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The 26-year-old Chinese billionaire doubles her wealth

The 26-year-old daughter of a property tycoon is the richest person in China, according to a list issued Wednesday. The richest Chinese have doubled her wealth since last year as share and property prices have soared.

The list of mainland China's 800 wealthiest people, compiled by independent Shanghai-based analyst Rupert Hoogewerf, ranked Yang Huiyuan the richest, with a fortune estimated at US$17.5 billion.

Hoogewerf's ranking matched a China rich list issued earlier in the week by the Forbes business magazine, though Forbes estimated Yang's wealth at US$16.2 billion.

Yang's sudden ascent into billionairedom reflects the stunning wealth accumulating in a stock boom that has taken China share prices to record highs in recent months.

Her fortune comes from a 59.5 percent stake in Country Garden Holdings Ltd., a South China real estate developer founded by her father. The company's initial public offering in Hong Kong in April raised the equivalent of US$1.9 billion (EUR 1.4 billion), and its shares closed Wednesday at 13.12 Hong Kong dollars (US$1.68; EUR 1.20) - more than double the IPO price.

Hoogewerf said the average wealth of the people on his list doubled from last year to US$562 million.

"2007 has been China's coming of age in terms of personal wealth creation," Hoogewerf said in a statement. He has been compiling lists of China's wealthy since 1999.

China, with 106, has the second largest number of billionaires after the United States, Hoogewerf said.

The widening gap between rich and poor is a political flashpoint. With 1.3 billion people, the average income in the countryside in 2006 was still only about 3,600 yuan (US$480; EUR 340), although several times that in big cities.

For many entrepreneurs, China's economic boom has brought new opportunities and prosperity: Yang's father, Yeung Kwok-keung, also known as Yang Guoqiang, was a poor bricklayer who began playing the real estate market in the 1990s and prospered selling vacation homes to affluent Hong Kong residents.

Of the top 20 billionaires on the list, 13 have major real estate businesses.

While home owners in the U.S. and other western countries sweat over falling prices, in China property prices jumped 8.2 percent in August from a year earlier after gaining 7.5 percent in July, according to government figures. The rate of increase in China's major cities, such as Shanghai and Beijing, has been even steeper.

The surge has been a bonanza for Chinese developers who acquired their property at relatively low prices years earlier.

Meanwhile, share prices have more than doubled this year and last. The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index gained 1 percent on Wednesday to a record close of 5,771.46 after hitting an all-time high of 5,860.86.

Share prices in Hong Kong, where many mainland companies are traded, have also surged. The blue chip Hang Seng Index rose 1.2 percent Wednesday to 28,569.33, also a record close.

Zhang Yin, also a woman, was ranked second on Hoogewerf's list, with a fortune of US$10 billion from her Nine Dragons Paper Co., which also has seen its Hong Kong shares soar.

Third was Shanghai-based furniture and property mogul Xu Rongmao, long ranked among the country's wealthiest, with US$7.5 billion in personal wealth.

Electronics retailer Huang Guangyu, ranked fourth with US$6 billion, had the largest personal amount of cash after selling nearly US$1 billion in shares in Hong Kong-listed Gome Electrical Appliances Holding Ltd., Hoogewerf said.

The top ranked newcomer to the list, in sixth place, was Peng Xiaofeng, with wealth estimated at US$5.3 billion from his New York-listed solar cell company, LDK Solar Co.

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