Alibaba Chairman Jack Ma Compares His Leadership Choices With Deng Xiaoping’s During Tiananmen Crackdown

Ma Yun

Alibaba founder and chairman Jack Ma (Yun) was interviewed by South China Morning Post last week, and in an article published Saturday, dropped this nugget of a quote:

“I made cruel decisions when thousands of Alibaba’s customers were involved in fraud, and when we adjusted Alipay’s structure. As the CEO of a company, you have to do that. It’s like Deng Xiaoping, the then top leader, had to make cruel decisions during the June 4 crackdown for the country’s stability.”

The sound bite has been highlighted by Bloomberg, which reports that Ma has faced social media backlash, and that there’s an online petition asking for Ma to rescind his comment.

On June 4, 1989, Deng’s decision to send in PLA soldiers to suppress the demonstrations on and around Tiananmen Square remains the most controversial in modern Chinese history, raising questions that remain unanswered — indeed, unasked — and leaving scars on the national psyche that manifest itself in ways subtle and obvious.

In February 2011, Ma’s company faced its first true adversity when more than 2,000 high-volume sellers were found to have defrauded customers, leading to an 8 percent stock price decrease in Hong Kong. Alibaba CEO David Wei and COO Elvis Lee fell on the sword by resigning.

If the equivalence isn’t obvious, it’s because we fail to appreciate what living in a post-6/4 China entails. Nothing is more important than commerce — economic development, the inexorable road to GDP growth — and the means by which to conduct it. Does a CEO’s decisions really have the impact of a paramount leader’s? If you force yourself to think the way they want you to, in which apparatuses to maintain individual, societal, and national wealth are of paramount importance, the answer might as well be yes. Jack Ma was being downright patriotic.

UPDATE, 1:32 pm: Global Voices has a lot more details: “Many netizens were disappointed and wondering why Ma chose to destroy his image…. Many also believed that Ma has made a deal with the devil, coming to some agreement with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) so that they exercise direct control over his businesses to keep them expanding.”

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