Why China Turned Against Jack Ma

The Alibaba chief paid for pushing back against Beijing. But the shift in attitude also speaks to a growing wealth gap and diminished opportunities for the young.

Li Yuan

By Li Yuan Published Dec. 24, 2020 Updated Jan. 20, 2021


In China, Jack Ma is synonymous with success. The English teacher turned internet entrepreneur is the country’s richest person. He founded Alibaba, the closest thing Amazon has to a peer and rival. After Donald J. Trump was elected president in 2016, Mr. Ma was the first high-profile Chinese person he met with.

That success has translated to a rock-star life for “Daddy Ma,” as some people online called him. He played an unconquerable kung fu master in a 2017 short film packed with top Chinese movie stars. He has sung with Faye Wong, the Chinese pop diva. A painting he created with Zeng Fanzhi, China’s top artist, sold at a Sotheby’s auction for $5.4 million. For China’s young and ambitious, Daddy Ma’s story was one to emulate.