Jack Ma
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

Alibaba Group founder Jack Ma resurfaced three months after his last public appearance in October, sending the e-commerce firm’s shares up more than 8% in Hong Kong. There was intense speculation concerning his suspicious disappearance, with many claiming he has been “apprehended” by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) or left the country altogether.

During his last appearance, he criticized China’s financial regulatory system in front of a room of high-ranked officials. After his speech, a Chinese regulator abruptly halted Ant’s initial public offering, which would have been the biggest public share sale of all time. Alibaba’s shares were also hit after an antitrust investigation was announced against the company in November last year. Some contend that the recent clampdown on Jack Ma and his internet empire signals Beijing’s growing unease with the country’s super-rich and private-sector power brokers.

Another instance which heightened the concerning nature of his absence was when he skipped the taping of a TV program he created in December, despite of his love for the limelight. He also skipped the filming of a TV talent show he created for African entrepreneurs in November, which he had been set to judge.

Now, after months, he spoke through a video call to 100 rural teachers receiving the Jack Ma Rural Teachers Award, which was set up by the Jack Ma Foundation. The video also shows Ma briefly visiting a rural boarding school in Zhejiang on January 10. Ma also told the recipients that the award ceremony was moved online this year due to the pandemic.

His topic of discussion during his video call struck a much different tone. He endorsed themes promoted by the ruling Communist Party, such as reviving the countryside and narrowing income disparities by encouraging the return of younger talent to rural areas. “Working hard for rural revitalization and common prosperity is the responsibility for our generation of businessmen.”

While the wealth of Ma, one of China’s richest people, has fallen from $61bn to $52.9bn following his speech in October, after the reappearance, Alibaba’s Hong Kong-traded shares rose 8.7 per cent.