Wang Jianlin, head of conglomerate Wanda Group — a private firm with interests ranging from property to retailing — had estimated wealth of $14 billion, the magazine said on its website.
His fortune soared from $8 billion last year, when he was in third place, putting him now $3 billion ahead of former title-holder Zong Qinghou, a beverage tycoon, it said.
A recovery in China’s property market helped swell Wang’s wealth, Forbes Shanghai bureau chief Russell Flannery told AFP on Tuesday.
“Urbanisation is going to boost demand for real estate in important Chinese cities for a long time,” said Flannery, who compiles the magazine’s annual ranking of China’s richest people.
“That has fuelled wealth creation not only in China but all across Asia.”
Wang’s wealth comes mainly from commercial real estate, which has been less affected by a Chinese government crackdown on surging home prices.
China has sought for more than three years to control residential property prices, but the government has recently signalled it might not take further tightening steps.
Beijing is encouraging Chinese companies to “go out” and buy up assets around the globe, and Wanda Group acquired AMC Entertainment last year for $2.6 billion.
The company’s acquisition of British yacht builder Sunseeker — whose powerboats have featured in James Bond films — completed last month, and Chinese media also said in June that Wanda plans to build London’s tallest residential towers.
The $14 billion figure would have put Wang in 63rd place, just ahead of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, in Forbes last global billionaires list, published in March.
But China’s hyper-rich are still only worth a fraction of the world’s wealthiest individuals. Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim topped the rankings with an estimated fortune of $73 billion, while Microsoft chairman Bill Gates was second with $67 billion.
Wanda was founded in 1988 and has total assets of 300 billion yuan ($49 billion). Its net profit topped 10 billion yuan last year, which the company aims to double by 2015, according to its website.
Zong, who heads soft-drink producer Wahaha and was previously China’s richest person, now has wealth of $11 billion, Forbes said, up from $10 billion last year.
Forbes’ complete “China Rich List” is due to be released soon, Flannery said.