Months after Jack Ma's missing report shocked the world, videos of the Alibaba Group co-founder and one of the most prominent billionaire business tycoons in China, interacting with some hundred rural teachers via video conference meeting resurfaced on social media.
This was Ma's first appearance since October, last year, and triggered a sharp jump in the Hong Kong listed shares of the e-commerce giant.
English teacher turned entrepreneur
The billionaire, himself being a former English teacher turned entrepreneur, attended the Jack Ma Rural Teachers Award ceremony via video during which he met with rural school teachers from across the country.
He said "we'll meet again when the [COVID-19] epidemic is over!" according to Tianmu News, a news channel based in East China's Zhejiang Province, where Alibaba is also headquartered.
The ceremony is an annual event launched by the Jack Ma Foundation ever since its beginning in 2015.
Till last year, the event used to be held in Sanya, a southern most city in China's Hainan Province, each year on the traditional Chinese Laba Festival. But owing to the coronavirus pandemic this year, the event has been postponed and rather reorganized as an online event for the very first time. The Laba Festival was observed on Wednesday this year.
Ma's reappearance skyrocketed the shares of Alibaba in the Hong Kong stock markets and extended gains, surging to over 6 per cent around 1 p.m. Wednesday (local time).
China's scrutiny over internet-based monopolies
Ma is a vociferous critic of the Chinese government himself. His sudden disappearance from public platforms over the nearly past three months had sparked immense speculation about his whereabouts among many western media outlets as well as a message to all Chinese citizens and people around the world that the Communist Party will have no tolerance for its critics.
His Alibaba fintech offshoot, the Ant Group, and Ant management had come under scrutiny by Chinese authorities. And subsequently, Ma was summoned for talks by the country's top financial regulatory authorities on November 2, just before Ant's planned dual listing in Shanghai and Hong Kong, according to Global Times reports.
Following a series of tough questioning, the regulators barred the Ant Group from launching its initial public offering (IPO) and launched an antitrust probe into Alibaba, suspecting monopolistic acts.
The crackdown on Ma's business empire signifies a broader campaign by China to control tech giants that Beijing views to be grappling too much control over the country's economy.