For three months, the public wondered if Ma was detained or imprisoned and many questioned whether he was even alive.
During his disappearance, Alibaba lost about US$76 billion worth of value after Ma’s criticism of China’s financial system drew the attention of the government and scared off investors.
On January 20, 2021, Ma resurfaced with a short video addressing the public in a short video for a charity event.
What exactly happened to Jack Ma?
While the details are largely unclear, it’s believed that Ma just kept a low-profile after crossing a line that he didn’t know was there.
“That day he apparently crossed the invisible red line for what can be said and done in Xi Jinping’s China,” said Chinese analyst Christina Boutrup. “I believe it was a big surprise for him. He would never have crossed that line if he had known how bad it could go.”
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been cracking down on tech companies in China including with the introduction of a recent law that prevents tech companies from providing user data to outside countries. Those companies that provide this data could face a hefty fine of up to 10 billion yuan.
These recent laws, combined with the increased scrutiny of tech companies in general, was a major deterrent for Ma when he was in hiding.
“Apparently he just kept a very low profile, which was really the best thing he could do,” Boutrup said.
Where’s Jack Ma now?
According to Alibaba’s executive vice chairman, Ma’s just keeping a low profile and enjoying life.
“He’s lying low right now, I talk to him every day,” Joe Tsai, Alibaba’s executive vice chairman, said in a June 15 interview on CNBC’s Squawk Box. “He’s actually doing very, very well. He’s taken up painting as a hobby, it’s actually pretty good.”
The interview with Tsai also provided some insights into the company’s future as it recovers from the scrutiny of the CCP and attempts to untangle its image from Jack Ma’s.
“I think you have to separate what’s happening to Jack and what’s happening to our business. Our business is under some kind of restructuring on the financial side of things, and also in antitrust regulation. We had to pay a big fine. But we’ve gotten that behind us, so we’re looking forward,” Tsai said.
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