Now he’s gone and no one knows where he is.
Ma, a Communist Party member who started as an English teacher, symbolized the high-tech “Chinese dream” until it clashed with political leaders who once worshiped him. He has not been seen in public for two months.
“China has used Jack Ma and Alibaba along with some of the other big fintech companies to show the world what great leaders they are,” said Craig Singleton, a Chinese expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies , at Post.
“But these private sector companies were operating without government control and Jack was a little too far ahead of his skis. You only have to step out of the line once and they will catch you. He was probably hit pretty hard.
Insiders told the Post that it was highly unlikely that Ma, 56, was permanently missing on one of China’s feared “black sites” reserved for dissidents in the country. He is also not in Singapore, according to some rumors.
Instead, he’s probably cooling his heels at home or in a “very cushy place” where an expert has said he may be discussing “Marxist lessons” with party officials, a process called “adopting the law.” supervision ”.
While making his business a monster almost bigger than China itself, the free-spirited Ma, married with three children, traveled the world. He rubbed shoulders with stars like Tom Cruise, Daniel Craig, Kevin Spacey and Nicole Kidman, had lunch with President Obama and former British Prime Minister David Cameron, and toured Davos – all speaking fluent English as he learned as a child.
He even dressed like Elton John or Michael Jackson and performed their songs on stage while making jokes in front of thousands of Alibaba worshiping employees at company meetings.
He acted more like an American billionaire than even the dark and low-key Jeff Bezos – and that was his mistake, Chinese analysts say. True to his outspoken ways, Ma spoke at a conference in Shanghai in October about the delay of state banks and regulators in the country – just days before Ma’s fintech company, ANT Group, was preparing. what would have been the biggest IPO in the world.
“The current financial system is the legacy of the industrial age,” Ma said in the now infamous speech. “We need to create a new one for the next generation and the youth. We need to reform the current system. ”
Among other things, Ma blasted the country’s bankers for having a “pawnshop mentality”.
Ma’s wings were abruptly cut off. It has faded from the public eye, ANT’s IPO was reportedly canceled at the behest of Chinese President Xi Jinping – and China has launched an antitrust investigation into Ma’s huge company.
“It’s Icarus, a classic case of pride,” Gordon Chang, author of “The Coming Collapse of China,” told The Post. “In Jack Ma’s mind, he was a rock star, maybe no more powerful than Xi Jianping but bigger than the Central Bank. The Party therefore decided to bring him down. They’ve run over Jack Ma and hope it sends a message.
It’s a tough fall for man born Ma Yun to traditional musician parents in Hangzhou, southeast China, about two hours from Shanghai. Ma was a rambling boy in a poor family who learned English at a young age by befriending Western tourists, as described in “Alibaba: The House Jack Built” by the former employee of Morgan Stanley, Duncan Clark, who met Ma in 1999 in the tiny apartment where he founded Alibaba.
Ma met Ken Morley, an Australian tourist, and his family when he was 14 and it led to a lifelong friendship. The Morleys took Ma to Australia in 1985 for a visit and Ma said the trip “was life changing. I learned to think for myself.
However, Ma’s new worldliness and ambition did not help him in school. He failed the notoriously difficult university entrance exams twice. He finally passed his third try and went to the Hangzhou Institute of Teachers, from which he graduated in 1988 with a degree in English.
Ma met his future wife, Cathy, in college, and they got married in 1988. They live with their three children in their hometown of Hangzhou.
He encountered more obstacles after college, being denied more than 12 job offers, even one at KFC.
He was eventually hired as an English teacher for $ 12 an hour. He also started a translation company, but it was during a visit to the United States in 1995 that he discovered the Internet and started trying online start-ups upon his return to China.
After several hiccups, he formed Alibaba from his small apartment in Hangzhou in 1999 with 17 friends. The initial concept – online shopping for small businesses – attracted $ 25 million from investors in its first year.
By most estimates, Alibaba is the world’s largest e-commerce company today. Besides purchasing, it also includes banking, technology and cloud computing.
Ma played how different he is from most bald headed internet billionaires who are math, science, or coding geniuses. He prefers the kind of wild publicity stunts associated with Richard Branson, which is why, according to insiders, he has started taking the Alibaba stage at corporate celebrations. He donned a blonde wig and headdress to sing “The Lion King” in 2009. In 2017, he slipped on top of a motorbike wearing a mask and Michael Jackson outfit while dancing to “Billie Jean” and then joined a “style-training” with back-up dancers.
Today, Ma is not a member of the management or board of directors of Alibaba or ANT, but he is the largest shareholder in Alibaba with shares valued at least 25 billions of dollars.
Alibaba lost more than $ 110 billion in market value on December 24 when China officially launched the investigation. The Chinese government has also asked state media to censor reporting on the Alibaba investigation in December, the Financial Times reported Thursday.
It’s not unusual for China to remove some of its most prized tycoons and celebrities from public view for an offense, and show them who’s boss. The country’s biggest movie star, Fan Bingbing, disappeared in 2018 for alleged tax evasion and has been out of sight for months. She eventually wrote a goofy apology to the Communist Party on her social media pages and reportedly paid a tax bill of at least $ 70 million.
No one knows where Bingbing went, but a source told Vulture that she had been kept under “residential surveillance at a designated location” described as a resort town in coastal Jiangsu Province.
In Ma’s case, he was absent as a judge in the finale of an entrepreneurial game show called “Africa’s Business Heroes,” which is sponsored by her philanthropic organization in Africa.
Alibaba spokespersons said there was a “scheduling conflict” that prevented Ma from leaving her show. While some reports from China say Ma is content to keep a low profile while Chinese regulators analyze Alibaba’s vast books and order a restructuring of the ANT, the situation looks dire, if not grim.
Some say the West opened young Ma’s eyes too wide and now he got what he deserved.
“Jack Ma is a gangster,” Peter Navarro, White House director of trade and manufacturing policy and author of the 2011 book “Death By China: Confronting the Dragon,” told the Post. “He runs a company called Alibaba. Complete the Thought: Forty Thieves. He started a business with stolen goods, using our eBay business model. He stole all of the e-commerce technology from us. ”
But for all of his insight, Ma didn’t see what should have been obvious to him and everyone around him, Navarro said. “Xi has consolidated his power over the past four to five years.”
“He does the same to Chinese oligarchs as Putin does to Russian oligarchs. They earn money and fall in love with the West and forget where they are from. Then they get slapped. There is a Chinese expression called “kill the chicken, scare the monkey” which means to make an example of someone. That’s what they do to him. They will probably let him come back, but his marching orders will be to shut up and make some money.
“He will resurface and will have to repent publicly but not on his terms,” Singleton said. “But I bet Jack Ma will comply because he doesn’t want to see this huge thing he built explode.” He’s a strategic thinker and always someone to be reckoned with.