Meet the Wuhan millionaire who chooses rags over riches

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 January, 2013, 11:27am
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 January, 2013, 2:33pm

A Wuhan woman who owns property investments worth tens of millions of yuan chooses to spend her days as a street cleaner in a bid to teach her children the virtues of hard work.

Yu Youzhen, 53, owns 17 flats worth more than 10 million yuan (HK$12m) as a result of state land acquisitions that began in 2008, the Wuhan Evening News reported.

But instead of basking in her wealth, she insists on getting up at daybreak, six days a week, to get to her job as a sanitation worker for the Wuchang District Urban Management Bureau, in Wuhan, of central China's Hubei province. 

“I want to be a role model for my son and daughter. I don’t want to sit around idly and eat away my fortune,” said Yu in an interview with the newspaper on Wednesday.

She didn't want to giver her children the impression that being a landlady and collecting rent as income was a way of life. That lifestyle would only harm them in the long run, Yu added.

Her plan seems to have paid off. Both of her children are wage-earners. Her son is a driver earning a salary of 2,000 yuan per month; the report did not give the daughter's occupation but did say she earns 3,000 yuan per month.

Six days a week, Yu is responsible for cleaning about three kilometres of roadway, where she scrubs pavements and clears out rubbish bins for a measly monthly salary of 1,420 yuan (HK$1,766). She started the job in 1998.

Yu said she was often insulted by people baffled that someone of her wealth would go into this line of work. A taxi driver passing by once shouted: “All her money can squash you to death!”

Like many in central China, Yu grew up in less than fortunate circumstances. As a vegetable farmer in Donghu Lake, Hongshan, Yu toiled on the fields and hauled heavy loads of produce on her back to the markets each day.

In the 1980s, Yu and her husband eventually saved enough money to construct three five-story village houses which they leased out for rent. It was good income, but Yu still felt she needed work in her life.

“I wanted to go out and experience things. I am not a cultured person but I always feel I need to be doing something,” Yu said. She moved to Shenzhen with her husband who took up a job in logistics and transport. The business failed, and they eventually moved backed to Wuhan.

In 2008, as state land acquisitions began to pick up pace in China, Yu and her family were allotted 21 units. She later sold four.