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Billionaire Jack Ma Makes About-Face, Praises Chinese Government

Categories: East Asia, China, Digital Activism, Economics & Business, Freedom of Speech, Governance

Prominent Chinese Internet entrepreneur Ma Yun (馬雲), known as Jack Ma [1], has in the eyes of some shattered his independent image during a recent newspaper interview in which he applauded China for its online censorship and brutal, strong-arm tactics.

Billionaire Jack Ma [1], who controls two top online e-commerce platforms, Taobao [2] and Alibaba [3], stressed in an interview with South China Morning Post in Hong Kong that “the Chinese government is terrific” and compared China with his business empire, saying that cruel decisions like the June 4 crackdown have to be made [4] [zh] for the sake of stability. He also praised the highly advanced Internet censorship [5] in China that watches over 600 million Internet users and three to four of the world's top 10 Internet giant corporations. English bullet points of the interview are available at the Morning Post's website [6].

Jack Ma Yun speaks at the World Economic Forum in Tianjin, China September 2008. Photo by Natalie Behring, World Economic Forum (CC: BY-NC-SA)

Jack Ma Yun speaks at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting of the New Champions in Tianjin, China September 2008. Photo by Natalie Behring, World Economic Forum (CC: BY-NC-SA)

Unlike the second generation rich, or Fuerdai [7] in Chinese, Ma established his Internet business with the help of his friends in the U.S. and maintained an a reputation as an independent entrepreneur in China. Alibaba.com is listed in Hong Kong Stock Exchange market in 2007.

Terrific or terrifying?

Many netizens were disappointed and wondering why Ma chose to destroy his image. In the comment section of Beijing News [8] on popular microblogging site Sina Weibo, many expressed the belief that Ma's change of attitude is related to the recent secret execution of Chinese businessman Zeng Chengjie [9] who was dubbed “China's Madoff” and once called by China's state-run news as a “diligent, wise and conscientious man”.

“I am Wang Mo” (@是王默俺 [10]) was among one of the microbloggers who drew a line between Ma's change of attitude and Zeng's death:


From the very beginning, he is lining up on the right side. Now he is just running naked. Zeng Chengjie made him scared.

“Bright moon on top of Yan's mountain” (@燕山明月 [11]) also believed that Ma had been terrified by Zeng's death:


Taobao is a great business and Alibaba a great company. Ma Yun is a great entrepreneur. But fear seems to have occupied Ma's heart. Standing at the cliff, the scream of Zeng Chengjie can be heard in the wind. His heart tangled and he looked back behind him, the big brother is smiling in his gaze at him.

Many also believed that Ma has made a deal with the devil, coming to some agreement with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) so that they exercise direct control over his businesses to keep them expanding:

鹿魜 [12]:2013年度优秀企业家!阿里巴巴啃腚还是优秀D支部!

“Lu Ren”: The most excellent entrepreneur in 2013! Alibaba will definitely becomes the most excellent CCP's branch.

吴刚梁 [13]:全是歪理邪说。百度“很成功”,谷歌要“反省”,反省什么?向官员行贿?像你一样搞政治投机、迎合权贵?为何谷歌在全世界都能成功,唯独在中国弄不下去?而百度就只能在中国逞能?这是一个“逆向淘汰”的市场,13亿人当然能够支撑起几家大的互联网公司,但让谁出头,决定权在政府。

Wu Gangliang: Ma's interview is full of twisted reason. Baidu is “very successful” while Google has to “reflect”. What exactly does it have to reflect upon? That it hasn't paid bribe to the officials? That it hasn't invested in politics and pleased the ruling elite? How come Google is successful worldwide and cannot survive in China? While Baidu can only have its market in China? This is a reversed market. Of course with a 1.3 billion population, the market can support a few Internet giants, but who become successful is decided by the government only.

amanart [14]:你只是一个在“中国特色”里混得不错的网站而已,如你的网站放到欧洲去,立马就阳痿了,你信不…前些天看到有关你的言论,很是失望,今天证实了,人最可怕的是在恶的淫威下变节,变得事理不明…

@amanart: You are just a website running smoothly in a space full of “Chinese character”. If your website moved to Europe, you would be crippled… I am so disappointed with what you have said. Today has proven that the most terrible thing to happen to a person is the change of character and principle under threat.

杀破菊 [15]:……不怀疑马云智商,只能说明他说这话有目的,学校的小卖部生意好,是因为学生不准出校,只能在那个小卖部买

@”Chrysanthemum ruined”: … I won't doubt Ma Yun's I.Q. Clearly he said that with objective. The reason why the school canteen has so much business is because the pupils are all locked up and they are forced to eat there.

Outside the Great Firewall, about 300 mainland Chinese political liberals and overseas dissidents have co-signed a statement [16] condemning Jack Ma's talk about the “cruel” and “rightful” decision of the June 4 Crackdown in 1989 [17] and demanding Ma make a public apology. Below is a political drawing by Twitter user @badiucao [18], in which Ma's surname in Chinese “馬” is transformed into a Tank:

The chinese character "Ma" is transformed into a tank in @badiucao's political drawing.

The Chinese character “Ma” is transformed into a tank in @badiucao's political drawing.