Zhang Zetian, the 24-year-old face of e-commerce giant JD.com, has just been recognized as China’s youngest female billionaire by New Fortune magazine. Zhang, who has recently helped to build up the fashion and luxury portfolios both domestically and internationally of JD.com—Alibaba’s biggest rival in China—made the monthly magazine’s yearly ranking of the top 500 richest people in China.
Also on the list, which was published May 10, was Zhang’s husband, JD.com founder and CEO Liu Qiangdong, worth 38.82 billion yuan (about US$5.6 billion).
According to the Chinese media, Zhang is also a venture capitalist who has invested in six start-ups in China including Uber China. She’s made these investments on behalf of Liu Qiangdong’s family fund.
She has been active in promoting the fashion and luxury businesses of JD.com as an ambassador through networking events like one lavish private party she hosted in late April in New York, which was attended by fashion icon Iris Apfel as well as executives from fashion and luxury brands including Tiffany & Co. In August 2017, she visited with Apfel again in New York lending fuel to the speculation that Zetian is planning to have some bigger role in JD’s new move into luxury e-commerce as signaled by its deal to acquire a nearly $400 million stake in British luxury e-commerce site Farfetch. That partnership aims to leverage JD’s logistical and social media strength while tapping Farfetch’s international influence as a leading player in luxury e-tail.
Of late, social media sites in China have been abuzz with supposedly ‘leaked’ photos of Zhang practicing dance moves or frolicking at the beach. But these, again, seem to be more publicity for Zhang and people believe she has been behind the release of the photos.
Upon the release of New Fortune’s list, Zhang’s inclusion has been a point of criticism on the Chinese social media site Weibo. The online community has unleashed a flurry of comments about her ranking claiming that, unlike the other women who made the list, such as Lens Technology founder Zhou Qunfei (the richest Chinese woman, according to the ranking), Zhang is not a self-made billionaire.
“I have no respect for her success,” one user “shuosandaosi” wrote. “She made the list totally due to her marriage.”
Four women rank higher than Zhang Zetian on the 2017 list. After Zhou Qunfei is Country Garden Holdings heiress Yang Huiyan followed by Zhang Xiaojuan, the Vice President of YTO Express Group who is also married to the group’s CEO Chen Lihua, who is also the President of Fu Wah International Group.
Indeed, riding on the prosperity of JD.com, Zhang has access to tons of fashion and luxury resources that have helped her career along. But her rise to fame was her own doing, way before her 2015 marriage to Liu.
In 2009, when Zhang was still a high school student in Nanjing, she rose to fame when a school pal snapped some photos of her holding a cup of bubble tea, which went viral on Weibo. Her childlike beauty earned her the nickname “Bubble Tea Sister.” Zhang also graduated from Tsinghua University and studied at Columbia University in New York, where she met her future husband.
Zhang’s involvement as the face of JD.com could benefit the company’s ambition to have a greater presence in the world of fashion and luxury. Over the past several years, the e-commerce group has set foot in fashion week in New York, Milan, and London.