Jack Ma Steps Back into Spotlight, But as a Teacher

Jack Ma, the billionaire founder of Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba, gave his first seminar as a visiting professor at Tokyo College, part of the University of Tokyo on June 12.

Cofounder of e-commerce giant Alibaba Jack Ma appears to be returning to public view after years of hiding and avoiding the spotlight for irking Beijing’s political elite. Ma’s rare public appearances tell that he is returning to his roots as an educator rather he is reclaiming his position as a businessman.

Ma, one of China’s wealthiest individuals, participated the final round of a global mathematics competition hosted by Alibaba on Saturday in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou, where the internet behemoth is headquartered.

According to a statement from Alibaba subsidiary Damo Academy, he reportedly spent time conversing with competitors and instructors, and he reportedly discussed the “understanding of mathematics” with finalists.

The two-hour session 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 of entrepreneurship and innovation,” according to a Tokyo College statement released on Friday.

Ma’s lecture, which drew students from Japan, China, India, and Malaysia, drew on the billionaire’s “rich experience and pioneering knowledge of entrepreneurship and innovation,” according to the university.

Ma, a former English teacher, was appointed to a visiting professorship at Tokyo College in May to teach sustainable agriculture and food production. According to his profile on the university’s website, he will hold that role until the end of October.

Ma announced in May 2019 that he would return to teaching after leaving Alibaba the following September.

Jack Ma is one of Asia’s most recognizable industrialists and was one of China’s most outspoken and exuberant billionaires in 2020, when he virtually disappeared after criticizing regulators and Beijing’s crackdown on big tech. Since then, Ma’s whereabouts and well-being have been the subject of intense rumors, and the magnate has adopted an uncharacteristically low profile and scaled back his business activities.

Many speculated that he had been detained by authorities or punished by Beijing for his outspoken criticism when he disappeared from public view. Ma reportedly returned to China in March, but it is unknown if he intends to remain or for how long.

Ma has been observed in Japan, Thailand, and Hong Kong since November of last year. In April, he was also named an honorary professor at the University of Hong Kong.

The teaching position at Tokyo College is Ma’s first in public since the 2020 clash with Chinese authorities.

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