Name: Chan Laiwa/Chen Lihua
Education: High school dropout, an honorary doctorate in Humanities from Savannah College
Type of Business: Real Estate
Main Achievements: Being one of the 19 self-made billionaire women in the world
Something interesting about the person: She was the first person to introduce exclusive clubs to China
Chan Lihua is a self-made billionaire, a rare feat since most millionaires inherit their fortune, especially female billionaires. She was born on January 1st, 1941 in the summer palace in Beijing. Chan belongs to a royal family: the Manchus. Specifically, she is a descendant of the yellow banner clan from the Manchus. However, their rule had ended three decades, taking the riches of the Manchus away as well.
She was born when the Japanese armies were invading the country. Though she enjoyed the sight of beautiful palaces and red sandalwood furniture, her early years were characterized by poverty. Struggling to make ends meets, she stopped studying after high school. There were two reasons for this. The first one was because of insufficient funds for her to continue her education; the second was to contribute to her family’s income.
She did not allow this to deter her from being successful. She decided to set her furniture repair shop during the ’60s. During the 80’s she decided to migrate to Hong Kong, this time working in refurbishing furniture and selling it at a premium price point to those who were willing to pay for it. Her venture was very successful. She invested the money she earned in real estate, buying twelve villas initially. This was during the time Hong Kong was under the control of the British Empire, which was a rare feat for a mainland Chinese citizen to achieve. It marked the beginning of her career in the real estate world. She returned to Beijing towards the end of the decade and started selling and buying real estate on a large scale this time.
Eventually, she founded her own company, Fu Wah, in 1988. The company focused on being a real estate developer. In the beginning, the company developed residential projects. She took over the Beijing market, thanks to her connections to the communist party. She was also able to obtain premium land plots such as one close to Tiananmen Square. This is the plot where she built the Chang An Club in 1995. A luxurious club for wealthy business people where international conferences are hosted, and recreational activities are carried out.
Fu wah has also been famous for winning projects such as the reconstruction of Jinbao Street. More than 2100 houses were demolished to build skyscrapers. It is one of the oldest streets in Beijing, and thanks to the renovation, it is now a luxury shopping hotspot. It is known as the Chinese version of the fifth avenue in New York. Wuhua has also been expanding to other countries like Australia and New Zealand, where they are building, hotels.
Lihua has not stopped with real estate, and she has invested in catering and tourism. Her greatest passion is red sandalwood carving. Her mother’s love for traditional Chinese art was passed on to Chan, who became a patron of the arts in 1999. This year she founded a museum for red sandalwood antiques. It was one of the first privately owned in China. She invested more than 20 billion yuan (which is worth almost 2.8 billion dollars as of 2020). The museum features antiques and artwork from the Ming (which was around the years 1300) and Qing dynasty (which was around after the 1600s).
She is also renowned for her philanthropic work. She has donated millions of yuan for disaster relief. For example, in 2004 and 2005, she donated more than 50 million dollars for disaster relief, poverty, and education. As of today, she has stepped back and allowed her son to take over the day to day operations. Nowadays, Chan Laihua works as a curator in her museum.