The Chinese police said on Monday that they had foiled what appeared to be a brazen kidnapping attempt aimed at one of China’s richest men, a home-appliance tycoon whose company has ambitions to move from rice cookers and air-conditioners into the next-generation world of industrial robotics.
Strangers broke into a residence at the Royal Orchid Village, a high-end property in the southern Chinese city of Foshan owned by the appliance maker, Midea Group, and threatened the lives of the people inside, the local police said. The authorities were alerted to the break-in at about 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, they added, and rushed to the site.
By 5 a.m. on Monday, the police said, they had arrested five suspects. They said the victim, a man surnamed He, was safe.
The police did not provide a full name for the victim, but the Chinese media widely reported that he was He Xiangjian, the 77-year-old billionaire founder of Midea, one of the best-known brand names in China.
Midea thanked the local police on Monday in a statement posted to its social media account. A spokeswoman for the company declined to comment further.
The details of the incident were not clear. But the Securities Times, a business newspaper owned by the People’s Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Communist Party, painted a picture of a caper gone wrong — a breach more in place with an action movie than the reality in China, a largely unarmed country with low crime rates.
The men, it said, were wielding explosives as they broke into the European-style villa. It cited neighbors who described a flurry of fire trucks and sirens that pierced the otherwise placid gated community. Mr. He’s son, the paper said, escaped and swam across a river to call the police, state media reported.
Mr. He is estimated to be worth about $25 billion, according to the Hurun Report, a research organization in Shanghai that tracks the wealthy in China. He stepped down as chairman of Midea Group in 2012, but his family continues to own a controlling stake in Midea Holdings, the parent company of Midea Group.
His tale of success tracks China’s own, as its economy opened up to the world in the 1980s. Midea began to make electric fans in 1980 in the southern province of Guangdong, as the region opened up to foreign investment and private enterprise after the death of Mao Zedong. Today, Midea is valued at about $59 billion on Chinese stock markets.
As China’s economy grew, increasingly affluent consumers bought Midea’s air-conditioners and other home appliances. Many of those consumers increasingly demanded higher-quality goods, and as they did, Midea began to diversify its offerings.
It has also shifted into high-tech industries of the kind that China wants to specialize in to have a greater say in the technologies of the future. In 2016, the company bought the German robotics company Kuka, making it a major player in industrial automation.
What might have motivated the suspects is not clear. Such dramatic attempted kidnappings are rare in China, home to the world’s largest number of wealthy people. But crime and robberies have risen this year, more than doubling in April compared with March, after the economy was devastated by the coronavirus outbreak. Cutting unemployment is a top priority for China’s leaders this year.
Li Keqiang, China’s premier, addressed the issues of joblessness and low wages last month at the close of China’s legislative sessions. Mr. Li said that although the per capita annual disposable income is $4,228, some 600 million Chinese people, nearly half of the population, were bringing in only about $140 a month.