The God of Small Savings
Ex-millionaire surrounded by trees, little else
Former real-estate mogul Xing Yiqian is well-known on the Chinese island of Hainan for his dedicated conservation of the area’s dense rainforest. Called the “tree god” by locals, Xing spent his fortune — once valued at $24 million — paying individual landowners not to cut down their trees, financing expensive transplants for unwanted trees, and creating China’s first private nature reserve. But sadly, though Xing tried to keep up with the Bill Gates and Ted Turners of the world in the charitable-giving realm, he fell far behind in the accounting department. Xing spent so much of his time and energy on his cash-for-trees strategy that he neglected his real-estate business and had to sell his assets when the market crashed, leaving him with little more than occasional bus fare and enough money to support the three-pack-a-day smoking habit that he says keeps him sane. But Xing’s rags-to-riches-and-back-to-rags-again story is far from over; he has big plans to turn some of his land into a lakeside resort.