CHINA - The lives of the super rich are always of great interest to ordinary people. How billionaires snowball their personal wealth, what they do in their leisure time, how many days a year they spend on business trips, what kind of gifts they send to their friends and relatives－even their astrological or Chinese zodiac signs－are probed, apparently giving inspiration or setting trends.
The number of rich people has been expanding in China over the past few years. According to the Hurun Report, the Shanghai-based media group that documents every aspect of the rising ranks of the Chinese rich, more than 2.9 million Chinese people had personal wealth of more than 6 million yuan (S$1.23 million) by the end of last year－100,000 more than a year earlier.
The number of rich people with personal wealth of over 100 million yuan increased by 2,500 to reach 67,000 by last year, the Hurun Report said.
Although the means by which these rich people accumulated wealth varies from person to person, their preferred ways of spending money are quite often the same. Their favourite investment, despite the recent downturns, is still property.
According to the Hurun Report, the current favourite property in Shanghai is a golf villa. The average price of a 350-square-meter golf villa in Shanghai has risen 6 million yuan this year to reach 25 million yuan. Such villas are eagerly pursued, the report said, since rich people seemingly believe they are "scarce resources worth investing in".
Another important area of investment by rich people is their personal health, according to Rupert Hoogewerf, founder and chief researcher of the Hurun Report.
"Basically, they manage their health by eating healthfully and exercising regularly," Hoogewerf said. "The second important thing is a regular medical checkup. Medical trips, medical clubs, and even placenta injection are more widely accepted by high-net-worth individuals."
As the Hurun Report has discovered, more than 80 per cent of China's wealthy have a medical checkup annually, and 14 per cent of them have one every six months.
One-fourth of the super rich in China get a physical checkup twice a year. About 40 per cent of these rich people prefer overseas hospitals or organisations. The average expenditure for such a medical checkup is 1,500 yuan, but the super wealthy are likely to spend 3,500 yuan each time.
Zhang Hongyi, the Shanghai-based chief executive officer of a joint venture between China and Switzerland, has a physical checkup once a year at a cost of 2,000 yuan each. Additionally, he visits his personal doctor at a foreign clinic in Shanghai every three months for health advice.
"For me, health is the most important thing," Zhang said. "I will not be able to fulfil my job without good health. It's worth investing in it."
He spends one hour every morning jogging, and he goes golfing if he has the time.
According to the Hurun Report, golf is one of the favourite sports among individuals with higher net worth. As a result, it is even more expensive now to be admitted into a golf club in Shanghai. The membership fee of the Sheshan International Golf Club in west Shanghai has risen from 2.3 million yuan last year to 2.7 million yuan this year.
Wealthy people also are huge collectors. Artworks, especially ancient Chinese calligraphy and paintings, are gaining popularity.
China's fourth-richest man, Wang Jianlin, who has a personal wealth of at least 90.3 billion yuan and is chairman of the privately-owned property developer Dalian Wanda Group, is very active in the art world. Last year, Wang spent 172 million yuan for a Picasso original at Christie's auction house in New York.
Watches are still the cup of tea of the Chinese super rich. According to the Hurun Report, Patek Philippe remains the most preferred complex functional watch brand, while Cartier is the most preferred jewelry watch brand.
Jiang Lei, general manager of a real estate company in Shanghai, has a collection of luxury watches at home. To him, brands such as Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin are must-haves when it comes to luxury watches. But usually he will not wear them, as he considers them to be "too much of a display". Therefore, he prefers to wear a Rolex or Blancpain when he is conducting business.
"I am also a huge fan of Chinese ancient calligraphy and paintings," Jiang said. "But there are too many counterfeits in the market. Amateur collectors can easily be deceived. Also, the prices of these artworks have been much hyped. So to be on the safe side, I find watches much safer to invest in. If I really like some pieces of artwork, I will simply buy some duplicates," he said.
Meanwhile, rich people generally follow tight schedules. But probably one of the keys to their success is that they never forget to give themselves a break. Therefore, travel is second only to health as a so-called spiritual investment, the Hurun Report has found.
Chinese people with high net worth took four trips on average last year, with at least one trip overseas. More than half of them choose to travel abroad on national holidays. For a domestic trip, the Chinese super rich will spend at least 43,000 yuan per person. The expenditure for an overseas trip will be at least 110,000 yuan.
Very popular nowadays is an overseas wedding ceremony combined with traveling, according to HHtravel, a high-end luxury travel brand under the large Chinese travel agency Ctrip.com. About 40 per cent of China's wealthy are interested in an overseas travel wedding, and about 70 per cent of rich people born in the 1980s have shown interest in such a trip.
One of the most asked-about products under HHtravel is the travel wedding at Santorini, a Greek island. The 10-day trip will cost at least 199,000 yuan for each person, with business class flights on fivestar airline Qatar Airways, an exclusive photographer, and helicopter and yachting trips provided.
Ji Xiaojing, director of HHtravel's European trips department, said the overseas travel wedding has huge potential in the Chinese market, especially among those with personal wealth of at least 10 million yuan.
"These customers have unique tastes and styles. Therefore, we have to make sure everything is well-planned and high-end. All our staff serving these customers know exactly their needs and preferences and have an acute sense of quality," said Ji.