Working paper

The private sector advances in China: The evolving ownership structures of the largest companies in the Xi Jinping era

This paper documents recent structural changes in China’s corporate landscape, based on company level data.

Publishing date
05 April 2022

This paper documents recent structural changes in China’s corporate landscape, based on company level data, providing a complementary perspective to that of official Chinese statistics. We classify China’s largest companies by revenue since 2004 (based on Fortune Global 500 rankings), and largest listed companies by market capitalisation since 2010, into state and private-sector categories, using a conservative definition of the private sector. Among the largest companies by revenue, the private sector was non-existent in the mid-2000s but has grown steadily in the past decade, even though the state sector still dominates. The aggregate revenue of private-sector companies grew from zero in Fortune’s ranking in 2005 (based on 2004 revenue) to $104 billion in the 2011 ranking, or merely 3.8 percent of the $2.78 trillion in aggregate revenue for all Chinese companies in the ranking, and to $1.7 trillion in the latest 2021 ranking (based on 2020 revenue), or 19 percent of the Chinese companies’ aggregate revenue. As for market value of the largest listed firms, the private sector’s share in the top 100 listed Chinese companies was only 8 percent at end-2010 but crossed the 50 percent threshold in 2020 and retreated slightly in 2021 to 48 percent, following that year’s regulatory crackdown on several private-sector-dominated industries. These findings do not support a narrative of broad based rollback in recent years of previous private-sector expansion.

Acknowledgements: David Xu provided outstanding research assistance. We thank Jordan Becker, Suman Bery, Olivier Blanchard, Martin Chorzempa, Rebecca Christie, Uri Dadush, Simeon Djankov, François Godement, Cullen Hendrix, Patrick Honohan, Alicia García- Herrero, Nicholas Lardy, Mary Lovely, Marcus Noland, Jean Pisani-Ferry, Adam Posen, André Sapir, Reinhilde Veugelers, Steve Weisman, David Wilcox and Guntram Wolff, as well as participants at PIIE and Bruegel research staff seminars for their comments, suggestions and encouragements. We also thank Egor Gornostay and Eva Zhang for quality control of our data work, and Madona Devasahayam and Stephen Gardner for editing. Special thanks to Scott DeCarlo at Fortune for helpful clarifications on Fortune Global 500 rankings.

Recommended citation:

Huang, T. and N. Véron (2022) ‘The private sector advances in China: the evolving ownership structures of the largest companies in the Xi Jinping era’, Working Paper 02/2022, Bruegel

About the authors

  • Nicolas Véron

    Nicolas Véron is a senior fellow at Bruegel and at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, DC. His research is mostly about financial systems and financial reform around the world, including global financial regulatory initiatives and current developments in the European Union. He was a cofounder of Bruegel starting in 2002, initially focusing on Bruegel’s design, operational start-up and development, then on policy research since 2006-07. He joined the Peterson Institute in 2009 and divides his time between the US and Europe.

    Véron has authored or co-authored numerous policy papers that include banking supervision and crisis management, financial reporting, the Eurozone policy framework, and economic nationalism. He has testified repeatedly in front of committees of the European Parliament, national parliaments in several EU member states, and US Congress. His publications also include Smoke & Mirrors, Inc.: Accounting for Capitalism, a book on accounting standards and practices (Cornell University Press, 2006), and several books in French.

    His prior experience includes working for Saint-Gobain in Berlin and Rothschilds in Paris in the early 1990s; economic aide to the Prefect in Lille (1995-97); corporate adviser to France’s Labour Minister (1997-2000); and chief financial officer of MultiMania / Lycos France, a publicly-listed online media company (2000-2002). From 2002 to 2009 he also operated an independent Paris-based financial consultancy.

    Véron is a board member of the derivatives arm (Global Trade Repository) of the Depositary Trust and Clearing Corporation (DTCC), a financial infrastructure company that operates globally on a not-for-profit basis. A French citizen born in 1971, he has a quantitative background as a graduate from Ecole Polytechnique (1992) and Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Mines de Paris (1995). He is trilingual in English, French and Spanish, and has fluent understanding of German and Italian.

    In September 2012, Bloomberg Markets included Véron in its second annual 50 Most Influential list with reference to his early advocacy of European banking union.


  • Tianlei Huang

    Tianlei Huang is a research fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. He joined the Institute as a research analyst in March 2019 and works with Anthony M. Solomon Senior Fellow Nicholas R. Lardy on issues related to the Chinese economy. Most recently, he was a graduate teaching assistant on Chinese and Japanese financial markets at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). Before joining the Institute, Huang worked at the Brookings Institution's Center for East Asia Policy Studies where he worked primarily on China-ASEAN economic relations and cross–Taiwan Strait relations. He also interned at the Hudson Institute and the World Resources Institute. Previously, Huang worked at the China Energy Fund Committee as academic affairs officer and conducted research on Chinese investment overseas and Asia Pacific security.

    Huang's translation of former Canadian Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff's Fire and Ashes: Success and Failure in Politics in Chinese was published by the Central Compilation and Translation Press in 2017.

    Huang holds a master's degree in international economics and Southeast Asia studies from Johns Hopkins University SAIS and a master of laws degree in political science from Tsinghua University in Beijing. He received his bachelor's degree with honors in international politics from Fudan University in Shanghai. He is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at the Pacific Forum.

    Huang is a native speaker of Mandarin Chinese and Shanghainese, and is proficient in Burmese.

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