- On Monday, Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma visited a private school he founded in Hangzhou, China.
- Ma first vanished from public view after angering authorities in 2020 amid Beijing’s tech crackdown.
- He discussed the rise of AI, saying that technologies such as ChatGPT present challenges to education.
Jack Ma, the billionaire co-founder of Alibaba, made a rare public appearance in China two years after first disappearing from public view amid Beijing’s tech crackdown.
On Monday, Ma — a teacher turned tech titan — visited the Yungu School in his hometown of Hangzhou in east China, according to pictures posted on the institute’s WeChat and Instagram accounts. The private school caters to students from kindergarten to high school.
Ma appeared to be in good spirits as he spoke to the school’s staff animatedly and toured the school, the school’s Instagram post shows. He even discussed the rise of artificial intelligence, or AI, per the WeChat post.
Ma told the staff that AI technologies such as ChatGPT present challenges to education, and that people need to use AI to solve problems instead of being controlled by it, the post said.
The news was first reported by the South China Morning Post — which is owned by Alibaba — on Monday.
Ma’s return could signal Beijing’s getting friendlier towards private enterprises.
Ma returned to China amid signals that Beijing may be taking a friendlier stance toward private enterprises after more than two years of a widespread tech crackdown.
His visit follows a top Chinese central banker’s comments in January that Beijing’s tech crackdown was coming to a close.
Ma’s reappearance in China also followed the conclusion of the China Development Forum that ended on Monday, said Shawn Yang, the deputy research head at Hong Kong-based Blue Lotus Research Institute.
Apple CEO Tim Cook and Ray Dalio, the founder of Bridgewater Associates, also attended the high-profile state-backed event.
“In our view, these series of events are likely an attempt by the government to reassure businesses that China is open for private investment, and to reflect a more friendly regulatory environment to investors,” Yang wrote in a Tuesday note published on the Smartkarma research platform.
Ma was once a high-profile jet-setter who was the face of China’s Big Tech. But he has been lying low since October 2020 after giving a speech criticizing China’s financial regulatory system.
His words angered the Chinese authorities, prompting intense regulatory scrutiny of his businesses and a crackdown on tech firms in the country. This pressured Alibaba’s share price, which fell by over 70% from its 2020 peak. Ma’s wealth plummeted from a high of $61 billion in October 2020, to an estimated $32.5 billion now, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
Since his disappearance, Ma was spotted in Japan and Thailand.
There has been intense speculation about Ma’s whereabouts since he first vanished from the limelight.
In November 2022, Ma was spotted in Japan where he socialized mainly within several private members clubs, per the Financial Times. In January, he was spotted in Bangkok, Thailand, where he patronized a Michelin-starred street food restaurant and watched a Muay Thai fight. He also popped up in Hong Kong in the later part of January.
Ma stepped down as the chairman of Alibaba in 2019. He still sits on the board of the Jack Ma Foundation, which he founded.
The foundation did not respond immediately to Insider’s request for comment.
Alibaba shares on the New York Stock Exchange ended Monday 0.9% lower at $86.12 apiece and are down 2.2.% this year.