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Alibaba founder Jack Ma gives first class as visiting professor at University of Tokyo as he retreats from tech empire

<i>Tokyo College/The University of Tokyo</i><br/>Jack Ma teaching Japan University of Tokyo
Tokyo College/The University of Tokyo
Jack Ma teaching Japan University of Tokyo

By Laura He, CNN

Hong Kong (CNN) — Alibaba founder Jack Ma has given his first lecture as a visiting professor to the University of Tokyo, as the high-profile Chinese entrepreneur retreats further from his business empire following a crackdown by Beijing.

Ma, who was formerly an English teacher before he became one of China’s most successful business figures, taught students at a special two-hour seminar on the evening of June 12, about management philosophy and how they can achieve success, according to a statement from the University of Tokyo on Friday.

Ma’s talk — to students from Japan, China, India, Malaysia, and elsewhere — was based on “his rich experience and pioneering knowledge of entrepreneurship and innovation,” the statement added.

Once a flamboyant and outspoken entrepreneur, Ma had largely disappeared from public view after he criticized Chinese regulators during a speech in Shanghai in late 2020.

Days after his speech, Beijing called off the blockbuster IPO of his Ant Group, which was expected to be the largest stock offering in world history. The action marked the start of an unprecedented regulatory crackdown on China’s internet industry and the private sector, including a record fine of $2.8 billion on Alibaba Group for violating antitrust rules.

Since then, Ma had kept a very low profile and reportedly spent more time overseas, including in Hong Kong, Spain, and Japan, home to his friend and Alibaba investor, SoftBank CEO Masa Son.

Ma’s whereabouts has attracted continued interest as he was perceived to be representative of China’s entrepreneurial confidence.

In March, he returned to mainland China to support a landmark restructuring plan by Alibaba, which split the company into six separate units. His return was a symbolic move and probably a “planned media event” by Beijing intended to appease private sector fears, according to analysts.

Ma has appeared in public more frequently this year, with a more visible focus on researching and teaching. In April, the University of Hong Kong announced that Ma would join its business school for the next three years.

Ma became a professor at the University of Tokyo on May 1, and his period of stay is until October 31, a profile page of Ma shows.

After the seminar, Ma returned to mainland China and attended a math event organized by Alibaba’s research team in Hangzhou on Saturday, according to a statement by the Damo Academy. Ma chatted with the finalists of a global math competition held by the academy, which he initiated in 2018, and discussed how the competition will “continue to innovate and bring new fun” to people who love mathematics.

Beijing needs the private sector more than ever to shore up growth and create jobs. Multiple indicators show that the country’s economic recovery is losing momentum. Retail sales and industrial production both missed forecasts last month, according to government statistics released last week. The unemployment rate for young people aged 16 to 24 hit a fresh record level of 20.8%.

The country’s top leaders, including Xi Jinping and Premier Li Qiang, have sought to reassure investors and entrepreneurs that it’s safe to invest in the country again. They have also rolled out the welcome wagon for foreign businesses.

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