Jack Ma has disappeared as the public face of an African talent show he created, in a allusion to the hardships he faces after falling from grace in China.
Mr. Ma was replaced as judge in the final of Africa’s trade heroes, a televised contest for budding entrepreneurs, his photograph was removed from the judges’ webpage and he was clearly excluded from a promotional video.
The finale took place in November, shortly after the Chinese tech billionaire gave an outspoken speech criticizing Chinese regulators and its state-owned banks. Following the speech, Mr. Ma was dressed by officials in Beijing, and his company Ant Group’s initial public offering of $ 37 billion was suspended. He has not been seen in public since.
A spokesperson for Alibaba, which was founded by Mr. Ma, said, “Due to a scheduling conflict, Mr. Ma could no longer be part of the final jury of Africa’s trade heroes earlier this year (2020). “
A contestant said she was struck by a star when she introduced her business to Mr. Ma on a previous round. “You can’t imagine,” she said. But by the time of the final, Mr. Ma had been replaced by Lucy Peng, an executive at Alibaba.
“There was something going on in China with Jack Ma or something, so (Lucy) came along too,” said the contestant.
While the final took place in November, the show’s TV broadcast was delayed until spring, according to two contestants, and a promotional video at the end of November made no mention of Mr. Ma.
Last year, the candidates presented their ideas directly to Mr Ma as they aimed to win huge prizes offered by his charity, the Jack Ma Foundation.
Mr. Ma is one of the richest men in China. In recent years, his work for the United Nations and global charitable activities has brought a softer touch to China’s global image.
As the coronavirus pandemic worsened this spring, it donated tens of millions of face masks around the world. He teamed up with his longtime right-hand man Joe Tsai to donate 2,000 ventilators to New York City as hospitals predicted severe shortages there – which drew thanks from President Trump and the Governor of New York. York, Andrew Cuomo.
In August, Mr. Ma tweeted his congratulations to the 20 entrepreneurs who entered his founding month-long competition to crown a second annual batch of African “business heroes”.
“I can’t wait to meet them!” he said. It was one of his last tweets.