Mainland businesspeople are influential not only in the country's commercial sector, but in cyberspace.
Sina Weibo, which offers one of the most popular microblog services in China, has released its list of the most influential microbloggers for last year - and three of the top five were businessmen.
The influence of these movers and shakers of social media is still on the rise; the number of mainland internet users increased by 10 per cent last year, to 564 million people, according to the latest figures released by the government-run China Internet Network Information Centre.The centre said the number of these web surfers who access the internet through mobile phones, tablet computers and other wireless devices rose by 18.1 per cent last year to 420 million.
Former Google China chief Kai-Fu Lee was Sina Weibo's most influential microblogger, followed by the hosts of Hunan Satellite TV's entertainment show Happy Camp, He Jiong and Xie Na .
Outspoken property tycoon Ren Zhiqiang and angel investor Charles Xue Manzi rounded out the top five spots.
Li and Ren, who voiced support for the outspoken Southern Weekly during a row between the newspaper's editorial staff and propaganda officials early this month, appeared to have been warned by authorities to watch their words following the saga.
Unlike their counterparts in Hong Kong and abroad, mainland entrepreneurs, especially from non-state-owned companies, are more willing to speak out online about social issues, and they have garnered a large number of fans: Li has 25.76 million followers on Sina Weibo, Xue has 9.9 million followers, while Ren and Pan Shiyi, the property tycoon who runs Soho China, have around 13 million and 14 million followers respectively.
Pan is also among the 10 most influential Sina Weibo users. Hong Kong writer Amy Cheung Siu-han, mainland actress Yang Mi and Ashin, the lead vocalist of a Taiwanese rock band, also made the top 10.
"Weibo influence" is measured by a user's activity, the number of times his or her username is mentioned by other users and how often other users make comments on the user's posts, Sina Weibo said. It also depends on how many active followers a person has.
Online services such as Sina's microblogging platform have been used by activists to expose official wrongdoing, and the Communist Party has sought more control over them.
"People are keener to discuss public issues in microblogs and are also willing to listen to the opinion leaders such as Li," said Hu Yong, a Peking University professor and new-media critic.
Associated Press, Bloomberg