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Jack Ma Steps Down as Alibaba Chairman, Prompting Memes and Memories

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Today is Jack Ma‘s 55th birthday and the 20th anniversary of the company his name is synonymous with, Alibaba. But it’s also Ma’s last day as chairman of that company; he’s stepping aside to reportedly focus on philanthropy and allow Daniel Zhang to take over the reins.

This move has been coming for a year — Ma took the opportunity of 2018’s Teachers’ Day, an annual celebration of educational professionals, to announce his decision. But even though it’s been on the calendar for 12 months, the departure of China’s most famous businessperson and its richest man from the head of the company he founded has still been prominent in the news cycle and social media conversation today.

Popular Ma-related hashtags on microblogging platform Weibo have included “Jack Ma’s last day at work” and “Jack Ma has at least 12 identities”, which references the fact that though he’s stepped down as chairman of Alibaba, he’s still officially the company’s “employee 001”, head of a charity fund, a UN Sustainable Development Goals Advocate and so on.

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Perhaps fittingly for a man who once appeared on stage as Michael Jackson, Ma has been mobbed like a pop star at public engagements in recent days. Crowds were on hand to cheer as Alibaba’s PR machine arranged for Ma to return to the apartment complex in Hangzhou where he first started the company, allowing him to explore the business’ founding mythology.

Also trending has been an old BBC interview with Ma from his early days at Alibaba, in which the presenter questions him on the nature of his new-fangled internet business, eventually exclaiming “what’s the point?!”

Ma now has a net worth of 38.6 billion USD, according to Forbes.

The former English teacher is now set to pursue philanthropic endeavors according to the official narrative, but China’s netizens appear to have had a slightly different charitable gesture on their minds. Two separate surveys on Weibo asking what people would like to say to Ma upon his retirement, ended up with effectively the same response taking the lion’s share after tens of thousands of votes each: “Can he wipe out our credit card debt on Alipay?”

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RADII was founded by Brian A. Wong, Vice President at Alibaba. We operate with editorial independence.

Jake Newby
Jake Newby is a Shanghai-based writer and editor with more than a decade's experience living and working in China. Previously managing editor of Time Out Shanghai, he's also written for publications such as South China Morning Post and the Financial Times.