Half the world's 14 self-made female billionaires--that is, those who didn't benefit from inherited fortunes--have struck it rich on China's mainland. They include Hong Kong entrepreneur Chu Lam Yiu, who peddles ingredients to China's tobacco companies, and Xiu Li Hawken, a U.K. citizen who helps run below-ground shopping centers in China. Hawken is one of three self-made women to debut on this year's billionaires list after their companies went public on Asian stock exchanges in the past 18 months. Another real estate fortune belongs to Wu Yajun, who took her Longfor Properties public in November and is now the world's richest self-made woman.
A variety of circumstances has led to the increasing success of female entrepreneurs, says Linda Xinrong Kausch, a Shenzhen-based writer who is writing about a book about how 12 Western businesswomen achieved success in China. The development of a hospitable social and economic environment has been crucial, she says, which not only allows but also encourages women to get an education and start their own companies. Another factor is the constantly changing market regulations of a developing economy, which afford more flexibility and less red tape than a place like Europe. Plus, she adds, it's a matter of pride for these women to make a tangible contribution to their family and to the nation.