Last updated: September 18, 2013 5:25 pm

China’s ‘drinks king’ Zong Qinghou suffers knife attack

Zong Qinghou...In this Wednesday, July 17, 2013 file photo, Zong Qinghou, chairman of food and beverage giant Wahaha Group, smokes as he speaks to the journalists during a news conference in Beijing, China. Chinese police detained a laborer who approached Zong, China's second-richest man, to ask for a job and then attacked and injured him when he denied the request, state media reported Wednesday, Sept. 18. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, File)©AP

Zong Qinghou, chairman of food and beverage giant Wahaha Group

China’s second-richest tycoon has been attacked by a disgruntled, knife-wielding unemployed man after refusing to offer him a job.

Zong Qinghou, founder and chairman of Chinese beverage giant Wahaha, was accosted near his home in the eastern city of Hangzhou last Friday morning by a man police identified by his surname, Yang, according to a spokesman for Mr Zong and state media reports on Wednesday.

The 49-year-old migrant worker from a neighbouring province became incensed when Mr Zong rejected his requests for a job and attacked the billionaire with a knife, slicing tendons and muscle on two fingers of his left hand.

China has relatively low rates of violent crime and many wealthy people do not bother to hire bodyguards, but the incident reflects rising friction in a society that has gone from centrally planned socialism to one of the most unequal in the world in barely a generation.

“We are seeing a rise in the number of people hiring bodyguards,” said Xin Yang, co-founder of Beijing Yunhai Elite Security Technology Consulting. “Everybody has their enemies, especially rich people in business.”

The suspect approached Mr Zong to ask him for a job at Wahaha after watching television programmes in which the 67-year-old billionaire helped migrant workers, according to a police statement published by state media. He slashed Mr Zong’s hand after the billionaire refused his request. He was arrested at 3pm that afternoon.

The man had left his home town of Suzhou and travelled to Hangzhou to look for work earlier this year after borrowing Rmb30,000 but he was unable to find any work because of his age, police said.

Known as the “drinks king”, Mr Zong’s personal fortune is estimated at $18.7bn by the Hurun Report, which compiles an annual rich list for China. Compared with many of China’s nouveau riche the chain-smoking Mr Zong leads a relatively humble and low-key lifestyle.

Wahaha Group’s revenues last year topped Rmb63.6bn but Mr Zong, who never attended high school and spent more than a decade labouring on a communal farm in the cultural revolution, started the business from a single grocery store in 1987 with a loan of just $22,000.

This year he slipped down the ranking to become China’s second-richest man but he was named the country’s richest in two of the previous three years.

A recent survey from Peking University found that last year households in the top 5 per cent income bracket earned 23 per cent of China’s total household income and the average annual income for a family was around $2,100

As recently as a decade ago China did not have a single dollar billionaire but today it has 315, according to Hurun.

The five wealthiest people in China, including Mr Zong, saw their combined riches double over the past year to around $68bn – a total that is on par with the fortune of Bill Gates, the world’s richest person again this year.

Meanwhile, average income growth for ordinary people has slowed in recent years as the economy has slowed, from around 12 per cent year-on-year quarterly growth in early 2010 to 7.5 per cent in the second quarter this year.

A recent survey from Peking University found that last year households in the top 5 per cent income bracket earned 23 per cent of China’s total household income and the average annual income for a family was around $2,100.

In the last couple of years the sense of insecurity among China’s super-wealthy has increased dramatically, not only as a result of rising resentment from the country’s have-nots but also because of a lack of institutional rule of law.

Many of the country’s richest people have been targeted in corruption or tax investigations and it is relatively common for competitors, particularly state-owned companies, to use strong-arm tactics to acquire private businesses that lack powerful political backers.

Additional Reporting by Wan Li

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