Jack Ma returns to China after a year abroad

Ma's reappearance coincides with China's renewed interest in private enterprises.

Ruth Chai | March 29, 2023, 03:12 AM

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After nearly a year outside of China, billionaire and founder of Alibaba Group Holdings Jack Ma has returned to his home country.

According to South China Morning Post (SCMP), which is owned by Alibaba, Ma on Monday (Mar. 27) visited Hangzhou Yungu school, which he had founded.

Hangzhou Yungu school is a private school covering kindergarten to high school that was funded by the Alibaba founders in 2017.

Hangzhou is also the city in which Alibaba is headquartered.

The school confirmed Ma's visit via an Instagram post.

Ma, who was a former English teacher at the school, met with teachers and students and engaged in a discussion with the school's faculty about the future of education in an era of rapidly developing artificial intelligence (AI) technology.

“We must use AI to solve problems, not to be controlled by AI,” SCMP quoted Ma as saying.

Ma added that technologies like ChatGPT have presented itself as a challenge to modern-day educators, and that it was only the beginning of the era of AI.

Brief stopover in Hong Kong

SCMP also reported that prior to arriving in Hong Kong, Ma had made a brief stopover in Hong Kong for an art fair.

He had met up with friends and visited Art Basel, an international art fair recently held in Hong Kong.

Ma, who retired as Alibaba’s chairman on his 55th birthday in 2019, has been travelling to different countries to learn about agriculture technology, SCMP reported, but failed to address why Ma has been avoiding the public eye for the past year.

The Hong Kong newspaper also stated that Ma hopes to focus on agriculture, education and philanthropy.

Recent sightings

Ma, once China's richest man, disappeared from public view in October 2020 after a speech he gave that criticised China's financial regulation system.

Since then, he has been spotted in multiple countries, initially in China, followed by Tokyo and Thailand.

He reportedly visited these countries to learn more about education and agricultural initiatives.

While the Financial Times reported that Ma had been staying in Tokyo for six months, SCMP reported that he stayed there for three months.

His aversion to the public eye has garnered widespread speculation that Ma has had a run-in with the Chinese authorities.

Many have also speculated that Ma had been placed under house arrest or had been otherwise detained.

Ma's disappearance was preceded by a slew of Chinese billionaires going missing.

Owing to the assumption that he had a run-in with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), many had speculated that Ma will never return to China.

This hypothesis, however, has been disproven.

Renewed interest in private enterprise

Ma's arrival in China coincides with a time of renewed interest in the private sector in China.

On Mar. 13, Li Qiang, during his first speech as premier, reassured businesses of China’s plans to keep opening to the world and supporting the private sector, SCMP reported.

On Chinese social media platform Weibo, Hu Xijin, former editor of the CCP-owned Global Times publication, stated that Ma's reappearance was related to the declining public confidence in China's public sector.

Writing in Chinese, Hu said China ought to encourage regulated private sector growth and boost confidence in that domain.

He said that to grow competitiveness in the Chinese economy, both public and private enterprises need to work in tandem.

"The efficiency and competitiveness of Chinese private enterprises are first-class, and they are an important new force to push our society forward," he wrote.

Where's Jack Ma?

Top photo via visuals_china/Instagram