As the 400 delegates to the Forbes CEO Global Forum dined on shark's fin and Peking duck, and sipped Chardonnay, the news broke that a private entrepreneur with a promising future had escaped to the United States, leaving hundreds of millions of yuan in debt behind him. Of the two events, the disappearance of Liu Bo, a Beijing University graduate who owned the first publishing company to be listed on the stock market, had more to do with the reality of private enterprise in China that Forbes champions with missionary zeal. Mr Liu, 40, has a dramatic past similar to that of many of the private businessmen who have emerged from China's confused transition from a planned to a market economy. A child prodigy, he entered Wuhan university at the age of 14 to study Chinese and went on to acquire a doctorate in philosophy at Beijing University under one of the country's most famous professors, with whom he collaborated in producing a 130-volume encyclopaedia of Chinese scholarship, which sold for 68,000 yuan (HK$63,716). Mr Liu made his first fortune in property development in Hainan in the early 1990s and used the money to build an empire in advertising, publishing and the other media. In September 2000, he married Xu Qing, a famous television actress, at a lavish ceremony in Beijing attended by more than 1,000, including many celebrities. On Wednesday, a national newspaper reported that Mr Liu had fled to the US. A spokesman for his parent company, Cheng Cheng Wen Hua, headquartered in Wuhan, did not deny the report. Sadly, it was a familiar story. Many private firms have fallen as quickly as they rose, their owners arrested, bankrupt or fugitive. Of the 50 richest individuals in China last year, according to the list published by Forbes magazine, 29 had survived from the 2000 list and only nine from the one in 1999, the first year it was published. This list, which had made Forbes a household name in China, is the earliest to track the wealth of the super-rich and the only one there. Many people on it contest the accuracy of its figures and argue those richer than they are omitted because they are more skilful at hiding their wealth. It is appropriate therefore that the forum in Shanghai should be sponsored by Forbes, a magazine which has since 1917 been reporting on major companies and those who run them. Its president Steve Forbes, grandson of the founder and the host of the forum, ran for the US presidency in 1996 and 2000. The delegates also heard from many distinguished chief executives, with the forum's stated aim to 'exert a profound influence on the growth of Chinese enterprises and entrepreneurs'. But Chinese entrepreneurs face many questions: How to raise capital, when the domestic stock markets are virtually closed to you and state banks are reluctant to lend to private firms, except the largest and best-known? How to select a new product in a market where competition is increasingly fierce? How to obtain the necessary approvals and permits for your project and maintain good relations with the officials who give them out? If you do not give a 'present', you may not get the licence. If you do, you run the risk of arrest. With a tax system that is arcane and irregularly enforced, how much of your income do you declare? If you are completely honest, you will make no profit. If you are too greedy, you may end up in prison. To these questions, the Forbes forum did not provide answers.