Chinese billionaire Jack Ma teaches first class at University of Tokyo as top exec at his tech empire insists he’s ‘alive’ and ‘happy’


Chinese billionaire Jack Ma taught his first university class in the Japanese capital last week, as he continues his retreat from the limelight after publicly criticizing Beijing’s regulators.

Despite being worth an estimated $34.5 billion, Ma announced in May that he would be taking up a visiting professor position at the University of Tokyo this summer.

In a statement last week, the university said Ma had led a special seminar on June 12 on the topic of “innovation and entrepreneurship” as part of its Global Leadership Program.

“The seminar focused on management philosophy and how the younger generation can achieve success in the future and was based on Professor Ma’s rich experience and pioneering knowledge,” the institution said. “The participating students engaged in a meaningful discussion with Professor Ma. The two-hour seminar was a valuable learning opportunity for the students.”

— 東京カレッジ / Tokyo College (@CollegeTokyo) June 19, 2023

The content of Ma’s upcoming classes have not yet been determined, the college added. He became a professor at the University of Tokyo on May 1, according to his staff profile, and his tenure will end on Oct. 31.

In April, it was announced that Ma had also accepted a three-year role as honorary professor at the University of Hong Kong, where he will focus on conducting research in finance, agriculture and entrepreneurial innovations with faculty members.

China’s crackdown

Ma—who failed his college entrance exam twice and was rejected for a plethora of jobs before setting up e-commerce giant Alibaba from his apartment in 1999—stepped down as Alibaba chairman in 2019.

A year later, he openly criticized China’s financial regulators for being too risk-averse and accused the country’s banks of operating with a “pawnshop mentality.”

His comments preceded an intense crackdown from Beijing on Alibaba and Ma himself, including the last-minute cancellation of Alibaba-affiliated Ant Group’s record-breaking $34.5 billion IPO, Ma conceding control of the fintech giant, and Alibaba being slapped with a $2.8 billion antitrust fine.

A month after hitting out at Chinese regulators, Ma disappeared from public view. His disappearance sparked rumors that he had been placed under house arrest, with some even questioning whether he was still alive.

His public appearances since resurfacing in a video released by Chinese state media in early 2021 have been sporadic, with the entrepreneur—once known for his flamboyance and quirky publicity stunts—making headlines when he showed up in Thailand, Mallorca, his hometown, and at an Alibaba event last week.

Speaking at the Vivatech conference in Paris on Thursday, Alibaba President Michael Evans set out to reassure those interested in Ma’s whereabouts that the elusive founder was “alive” and “happy.”

“He’s well, he’s happy. He’s creative. He’s thinking,” Evans said in response to a question from Maurice Levy, chairman of French advertising group Publicis. “He’s teaching at a university in Tokyo, spending more time in China.”

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