In Robert Harris’s 1992 novel, Fatherland, Nazi Germany was never defeated. Instead, triumphant in WWII, it “reformed” – while diligently erasing such inconvenient events like the Holocaust from official memory. Hitler is its revered elder statesman.

Preposterous, surely? Except that that’s more or less what has happened with another bloody totalitarian dictatorship, one which outdid even the Nazis with its litany of murder and oppression: communist China. Despite the palaver about “reform”, the grim reality is that this is still the same regime which presided over the murders of at least 70 million of its own people. The architect of those atrocities, Mao, is not only still revered by the regime, but its current dictator is increasingly, explicitly, modelling his rule on Maoist principles.

Just as no one was safe from being purged by the paranoid dictator, Mao, no-one in today’s China is too powerful, rich or famous to escape the wrath of Xi Xinping.

In 2018, Fan Bingbing, China’s most famous actress, vanished without trace for months. She had been arrested and held incognito for tax evasion. After three months, she was released and allowed to make a grovelling public “self-criticism”. The message from the regime is clear: no one, but no one, is safe.

Just in case anyone missed the message, it’s happened again.

Jack Ma is the founder of AliBaba and one of the wealthiest people in the world – and, like Fan Bingbing, he’s suddenly vanished without trace.

Media outlets across the globe are catching on to the fact that Ma has been missing for the past two months. On January 3, 2021, Yahoo Finance announced that Jack Ma is now suspected of being “missing.” In another report by the Financial Times, Ma was apparently replaced at the last minute by an Alibaba executive in the final installment of the show “Africa’s Business Heroes”.

Mr Ma was replaced as a judge in the final of Africa’s Business Heroes, a television contest for budding entrepreneurs, his photograph was removed from the judging webpage, and he was conspicuously left out of a promotional video.

There were dark clouds hovering over Ma’s head before he disappeared. As reported in the BFD in November, Beijing summarily suspended a planned IPO by Ma’s Ant Group Co, a $3 trillion dollar listing which would have been the largest IPO in the world. The CCP then instructed the company to scale back its business ventures.

Although no fierce human rights activist, Ma has criticized some of the Chinese government’s regulatory policies and how they hinder innovation. At face value, Ma’s comments were used as an excuse by CCP higher-ups to begin clamping down on him.

Chinese tech whales have been subject to an “anti-monopoly” campaign which has negatively impacted their shares both domestically and internationally.

The message is clear: for all the talk of “reform”, the CCP still runs China’s political economy with an iron fist. “Socialism with Chinese characteristics” looks a lot like old-fashioned communist dictatorship. In criticising the regime and pushing it to liberalise its economy, Ma succeeded only in making himself a target.

Several prominent Chinese Communist Party critics such as investor Kyle Bass previously predicted that outgoing Alibaba chairman would be “disappeared” by CCP leaders. Bass believed that the CCP no longer had any use for Ma. Despite China’s market reforms that have made its economy more dynamic on the world stage, the CCP has still maintained a tight leash on how influential entrepreneurs can become. A world renowned entrepreneur like Ma poses a potential threat to the CCP, which is hesitant about fully liberalizing its society.

Big League Politics

No doubt Jack Ma will reappear some time in the next month or so – and make a similar grovelling apology.

Consider him well and truly “re-educated”.

Jack Ma. The BFD. Illustration by Lushington Brady.

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China Brings Down the Fist II: Where’s Jack Ma?

Lushington D. Brady

Punk rock philosopher. Liberalist contrarian. Grumpy old bastard. I grew up in a generational-Labor-voting family. I kept the faith long after the political left had abandoned it. In last decade or...