Editor’s note for Monday, January 4, 2021

A note from the editor of today's SupChina Access newsletter.

My thoughts today:

Where is Alibaba founder Jack Ma (马云 Mǎ Yún)? His “absence from public view in the past two months, including missing the final episode of a TV show on which he was to appear as a judge, has fueled social media speculation over his whereabouts amid a Chinese regulatory clampdown on his sprawling business empire,” reports Reuters. The Financial Times has more detail on his disappearance as the public face of Africa’s Business Heroes, a television contest for budding entrepreneurs.

Ma’s last public appearance seems to have been in the last week of October 2020, when he made a speech critical of China’s financial regulators. He was summoned for an official dress down the following week, and the IPO of Alibaba affiliate Ant Group was suspended on November 4.  

Some of the context to the speculation about Ma’s fate is spelled out in a few other Reuters reports:

What about the other tech titan surnamed Ma? Pony Ma (马化腾 Mǎ Huàténg), the founding CEO of Tencent and no relation of Jack, has not been in the public eye much either. But this has not stirred up speculation, possibly because Pony has always been media shy, while Jack has always been a noisy self-publicist.

Nonetheless, it can’t be a comfortable time to be the top guy at a major Chinese tech company with an outsize role in the country’s financial future. (See also something I wrote in November: Ant Group underfoot — why U.S. markets aren’t dead yet.)

Our word of the day is trading life for money (用命换钱 yòng mìng huàn qián).

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief