Jack Ma Resurfaces, And Gets $2 Billion Richer in the Process

The Chinese billionaire ended a three-month absence from public view with a speech at a charity event.
Jack Ma resurfaces after disappearing from public view for months
Jack Ma has reentered the chat. PHOTO: STRINGER / AFP

Jack Ma has resurfaced in public for the first time since Chinese regulators halted a massive initial public offering of Alibaba affiliate Ant Group, prompting a stock market rally that added $2 billion to his personal wealth. 

The billionaire on Wednesday gave an online speech to rural teachers as part of a charity program run by his philanthropy group the Alibaba Foundation. The news was released through Tianmu News, a state media outlet in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, where Alibaba’s headquarters are. 

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The speech ended Ma’s three-month absence that has fuelled speculation about the future of his e-commerce empire, and prompted Alibaba’s share price in Hong Kong to rise 6 percent when markets closed Wednesday.

Ma, who owns 4.8 percent of the company, gained $1.96 billion in stock value.

In a 50-second video posted by Tianmu News, Ma, wearing a navy blue sweater and holding a pen in his hands, congratulated 100 rural teachers for receiving an annual award named after Ma himself, and pledged to contribute more to rural development. 

“These days, I have been studying and thinking together with my colleagues,” Ma said in the video call with the teachers. “We have built a stronger belief in devoting ourselves to non-profit education.”

Ma said he would like to meet the teachers in person after the end of the COVID-19 epidemic. 

The video stands in sharp contrast with Ma’s last public appearance in late October, when he criticized Chinese financial regulators for stifling innovation. The speech was believed to be a trigger of the subsequent crackdown on Alibaba that caused a plunge in the company’s valuation and, at one point, wiped some $12 billion off Ma’s wealth. 

Ma, known for his love for the limelight, used to be active in giving speeches, attending charity events and even performing in entertainment shows. But he disappeared from public eyes after Chinese regulators suspended Ant’s IPO and put Alibaba under an antitrust investigation.

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The silence of Ma led to questions about the billionaire's personal safety and if his business empire, a symbol of China’s economic boom in the past four decades, would continue enjoying support from the ruling Communist Party. 

Ma’s first public engagement in months centered on his philanthropic work. The video released on Wednesday also included a scene of the billionaire touring a primary school in Zhejiang on Jan. 10. 

In the speech, Ma promised to support rural education and work towards the prosperity of rural China. “I think this is the duty and commitment of the entrepreneurs of our generation,” he said. 

Behind him was a vase of flowers, a book titled “world arts history,” and a painting of China’s tranquil countryside.

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