China’s former entrepreneurial golden child, Jack Ma, appears to be back with a food venture



Billionaire entrepreneur Jack Ma seems to be reentering the spotlight after a brief disappearance from the top echelons of Chinese business.

Ma, the founder if the Alibaba Group, had been lying low since 2020 after he criticized his country’s financial system, prompting a massive crackdown on private enterprise in China and a decline in his fortune of more than half.

But it seems Ma—the co-founder of e-commerce company Alibaba—has regrouped, and has entered the market once more with a farming business.

A company named ‘Hangzhou Ma’s Kitchen Food’ was registered last week by Ma, with a capital of 10 million yuan ($1.4 million) according to Bloomberg.

The registration was shared on corporate database Tianyancha and according to China’s National Enterprise Credit Information Publicity System, which was seen by Bloomberg, Ma’s new company involves selling packaged agricultural goods.

The company’s name is also a giveaway about the link between Ma and the business.

As well as bearing his name, Hangzhou is Ma’s home city in eastern China—the area in which the Alibaba Group was also founded and is still based.

Few other details are known about the new venture, though the South China Morning Press reports a number of Ma’s top executives from his philanthropic foundation are on board.

The Jack Ma Foundation did not immediately respond to Fortune’s request for comment.

Last week CNBC also reported an update from Ma: the man worth $29.3 billion had scrapped plans to sell 10 million Alibaba shares for a payout of approximately $870 million.

However, since the filing revealing Ma’s intentions was revealed, Alibaba’s share price has slipped: down from more than 77 Hong Kong Dollars per share on Thursday to 75 by Monday.

What happened to Ma?

Ma fell from the lofty heights of the richest man in Asia to something of a pariah after he made controversial comments about the Chinese government.

The tech tycoon had started out as a teacher before launching Alibaba, a business-to-business platform connecting Chinese merchants with global buyers, in 1999.

The business was one of the world’s fastest-growing start-ups and now reportedly has more than a billion users on the platform and a market cap of more than $1.5 trillion.

Ma, a larger-than-life character who gained legions of followers thanks to his wealth and success, had previously bragged about being able to avoid Chinese regulators.

However in late 2020 Ma seemingly flew too close to the sun. He was preparing to spin Alibaba’s fintech affiliate Ant Group off in a $37 billion IPO, which at the time would have been the world’s largest-ever debut.

But on Oct. 24, 2020, weeks before the behemoth listing, Ma gave a now infamous speech at the Bund Finance Summit in Shanghai in which he compared China’s state-owned banks to pawn shops and blamed Chinese regulators for stifling innovation.

Although Ma had stepped down as Alibaba CEO in 2013 and chairman in 2019, he remained a major shareholder in the company through his family’s trust.

In November 2020 Chinese regulators turned their attention to his interests. On Nov. 3. regulators suspended Ant’s IPO.

Seven days later, the government released new antimonopoly rules for the entire tech sector that ultimately banned common (and profitable) industry practices, such as forcing vendors to sell exclusively on one platform, namely Alibaba or its competitors.

A month later, regulators opened an antitrust investigation into Alibaba that culminated in a $2.75 billion fine for alleged monopolistic practices. Late last year, Alibaba pledged $15.5 billion to support the government’s “Common Prosperity” campaign to redistribute wealth to poorer and rural populations, which analysts say was an attempt by Alibaba to align itself with the government.  

Ma largely disappeared from public appearances prompting questions about his safety, save for a few charity visits and an update he was teaching in Tokyo—a return to business, perhaps, is a signal he’s back for good.

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