Alibaba founder Jack Ma shows up at Hainan primary school as his foundation celebrates 7th anniversary of rural teacher’s charity

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  • Jack Ma
    Jack Ma
    Chinese businessman

Alibaba Group Holding founder Jack Ma made a rare public appearance on Monday, participating in a ceremony at a primary school in the tropical island of Hainan, his first public showing since returning to China in November from a European study trip.

Ma, 57, took part in the annual Rural Teachers Initiative at Changhao Central School, where he participated in a video call with 100 rural teachers from 24 provinces around the country, according to a post from The Jack Ma Foundation on microblogging website Weibo.

The Rural Teachers Initiative was established by Ma in 2015 to support teachers working in the Chinese countryside. Before the pandemic, Ma had invited rural teachers to southern China’s Hainan island for five consecutive years to present 100 of the most outstanding with a cash grant of 100,000 yuan (US$14,260) each to support rural education. The event has been held online in the past two years due to Covid-19.

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Ma sat in a classroom in front of a blackboard showing the date and school’s name, according to a short video clip posted online. Ma said that he hoped to carry on the campaign to help rural teachers, adding “I haven’t done enough and my capabilities are limited”.

As part of the initiative, Ma has promised to meet rural teachers every year on the 8th day of the last month in the Chinese lunar calendar, known as the Laba Festival

Alibaba, which owns the South China Morning Post, did not immediately reply to a request for comment. Phone calls to Changhao Central School were not answered.

Ma retired as Alibaba’s executive chairman in 2019, on his 55th birthday. The tech entrepreneur and former English teacher said he wanted to dedicate his post-retirement days to philanthropy, rural education and pursuing his interest in reviving China’s rural sector.

A screen shot of Jack Ma addressing rural teachers in Hainan on January 20, 2021.Photo: Bloomberg
A screen shot of Jack Ma addressing rural teachers in Hainan on January 20, 2021.Photo: Bloomberg

As one of China’s most high profile entrepreneurs, Ma’s whereabouts are closely watched, especially after the companies he founded – including Alibaba and its fintech affiliate Ant Group – came under regulatory scrutiny amid Beijing’s intensified crackdown on the tech sector.

The formerly outspoken founder of Alibaba has stayed out of the spotlight after Chinese securities regulators suspended the US$39 billion dual listing of Ant Group in Shanghai and Hong Kong in 2020, 48 hours before its shares were due to start trading.

Ma stayed out of public view for months after the cancelled IPO, but showed up in a video recorded for the same rural teacher initiative in early 2021.

Joe Tsai, Alibaba’s co-founder and chairman of SCMP Publishers, told CNBC in June that Ma was “laying low right now”, spending time on hobbies like painting.

In October last year, Ma visited research institutions in the Netherlands and Spain to further his interest in agricultural technology, in what was his first overseas trip in more than a year, sources told the Post at the time.

Ma’s foundation has provided funding and support to 100 school principals of rural schools and 700 rural teachers, according to a separate statement from the group.

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