lørdag 23. januar 2021

The strange case of Alibaba's Jack Ma and his three-month vanishing act

Wearing burgundy lipstick and a long peroxide wig, the diminutive entrepreneur who would soon become China’s richest man took to the stage and belted out Can You Feel the Love Tonight? from Disney’s The Lion King.

Jack Ma, chief executive of e-commerce giant Alibaba, had earned the right to make a spectacle of himself. On that day in September 2009, in front of 16,000 adoring employees packed into Hangzhou’s Yellow Dragon stadium, the eccentric but iron-willed former English teacher was celebrating. He had built a bona fide tech champion, China’s answer to Amazon, eBay and PayPal rolled into one.

Little more than a decade on, Ma is experiencing a much less triumphant moment in the spotlight. After nearly three months in which his whereabouts have been unknown, following a public show of dissent towards Beijing, he resurfaced last week, apparently much chastened. His 48-second appearance – in a broadcast from an unknown location – was “like a hostage video”, according to one member of a large online forum of China analysts.