Jack Ma Makes First Public Appearance Since October

The Alibaba founder’s disappearance after sparring with Chinese authorities sparked rumours over his whereabouts.

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Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba Group and the former richest man in Asia, has appeared in public for the first time since Chinese regulators began to exert pressure on his business empire.

Ma appeared via video link in a meeting with 100 teachers on Wednesday, according to local state media, as an annual event where he recognises rural teachers and their work. During the event, Ma made no mention of his lack of public appearances since last autumn or his reason for re-emerging now. A spokesperson for the Jack Ma Foundation, speaking with Fortune, would not comment on Ma’s location.

In October 2020, Ma made his last known appearance during a livestreamed event, which followed critical comments he had made regarding the state of China’s financial industry. During a speech at the Bund Summit in Shanghai, he had likened Chinese state-backed banks to “pawn shops” and attacked government regulators for resisting innovation in the country’s financial system.

Two weeks after Ma’s speech, Chinese regulators suspended the planned stock market debut of Ant Group, in which Ma held a controlling interest. The fintech company’s $35 billion IPO, the largest in history, has been left uncertain. Ma did not appear in public for the remainder of the year.

Having been known for his eccentric and high-profile appearances in the past, the CEO’s absence from public life spurred rumours regarding his whereabouts and whether he might, like other Chinese billionaires in the past, have been detained by the government. Rumours circulated further after Ma failed to appear for a recording of Africa’s Business Heroes and showrunners avoided mention of him.

Alibaba shares jumped 5% on the Hong Kong stock exchange upon Ma’s re-emergence. The Bloomberg Billionaires Index estimates the tycoon’s net worth at $52.9 billion.

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