Things are weird in China right now. Every other week a different billionaires is disappearing and/or being targeted by the government. It's as if the Chinese government woke up one day and decided some of its citizens were simply too rich.
Look at Wang Jianlin. The government forced him to divest his overseas assets.
And then there's Alibaba founder Jack Ma. Reportedly, President Xi Jinping personally pulled the plug on the $35 billion IPO of Ma's Ant Group and proceeded to dismantle his empire.
Pony Ma was also targeted. He was called in by government officials in Beijing to talk about antitrust compliance issues.
What do Wang, Jack, and Pony have in common? Well, they are billionaires of course, but it's really that they are high-profile, popular billionaires that the Chinese government seems to have issues with. How could these billionaires have avoided the scrutiny of the Chinese government?
Well, for one thing, they could be more charitable like Colin Huang, the billionaire founder of Pinduoduo. His company has become more popular for online shopping than Alibaba. In the summer of 2020, Huang donated a more than 10% stake in his company to scientific research and other charities. Zhong Shanshan, the founder of bottled water company Nongfu Spring Co, stepped down as the chairman of the company recently to focus on life sciences research. Both moves by Huang and Shanshan decreased their net worth slightly and took them off the radar of officials in Beijing.
Guo Wang is another example. He's a billionaire real estate mogul who has been living in self-imposed exile in Manhattan. A few years ago, he was causing trouble for China's government. Government censors warned that there would be serious consequences for any media coverage of him that was not pre-authorized by the Chinese government. Basically, the censor was threatening the worldwide media. But why? A few days before the censor's warning, Guo accused high-ranking members of China's Communist Party of corruption during a live interview with Voice of America, a Mandarin-language, U.S. government-funded media outlet. The interview was live-streamed and was planned to run for three hours. The video was stopped after just 80 minutes as Guo began talking about Wang Qishan, the head of China's internal corruption division. Guo compared the relationship between Chinese business people and politicians to prostitution and he claimed to have evidence of this corruption.
Over the past 25 years, China has produced more new billionaires than any other country in the world. Many of these new billionaires made their fortunes in real estate – which almost always needs certain political connections and protection. Those connections can be tricky. Billionaire Xiao Jianhua was abducted from his hotel room in Hong Kong in 2017 and forcibly returned to mainland China – despite holding a Canadian passport. The billionaire had business dealings with relatives of President Xi Jinping. Xiao Jianhua has not been heard from since his abduction and the empire he built is being dismantled by authorities in Beijing.
Back in 2018, popular Chinese actress Fan Bingbing disappeared for months. When she disappeared, the government ominously said she's "under control." Bingbing disappeared shortly after she was accused of tax evasion. He also said in October 2018 that he had not heard anything from Bingbing or her representatives in China since April.
Basically, being rich and/or famous and in the spotlight in China is dangerous. Chinese celebrities and billionaires would be safer projecting at least the perception that they aren't rolling in money.