A muzzled Jack Ma remains at the center of a tug-of-war over China’s economic future
By Grady McGregor, Fortune
May 6, 2022
In 2019, Jack Ma, the founder of Chinese e-commerce behemoth Alibaba Group, was wearing diamond-studded sunglasses, a leather jacket with spiked shoulder pads, and a wig of purple braids as he strode onto a stage in a stadium full of 60,000 cheering Alibaba employees. Ma, at the time China’s wealthiest and most gregarious entrepreneur, announced that he was stepping down from his role as executive chairman of the firm. But his flashy send-off signaled that he planned to stay in the limelight. “Quitting the role as chairman…does not mean I am retiring,” Ma said in the farewell speech. “I will not stop.”
Two and half years later, China’s regulatory campaign to rein in the power of Alibaba and its peers has reduced Ma from rock star to recluse. He now makes only periodic public appearances and seems wary of further provoking a government intent on demonstrating its control over China’s private giants and the entrepreneurs that built them. Alibaba investors have become so jittery about Ma’s well-being, and what it might mean for the company, that the arrest of a man in Hangzhou who shared Ma’s surname briefly wiped tens of billions of dollars off Alibaba’s valuation this week. “It reflects just how important investors believe Jack Ma is to Alibaba…and speaks volumes to just how fragile recovery is in China’s tech space,” says Jeff Halley, senior market analyst for Asia Pacific at OANDA...
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