinese.

The relentless work ethic and pursuit of financial prosperity have become integral to Chinese identity, with success serving as a significant yardstick for personal and professional achievement.

Their combined wealth totals approximately US$57.6 billion. From real estate to facial fillers, pharmaceuticals to Apple AirPods and even soy sauce, the women featured below are showing that no industry is off limits.

Even more, they’re rewriting history, shattering glass ceilings and throwing out the business rulebook, proving that being female is a boon – not a barrier – to success.

1. Wu Yajun

Wu Yajun went from working as a technician in a factory, making only US$16 per month, to becoming one of China’s 10 wealthiest self-made women.

Even with a bachelor’s degree in engineering, Yajun was still assigned to work at a state-owned factory in Chongqing, her hometown, where she stayed for four years.

Later, Yajun embarked on a career in journalism, covering the property beat at a local newspaper. When it became challenging to purchase a home, entrepreneurship looked promising, encouraging her to switch gears.

This led to the founding of Longfor Properties, a property development company she started with her then-husband.

The company, now called Longfor Group Holdings, was a success, skyrocketing Yajun to be named China’s richest woman in 2012. Despite a divorce, which cost her roughly US$3 billion of her fortune, her wealth continued to grow.

In 2022, she stepped down as Chair of the company. However, Yajun continues to maintain her position as one of the country’s wealthiest with a total net worth of approximately US$11 billion.

2. Zhong Huijuan

Zhong Huijuan’s career began as a middle school chemistry teacher.

Her husband worked at a pharmaceutical factory, and it wasn’t long before the two decided to quit their day jobs and create Jiangsu Hansoh Pharmaceutical Group, a publicly traded Chinese drug maker that researches and develops drugs for central nervous system diseases, infections, cancer and diabetes as well as gastrointestinal and cardiovascular treatments.

The company experienced overnight success, with its first day of trading catapulting Huijuan to become the wealthiest self-made woman in Asia with a US$10.5 billion fortune.

Profiting big on China’s biotech boom, today she chairs the company and owns more than 75 percent of its shares with her daughter.

Huijuan’s estimated net worth lies around the US$9.3 billion mark.

3. Chen Lihua

Revered as the ‘Beijing real estate queen’, Chen Lihua’s journey to wealth wasn’t typical.

A high school dropout, she started her career in furniture repair before moving to Hong Kong in the 1980s to get into real estate investing – her true calling.

Just six short years later, Lihua founded Fu Wah International Group, a real estate behemoth focused on property development, asset management and finance – and the rest is history.

Today, Lihua’s net worth hovers around the US$8.4 billion mark.

4. Jian Jun

Jian Jun’s career journey began rather ordinarily at the state-owned China National Cereals Oils and Foodstuffs Import and Export Corporation. However, a trip abroad changed her life forever.

There, she discovered facial injection treatments known as a ‘beauty lunch’ that took no longer than one-to-two hours.

Jun’s interest in cosmetology was sparked. She returned to China and joined Imeik Technology Development Company, a biomedical supplier that makes products like skin fillers and facial implant threads, as its Director.

Jun elevated in the ranks, gradually becoming the company’s largest owner. She became Chair in 2016. It’s estimated she’s worth approximately US$7.8 billion.

5. Wang Laichun

Wang Laichun’s journey to success started from the ground up as a factory worker, assembling iPhones at Foxconn for a decade.

She leveraged her experience and vision to team up with her brother and acquire Luxshare in 2004. Under her leadership, Luxshare broke barriers, emerging as a formidable competitor in the industry, securing market share from Foxconn.

Soon, the company’s contribution extended beyond connectors, encompassing the production of AirPods and becoming an integral partner in Apple’s supply chain.

Laichun’s expertise and foresight haven’t just elevated Luxshare; they’ve also propelled her into the league of the world’s most affluent women.

With her estimated net worth surpassing US$7 billion this year, Laichun’s impact on the technology landscape is undeniable.

6. Cheng Xue

Cheng Xue stands as the Vice Chair of Foshan Haitian Flavoring & Food Company, a transformative force in China’s culinary industry.

From its evolution in 1995 as a collective entity to a limited company, Xue’s strategic leadership has been the bedrock of its success. Her influence, though a minority stakeholder, has propelled the company to the helm of the nation’s soy sauce makers.

Under her guidance, Foshan Haitian Flavoring & Food Company expanded its offerings to encompass more than 200 products, spanning oyster sauce and vinegar to chicken stock and oil.

With a total net worth of approximately US$6.9 billion, Xue’s story exemplifies that dedication, expertise and vision know no gender, especially in traditionally male-dominated industries.

7. Zhao Yan

Zhao Yan, the visionary Chair of Hong Kong-listed Bloomage Biotechnology, is a force in both the biotech and business landscapes.

Renowned for producing hyaluronic acid, a key ingredient in anti-aging skincare products, Bloomage Biotechnology has strategically harnessed its global presence to serve local pharmaceutical, cosmetic and medical companies effectively.

Yan’s influence, however, spans beyond the biotech realm; her diverse interests encompass real estate, finance and sports.

Armed with a biology degree from East China Normal University and an MBA from Fordham University in New York, she has seamlessly blended scientific acumen with entrepreneurial prowess.

Under her leadership, Bloomage Biotechnology embarked on pioneering initiatives, making large-scale hyaluronic acid fermentation a reality, thereby advancing the field of microbial fermentation.

Beyond business, Yan’s mission to enrich lives shines through her commitment to human welfare and cultural heritage. With a unique blend of art and public service, she established the ‘YunZhong (In Cloud) Series’ – an innovative platform that revives and promotes China’s intangible culture through art, song and dance.

With a total net worth of roughly US$6.9 billion, Yan’s journey serves as a testament to the power of innovation, compassion and tenacity in shaping a brighter future.

Getting Rich is Glorious

While many women in the West have grown up in a world where money, power and ambition are ‘dirty words’ that should not be openly discussed, the same can’t be said for Chinese women.

According to Age of Ambition, Evan Osnos’ account of 21st century China, “The ethos of the last 30 years is that to get rich is glorious; that instinct is gender neutral.”

The relentless work ethic and pursuit of financial prosperity have become integral to Chinese identity, with success serving as a significant yardstick for personal and professional achievement.

Undoubtedly, this cultural emphasis on financial achievement has contributed to China being home to more than half of the world’s self-made female billionaires.

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