Jack Ma shows up at Alibaba maths competition in Hangzhou after Tokyo seminar to chat with finalists


Jack Ma, the billionaire founder of Alibaba Group Holding, made a rare public appearance on Saturday in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou to chat with the finalists of an annual global mathematics competition organised by the company’s in-house research unit.

According to a statement from the e-commerce giant’s Damo Academy, Ma discussed the “understanding of mathematics” with finalists of the 2023 Alibaba Global Mathematics Competition.

This marks the second time that the 58-year-old entrepreneur appeared in Hangzhou this year, following a March visit to a local school that is jointly funded by partners of Alibaba, which owns the South China Morning Post.

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The whereabouts of Ma, who has resigned from all his corporate roles, remain closely watched since he started keeping a low profile in 2021, after the government quashed the initial public offering of Ant Group, Alibaba’s fintech affiliate. In October 2020, Ma gave a controversial speech in Shanghai, where he said Chinese banks, the largest of which are state-owned, have a “pawnshop mentality”.

The move against Ant, which has still not publicly listed, later snowballed into an industry-wide crackdown on Big Tech, and Ma started spending much of his time overseas.

At the VivaTech conference in Paris last week, Alibaba president Michael Evans said Ma was “alive” and “happy”, in response to a question from Maurice Levy, chairman of French advertising group Publicis, according to a CNBC report.

Ma started the Global Mathematics Competition in 2018, which he said was to inspire “public enthusiasm” for the field. The entrepreneur has previously said he was terrible at math, scoring just one point out of 100 on a college-entrance exam in 1982.

The Alibaba competition is open to everyone, and it has attracted 250,000 contestants with a top award of 60,000 yuan (US$8,418).

Jack Ma speaks with some of the finalists of the annual maths competition he started in 2018. Photo: Weibo alt=Jack Ma speaks with some of the finalists of the annual maths competition he started in 2018. Photo: Weibo>

Ma spoke with some of the 685 finalists from 19 countries over video, which was displayed on a large screen. Ma said on Saturday that next year’s competition will continue to “innovate and bring more fun to people who love mathematics”, according to the official statement.

Ma’s more recent appearances have come with new public responsibilities. On June 12, he conducted his first class at the University of Tokyo as part of the visiting professorship he was granted this year. The seminar on “Innovation and Entrepreneurship” was jointly organised by Tokyo College and the University of Tokyo’s Global Leadership Programme, according to a statement from the university on Friday.

Ma has also assumed professorships in at least three other schools outside mainland China. One of those is a three-year term as honorary professor at the University of Hong Kong.

In the past few years, Ma has been spotted in China, Japan, and across Europe attending academic and agricultural events. Earlier this year, he was seen in Thailand as part of his study of farming and fishery, following a three-month stay in Japan, where he looked into the operations and technology of fish farms.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2023 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2023. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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