by Xinhua writers Cheng Lu, Liang Saiyu and Jiang Chenrong
XI'AN, Oct. 27 (Xinhua) -- As the cool-down of China's domestic coal industry continues, coal mine owners made rich by the industry are now looking to new profitable careers.
"We are seeking ways out," said Zhao Cunfa, a former coal mine owner in the city of Shenmu in northwest China's Shaanxi Province, a center for the nation's vibrant mining industry.
"Coal prices currently are near their lowest point in the past few years," said Zhao.
Zhao, 55, a pioneer of the industry who began running private coal mines in 1992, said he used to fly to the provincial capital city of Xi'an for a single meal or spend extravagantly "without batting an eye."
In the 1980s, privately run coal mines started to sprout up across coal-rich regions, such as Shanxi, Hebei, Inner Mongolia and Shaanxi.
"As rich as a coal mine boss" has become a slang phrase in China. The group is considered one of the country's richest, perceived as possessing immense wealth, spending huge sums of money and living decadent lifestyles.
"China's mine owners have contributed to the economic growth, but also brought along problems like environmental degradation and resource waste," said Wang Chengxiang, author of a book about coal mine bosses.
As a result, the nation began to reshuffle the industry in early 2000, shutting down substandard mines and merging smaller ones into competitive mining conglomerates.
Many coal mine bosses, including Zhao, realized the necessity of diversifying their interests or reinventing themselves in new industries.
Zhao took an early step in 2008 to invest his vast wealth into building an electricity factory to recycle coal mine waste.