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BEIJING (Reuters) - Heavy machinery magnate Liang Wengen has usurped the top spot among China's billionaires, according to a survey released on Wednesday that called 2011 a record year for the country's super rich.
Liang, 55, with his 58 percent share in Sany Group and an $11 billion fortune, knocked beverage-making billionaire Zong Qinghou from the top spot on the Hurun Rich List 2011, a statement from the survey's publisher said.
"Despite the continuing global financial crisis, 2011 has been a record year for China's rich," the statement said, noting that 271 Chinese billionaires were now ranked on the Hurun 1,000 rich list, up from 189 in 2010.
That number has more than doubled from 2009's 130 billionaires. Even making the top 1,000 has become harder, with the cut-off at $310 million, up from $220 million last year. The average wealth of those who made the cut is $924 million.
Rupert Hoogewerf, founder and publisher of Hurun Report in its thirteenth year, said in the statement that the list did not account for all of China's billionaires, a number he said was likely closer to 600.
"China's relentless construction boom coupled with a growing domestic retail market have been the key drivers for the growth in wealth," the statement said. It said successful stock market listings also had been a major factor.
Sany has plans to go public in Hong Kong, which could boost Liang's fortune further.
Zong, who previously took the top spot, saw his wealth decline, from $12 billion in 2010 to $10.7 billion as of August 15 when the calculations were made.
Search engine giant Baidu's Li Yanhong ranked third, with $8.8 billion to his name.
China's super rich were also well connected, the Hurun statement said, with 30 percent of the top 50 billionaires serving in government advisory roles.
Property was named as one of the main sources of wealth for 29 of the list's top 50.
China has issued a slew of measures aimed at cooling the property market over the past two years, but many economists have warned that a bursting property bubble is the biggest risk facing the world's second-largest economy in the medium to long term.
Soaring home prices and steep inflation have spurred social discontent over China's widening wealth disparity, which surpassed warning levels in 2007 as measured by the Gini Index, and is worse than in any developed economy, the World Bank has said.
China has 960,000 people worth at least $1.5 million, the Hurun statement said.
Still, with all of its rich, China has not cracked the world's top 10, as measured by the March 2011 Forbes rankings, in which U.S. citizens held four spots. [ID:nN09283763] The top spot in that ranking was held by Mexico's Carlos Slim, who reportedly had wealth of $74 billion.
Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Ken Wills and Idayu Suparto