he chairman of a major Chinese conglomerate has died under rather peculiar circumstances in France, apparently after falling off a wall while taking some photos.
57-year-old Wang Jian was one of the founders of the HNA Group, helping to turn the firm into one of the world’s most active investment companies. In 2017, HNA ranked 170th in the Fortune Global 500 list with a revenue of $53 billion. Meanwhile, Wang’s wealth was estimated at the time by Bloomberg at more than $5 billion.
When he died, Wang was visiting the village of Bonnieux in the Provence region of France along with four other people and a tour guide. According to local police, Wang climbed up onto a small wall overlooking a church to take some scenic photos, lost his balance, and fell to his death on Wednesday morning. The drop was reported to be about 10 to 15 meters.
One Twitter user has posted a photo of the apparent view and wall:
— Ken Bodnar (@ArtofWarm) July 4, 2018
Police are not treating the death as suspicious.
Wang and his partner Chen Feng co-founded Hainan Airlines in 1993 before going on to found HNA together seven years later. Under Wang, the conglomerate grew to become a global player, acquiring interests in a variety of different areas including airlines, real estate groups, and logistics firms. Most notably, HNA owns significant shares in both Deutsche Bank and Hilton.
However, HNA’s global shopping spree came to a sudden end last year after Beijing launched a crackdown on excessive risk and debt with the Chinese government forcibly steering privately-owned Chinese conglomerates away from investing too heavily abroad. The campaign caused HNA to put many of its international acquisitions up for sale, reducing the fortunes of its co-founders.
HNA has mourned the death of Wang by turning its website monochrome and releasing a short statement:
HNA Group extends deepest condolences to Mr. Wang’s family and many friends. Together, we mourn the loss of an exceptionally gifted leader and role model, whose vision and values will continue to be a beacon for all who had the good fortune to know him, as well as for the many others whose lives he touched through his work and philanthropy.
Inevitably, Wang’s untimely demise has caused a number of conspiracy theories to form and spread on social media. Curiously, the death comes just about a month after HNA was forced to publicly deny rumors that the conglomerate’s other co-founder, Chen Feng, had died.
Bizarre accidents have become a leading cause of death among Chinese tycoons. Back in 2016, Weng Mao, the former head of Guan Sheng Yuan Co. Ltd., manufacturer of the iconicWhite Rabbitmilk sweets, was killed at a Henan scenic site after being hit by a rock that was kicked down by a monkey.
In 2011, the state-run China Daily published an article which noted that since 2003, 72 billionaires in mainland China had died unnatural deaths. “Among the 72 billionaires, 15 were murdered, 17 committed suicide, seven died from accidents, 14 were executed according to the law and 19 died from diseases,” the article explained.