Li Jianguo remembers the day he learned what his wealth might cost him. The multimillionaire owner of a Chinese herbal-medicine company, Li was living in Hainan in the early 1990s when a kidnapper snatched his friend’s young son from school and demanded $400,000 in ransom. Police rescued the boy, but not before revealing that the kidnapper had been a close friend of both men. Li says he “realized then that as soon as a Chinese person discloses his wealth, danger is waiting.” Today he refrains from inviting friends to his opulent Beijing villa, keeps his net worth a secret (Jianguo is a pseudonym), and pays a bodyguard $1,200 a month to ensure that “the poor people who hate us for using our talent to get rich” won’t come after his own sons.
The anxieties of Li and his thick-bankbooked brethren are spawning a lucrative boom in China’s private-security business.