Earlier this week their was concern that Jack Ma, one of China’s most successful businessmen, had disappeared after making comments critical of the government back in October.

Speculation has swirled around Chinese billionaire Jack Ma’s whereabouts after reports surfaced that the high-profile businessman has not made a public appearance in more than two months.

The Alibaba founder also failed to appear as scheduled in the final episode of his own talent show, Africa’s Business Heroes, which gives budding African entrepreneurs the chance to compete for a slice of US $1.5 million…

Ma’s business empire, Ant Group, has been under scrutiny by Beijing ever since Ma delivered a controversial speech in Shanghai on 24 October that criticized China’s regulation system for stifling innovation and likened global banking rules to an “old people’s club”.

So Ma’s criticism of the government led to a crackdown on his business empire which coincided with his sudden and complete silence. It looked as if he might have been “disappeared” by the government. That’s something that happens to bloggers and billionaires alike in China.

Last year a real estate tycoon named Ren Zhiqiang was critical of the government’s response to the virus and compared Xi Jinping to the emperor without no clothes. He promptly disappeared and about a month later we learned he’d been charged with corruption. Finally in September, the 69-year-old was convicted and sentenced to 18 years in prison. This is what happens when you criticize Xi Jinping. You get what amounts to a life sentence.

But in Jack Ma’s case, CNBC’s David Faber reported this morning that Ma has not been arrested or disappeared by the government. Instead, he is merely laying low trying to avoid this outcome. “He is being less visible, purposefully and you can expect that will continue to be the case for some time,” Faber said. He added, “The October 24th speech just went too far and like a lot of people there he understands when you have to sort of…lay down and roll over.” Here’s the clip:

There are clearly lines that can’t be crossed in China, even by billionaires. One comment critical of the government can put you behind bars or simply put an end to your business plans. So Jack Ma is trying to self-censor himself for a few months to avoid winding up in prison.

Meanwhile, the NY Times published a piece yesterday about the appeal of the Chinese version of freedom:

The pandemic has upended many perceptions, including ideas about freedom. Citizens of China don’t have freedom of speech, freedom of worship or freedom from fear — three of the four freedoms articulated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt — but they have the freedom to move around and lead a normal day-to-day life. In a pandemic year, many of the world’s people would envy this most basic form of freedom…

Of course, the Chinese government is eager to help the world forget that it silenced those who tried to warn the world in the early days of the outbreak.

But there’s no denying that China’s success in containing the outbreak burnished Beijing’s image, especially when compared with the failures of the United States. It has given currency to the so-called China model — the Communist Party’s promise to the Chinese public that it will deliver prosperity and stability in exchange for its unrelenting grip on political power.

Of all of the terrible things that happened in 2020, this idea that maybe communist tyranny isn’t so bad is one of the very worst. We’re in dangerous territory if that idea starts taking hold. And having a look at the comments, there are plenty of people defending this trade off:

The fact of the matter remains that most Chinese are not obsessed with advancing democracy — they are focused on advancing both their personal family and overall society’s prosperity.

And they are getting what they want.

We in the West must come to accept that China’s approach is different but not necessarily wrong simply because it doesn’t conform to our ideas of individual liberty and “freedom”.

Another popular response:

Do you really think that the average existence of a family with two kids somewhere in China is any less free than we are in the US? Does it really matter to be able to speak out against the government there or here in terms of daily life?…

I would take China any day of the week.

And on and on it goes:

The Chinese model is the future and I, for one, am welcoming it. Having witnessed the chaos and the incompetence in the US, I am totally disillusioned in this sham democracy.

There are already people here who are eager to embrace communist dictatorship and as Jack Ma has done “lay down and roll over.” People who think that’s not possible here aren’t paying attention.

Tags: China Jack Ma