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Who is Alibaba’s Jack Ma? Where he came from and disappeared

For years, no one has flown higher in China than Jack Ma, the pixie face of the founder of the $ 500 billion Amababa e-commerce conglomerate, Amazon Asia.

Now he is gone and no one knows where he is.

Ma, a member of the Communist Party who began as an English teacher, symbolized the high-tech “Chinese dream” until he was misled by the political leaders who once licked him. He has not been seen in public for two months.

“China is using Jack Ma and Alibaba, as well as some of the other big fintech companies, to show the world what great leaders they were,” Craig Singleton, a Chinese expert with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, told The Post.

“But these private companies were operating without government control, and Jack walked away just before his skis. You only need to get off the line once and they will catch you. He was probably hit quite hard. “

People familiar with the matter told The Post that it was unlikely that the 56-year-old Ma had disappeared permanently on one of China̵

7;s formidable “black sites” reserved for dissidents in the country. According to some rumors, he is also not in Singapore.

Instead, he probably cools his heels at home or in a “very comfortable place,” where an expert says he can review “Marxist lessons” with party officials, a process called “perceiving supervision.”

While building his company in a hippopotamus almost larger than China itself, the freedom-loving Ma, who is married with three children, traveled the world. He walked with stars such as Tom Cruise, Daniel Craig, Kevin Spacey and Nicole Kidman, had lunch with President Obama and former UK Prime Minister David Cameron and hovered around Davos – while speaking the English he learned as a child.

He even dressed as Elton John or Michael Jackson and performed their songs on stage while making jokes before thousands adored Alibaba employees in company functions.

He acted more like an American billionaire than even the senseless, reserved Jeff Bezos – and that was his mistake, say Chinese analysts. In keeping with his candid ways, Ma spoke at a conference in Shanghai in October about how backward the country’s state-owned banks and regulators are – a few days before Ma ANT Group’s financial technology company prepares what would be the world’s largest IPO. .

“Today’s financial system is the legacy of the industrial age,” Ma said in the current scandalous speech. “We need to create a new one for the next generation and young people. We need to reform the current system. “

Among other things, Ma insulted the country’s bankers for having a “pawn shop mentality.”

Ma’s wings were sharply cut. It disappeared from public view, the ANT’s IPO was revoked by order of Chinese President Xi Jinping – and China launched an antitrust inquiry into Ma’s huge company.

“This is Icarus, a classic case of arrogance,” Gordon Chang, author of The Coming Collapse of China, told The Post. “In Jack Ma’s mind, he was a rock star, perhaps no more powerful than Xi Jianping, but bigger than the Central Bank. So the party decided to take him down. They ran over Jack Ma, and hopefully that sends a message. “

Jack Ma, founder of the Alibaba Group, is attending the company's 20th anniversary celebrations in Hangzhou, East China's Zhejiang Province.
Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba Group, participated in the company’s 20th anniversary celebrations in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province in eastern China.

It is difficult for a man born Ma Yun to fall for his parents, who were traditional musicians in Hangzhou, in southeastern China, about two hours from Shanghai. Ma was a meager boy in a poor family who taught English in his youth, befriending Western tourists, as described in “Alibaba: The House that Jack Built,” by former Morgan Stanley employee Duncan Clark, who met Ma in 1999 in a small apartment where he founded Alibaba.

Ma met Ken Morley, a tourist from Australia, and his family when he was 14, and this led to a lifelong friendship. Morley took Ma to Australia for a visit in 1985, and Ma says the trip “changed his life.” I learned to think for myself. ”

However, Ma’s new worldview and ambition did not help him at school. He twice failed the notorious difficult entrance exams in China. He finally did so on his third attempt and went to the Teachers’ Institute in Hangzhou, where he graduated in 1988 with a degree in English.

Ma met his future wife, Cathy, in college and they married in 1988. They live with their three children in their hometown of Hangzhou.

He encountered more obstacles after college, with more than 12 jobs reportedly denied, even one at KFC.

Eventually, he was hired as an English teacher at $ 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 began testing online start-ups when he returned to China.

After several breaks, he set up Alibaba from his small apartment in Hangzhou in 1999 with 17 friends. The original concept – online shopping for small businesses – attracted $ 25 million from investors in its first year.

Today, Alibaba is the largest online trading company in the world. In addition to shopping, this includes banking, technology and cloud computing.

Ma played how different he is from most billionaires on the Internet who are geniuses in math, science or coding. He prefers the wild advertising stunts associated with Richard Branson, which is why, according to acquaintances, he began to appear on the stage of Alibaba during corporate celebrations. He wore a blonde wig and hat to sing at The Lion King in 2009. In 2017, he flew on top of a Michael Jackson mask and outfit while dancing on Billy Jean and then joined to “formation-style” performance with reserve dancers.

Today, Ma is not a CEO or board member of Alibaba or ANT, but is Alibaba’s largest shareholder with shares worth at least $ 25 billion.

Alibaba lost more than $ 110 billion in market value on Dec. 24 when China officially launched the probe. The Chinese government also told state media to censor reports on Alibaba’s investigation back in December, the Financial Times reported on Thursday.

Jack Ma danced to a mix of Michael Jackson songs during Alibaba's annual party at Huanglong Sports Center in Hangzhou, China's eastern province in September.  2017
Jack Ma danced with a mix of Michael Jackson songs during Alibaba’s annual party at Huanglong Sports Center in Hangzhou in eastern China’s Zhejiang Province in September 2017.
AFP via Getty Images

It is not uncommon for China to get some of its most valued tycoons and celebrities out of the public eye for a breach and show them who the boss is. The country’s biggest movie star Fan Bingbing disappeared in 2018 due to alleged tax evasion and was out of sight for months. She eventually wrote an apology to the Communist Party on her social media pages and paid a tax bill of at least $ 70 million.

No one knows where Bingbing disappeared, but a source told Vulture that she was kept under “residential surveillance in a certain place”, described as a holiday resort in the coastal province of Jiangsu.

In Ma’s case, he did not appear as a judge in the finale of an entrepreneurial game show called “African Business Heroes,” which was sponsored by his philanthropic organization in Africa.

Alibaba spokesmen said there was a “scheduling conflict” that prevented Ma from appearing on her show. While some reports from China say that Ma is just keeping a low profile, while Chinese regulators are analyzing Alibaba’s huge books and ordering a restructuring of ANT, the situation seems serious, if not sinister.

Some say that the West opened young Ma’s eyes too much and now he got what he deserved.

“Jack Ma is a gangster,” Peter Navarro, director of trade and manufacturing at the White House and author of the 2011 book, Death from China: A Clash with the Dragon, told The Post. “He runs a company called Alibaba. Complete the thought: Forty thieves. He created a company with stolen goods using our eBay business model. He stole all the e-commerce technology from us. “

But for all his insight, Ma couldn’t figure out what should be obvious to him and everyone around him, Navarro said. “Xi has been consolidating power for the last four to five years.”

“He does the same with the Chinese oligarchs as Putin does with the Russian oligarchs. They get paid and fall in love with the West and forget where they come from. Then they get slapped. There is a Chinese expression called “kill the chicken, scare the monkey”, which means to set an example for someone. That’s what they do to him. He will probably be allowed to return, but his marching orders will be to just shut up and make money. “

Singleton agreed.

“He will reappear and will have to repent in public, 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 is a strategic thinker and still a man to be reckoned with. “

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