Chinese entrepreneur and billionaire Jack Ma made a public appearance of sorts this week for the first time since late October, when regulators clamped down on allegedly monopolistic activity by the fintech arm of the e-commerce giant.
He was shown on Wednesday speaking on behalf of the Jack Ma Foundation to teachers in rural China in a video circulated by Chinese state media groups.
"We'll meet again after the epidemic is over," Ma told recipients of awards from his charitable organization in the video.
The value of Alibaba (BABA) shares on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange jumped 11% in the wake of Ma's reappearance to hit its highest price in six months and closed at HK$265.0 ($33.02) on Wednesday. In New York, the company's stock rose 5.5%.
"Investors can take heart that he is not in hiding but will still have to navigate increased scrutiny by the [regulators] and the associated volatility of the stock price," Justin Tang, Head of Asian Research at United First Partners in Singapore, told Business Times on Thursday.
The entrepreneur's whereabouts have been widely debated since last year when Ma was last seen in public criticizing Chinese authorities for financial restrictions that he claimed smothered progress.
"Good innovations are not afraid of supervision, but they do fear outdated supervision," he said at a financial summit in Shanghai on Oct. 24, 2020. "Today the world, especially China, needs a lot of policy experts, but not experts in red-tape."
Days later, the much-anticipated dual listing of Alibaba fintech offshoot Ant Group on the Hong Kong and Shanghai bourses was delayed indefinitely by regulators.
"While the effects of his faux paus just days before Ant's IPO cannot be undone, the recent video at least shows contriteness without being scripted," said Tang.
Dressed in a plain sweatshirt, Ma appeared for roughly 50 seconds in the short clip to praise the efforts of teachers in China's developing regions.
"This morning we held an award ceremony to thank and honor 100 rural teachers," the Jack Ma Charitable Foundation said in a statement. "Mr Ma met with the teachers via an online video link and promised to visit in person when the epidemic ends."
Founded in 2014, the organization is focused on supporting education development in China and around the world. This mission can be traced back to the early career of Ma, who worked for years as an English teacher before starting Alibaba.
Now in the doghouse with Chinese regulators, the entrepreneur seems to be returning, at least briefly, to his humbler roots.