China’s top billionaire got his start selling sodas and popsicles to schoolchildren. While living in a commune from 1964 to 1978 during the Mao Zedong Cultural Revolution, he studied Mao’s books on leadership and how to survive through struggle.
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Zong Qinghou took over a grocery store in 1987 after Deng Xiaoping came to power and began to steer China toward a market economy by borrowing $22,000 from relatives.
Today, he is listed as the 30th wealthiest person in the world on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
He is one of the few who has thrived amid China’s seemingly conflation of communism and capitalism.
He is the owner of Hangzhou Wahaha Group Co. and sells baby formula and children’s clothing.
He sells mineral water and iced green teas to adults.
Zong was born during 1945, a pivotal year for China. World War II had just ended and civil war had ensued under Mao’s Communists. By 1960, Mao had ordered 700 million people into a
state-controlled worker program called the Great Leap Forward.
The failure of the Great Leap Forward resulted in the deadliest famine in history. Zong’s time at the commune ended when Mao died in 1976 and China gradually adopted more liberal policies.
In his first year of business, Zong made $15,991, a sum that was almost 50 times the gross national income per capita at the time.
He believes private enterprise is the main direction of economic development
. He says China’s primary current problem is that the income of the government is too high and the income of the people is too low.
He says driving an economy by exports or investment is unrealistic. Of course, that’s exactly what drives China’s economy currently.