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.