Ma, who retired as Alibaba’s chairman in 2019, has largely faded from public view since a controversial speech in Shanghai last October that was later linked to the Chinese government scuttling the initial public offering of Ant Group, the fintech offshoot of Alibaba also founded by Ma. Since then, he has largely focused on hobbies and philanthropy, his close business partner Joseph Tsai said in an interview last month.
For 2020, Ma and Hangzhou-based Alibaba had combined cash donations of 3.2 billion yuan (US$493.4 million). Pony Ma Huateng and his Shenzhen-based company Tencent Holdings, China’s most valuable technology giant, ranked third with 2.6 billion yuan in charitable giving. Zhang Yiming, together with his Beijing-based company ByteDance, operator of TikTok, came in fifth, donating 1.2 billion yuan for the year, according to the Forbes list.
Alibaba is the owner of the South China Morning Post.
Donations from Chinese tech billionaires have become more frequent in the midst of increased pressure from Beijing on Big Tech firms to put social development ahead of profit and serve the national agenda.
Most recently, the Jack Ma Foundation, founded in 2014, pledged on Wednesday to donate 50 million yuan to aid flood-hit Henan province, where capital city Zhengzhou is facing catastrophic damage and several deaths from torrential rainfall. Several Big Tech firms, including Alibaba and Ant Group, have separately announced their own donations to relief efforts.
Wang Xing, CEO and chairman of Beijing-based on-demand delivery giant Meituan, ranked 22nd on the Forbes list. Last month, Wang donated a US$2.3 billion stake in his company to his own philanthropic foundation, to be used for funding education and scientific research. The donation came months after the government opened an antitrust investigation into Meituan.
ByteDance’s Zhang, who announced in May that he plans to step down as CEO of the world’s most valuable start-up by the end of the year, also donated 500 million yuan last month to set up an education fund in his home city of Longyan, in China’s eastern Fujian province.
For 2020, the top 100 Chinese entrepreneurs on the Forbes list donated a total of 24.5 billion yuan, up 37 per cent over the 17.9 billion yuan Chinese entrepreneurs gave in 2019. The tech industry ranks as the country’s most charitable, donating 7.8 billion yuan for the year, making up 32.1 per cent of the total.
To be included on this year‘s list, individuals needed to have given away at least 22 million yuan, more than double the 10 million yuan needed last year. Amid a surge in charitable giving to aid in fighting the Covid-19 outbreak, 32.7 per cent of last year’s donations went to the medical industry. Education and poverty relief each made up about 22.5 per cent of donations.
Tech titans’ increased presence at the top of the list reflects how much things have changed in the last year, amid increased reliance on internet platforms because of the pandemic and Beijing’s Big Tech crackdown. Alibaba’s Ma ranked fifth last year, giving 1.12 billion yuan in 2019.
Real estate tycoon Hui Ka-yan, aka Xu Jiayin, chairman of Evergrande Group, topped the list for two consecutive years before falling to second place this year. Hui donated just over 3 billion yuan in 2020, as his property group remains mired in debt.