China has a new wealthiest man in the country. For the past decade, that title has been rotating between Alibaba’s co-founder, Jack Ma, and Tencent’s co-founder, Pony Ma. It set the stage for the dominance of technology in the Chinese business world. However, this year there is finally another contender and one whom no one has heard of before the recent IPO of his company, Nongfu Spring Company Ltd (HKG: 9633).

Zhong Shanshan, is the founder, Chairman and General Manager of Nongfu Spring (农夫山泉). The story of how he ascends into the throne as the richest man in China is quite a fascinating one. 

Born Without Even A Wooden Spoon

Zhong Shanshan was born in Zhejiang province (same as Jack Ma). However, he grew up poor. He was forced to drop out of school at the age of 12 during the Chinese cultural revolution as his parents were targeted for prosecution. When he grew older, he tried to restart school by applying for the National College Entrance Examination (高考). Unfortunately, he failed, twice!

Unable to continue his study, he went on to work as a journalist. During that period, he has the opportunity to interview more than 500 entrepreneurs for his work. That might have enticed him into the life of entrepreneurship. So when the government started opening up the economy and created a special economic zone in the Hainan Province, Zhong rushed southward to start his entrepreneurial journey. 

Map of China: Zhejiang and Hainan Highlighted

Journey To The South

As a true entrepreneur, he ventured into the mushroom farming business on his first attempt when he arrived in Hainan in 1988. Sure enough, he failed in that and many other ventures after that. Zhong finally got a good turn in fortune by 1991 when he got the distributorship in Hainan Province for the most popular packaged drink in the country, Wahaha……………


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