Jack Ma [Photo: Courtesy]

Alibaba and Ant Group founder Jack Ma has lost the title of China's richest man as his peers prospered while his empire was put under heavy scrutiny by Chinese regulators.

This is according to a new list published on Tuesday. Ma and his family had held the top spot for China's richest in the Hurun Global Rich List in 2020 and 2019.

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He now trails in fourth place behind bottled water king Nongfu Spring's Zhong Shanshan, Tencent Holding's Pony Ma and e-commerce upstart Pinduoduo's Collin Huang, the latest list showed. His fall out of the top three comes "after China's regulators reined in Ant Group and Alibaba on anti-trust issues," the Hurun report said.

Ma's recent woes were triggered by an October 24 speech in which he blasted China's regulatory system, leading to the suspension of his Ant Group's Sh4.07 trillion ($37 billion) initial public offering (IPO) just days before the fintech giant's public listing.

Regulators have since tightened anti-trust scrutiny on the country's tech sector, with Alibaba taking much of the heat; the market regulator launched an official anti-trust probe into Alibaba in December. Chinese regulators also began to tighten their grip on the fintech sector and asked Ant to fold some of its businesses into a financial holding company to be regulated like traditional financial firms.

Ma, who is not known for shying away from the limelight, then disappeared from the public eye for three months, triggering speculation about his whereabouts. He re-emerged in January with a 50-second video appearance.

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China's current richest man, Zhong, made his first appearance at the top spot with a fortune of 550 billion yuan (Sh9 trillion or $85 billion), largely thanks to the share price performances of Nongfu Spring and vaccine maker Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy Enterprise.