本期经济学人杂志【Leaders】板块这篇题为《China will struggle to produce another Jack Ma》的文章发布的那一周正好马云发出公开信（2018.09.10）宣布一年后的阿里巴巴 20 周年之际，他将不再担任集团董事局主席。文章赞扬了马云创立的阿里巴巴对中国社会产生的巨大变革，同时认为很难再有第二个马云。
1999 年马云在杭州的一个公寓内创立了阿里巴巴，阿里巴巴的成功是中国过去几十年辉煌经济转型成就的象征。2017 年的双十一销售额达到了 $250 亿，同年美国“黑五”促销周只有 $50 亿。马云领导的阿里巴巴和旗下的蚂蚁金服等深刻变革了中国的物流、金融以及零售业。2017 年阿里巴巴每天的包裹量达到了 5500 万个。
文章认为马云的成功有其独特的时代背景，马云创立阿里时中国只有 1% 的人能接触到互联网（同期美国有 36%），按照购买力平价计算的人均 GDP 不到 $3,000，如今则比那时候的 6 倍还要多。尽管目前中国的风险投资蓬勃发展，大量资金涌入生物科技、电动汽车等初创公司，但文章认为中国很难再有企业家像马云一样大胆、热情、极具个人魅力并能取得那么大的成就。
China will struggle to produce another Jack Ma
Ma where he came from?
China will struggle to produce another Jack Ma
No entrepreneur has defined the country’s transformation like Alibaba’s founder
Print edition | Leaders
Sep 15th 2018
THE most recognisable face of Chinese capitalism belongs to Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, an e-commerce juggernaut matched in size only by Amazon. Mr Ma, who launched Alibaba from a small apartment in Hangzhou in 1999, is an emblem of China’s extraordinary economic transformation. This week’s announcement that he will step down as the firm’s chairman a year from now, to concentrate on philanthropy, was greeted with comparative calm by investors. He stopped being chief executive in 2013; Alibaba’s share price has more than doubled since its initial public offering, the world’s largest-ever, in 2014 (see article). But one question presents itself: could China produce another story to match his? The answer is almost certainly not.
There are some very good reasons for that. China’s own rise is an unrepeatable one. When Mr Ma, then an English-language teacher, launched Alibaba, the country was still gearing up to join the World Trade Organisation. Its GDP per head, in terms of purchasing-power parity, stood at under $3,000; it is now more than six times higher. The internet was still young, too. Less than 1% of Chinese had access to the web back then, compared with some 36% of Americans. As incomes grew and connections proliferated, Mr Ma took full advantage.
Thousands of small businesses have since flourished on Alibaba’s platforms. About 1m merchants trade in its virtual emporiums. Its services have helped push China’s economy towards consumption-led growth. Last year it boasted sales of $25bn on Singles’ Day, China’s equivalent of Black Friday (when Americans spent a measly $5bn). It has transformed logistics and finance, as well as retailing. Last year Alibaba delivered an average of 55m packages a day; its financial offshoot, Ant Financial, accounts for more than half of China’s vast mobile-payments market. Its reach is so great that many startups decide to work with Alibaba rather than strike out alone.
But more has changed than the structure of China’s economy and the clout of digital giants like Alibaba. Politics has changed, too. Alibaba thrived partly thanks to Mr Ma’s skilful dealings with China’s ruling Communist Party, with which he cultivated both closeness and stand-offishness (“Love them, don’t marry them,” he once said of the government). Under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, however, China’s political system has grown hostile to private businesses that become too big or too disruptive. Officials have constrained bosses’ freedom to make splashy deals. Bytedance, a brash technology firm set up in 2012, has been reined in, and forced to withdraw one of its apps. Its founder issued a grovelling public apology after being chastised by the government. Ant, meanwhile, has seen its aspirations to compete with state-owned banks held back by regulators (see article).
China is putting its corporate champions at the service of its ambitions to compete globally in high-tech industries. Alibaba’s task is to use artificial intelligence to improve cities. Through state-backed venture-capital funds, the government is pouring money into industries that were once the preserve of the private sector. Rumours occasionally surface that it plans to take stakes and board seats in big tech firms. All this has fed growing international suspicion of China, especially in America. Mr Ma was one of the first out of the blocks to congratulate President Donald Trump on his election victory; this year America prevented Ant’s purchase of MoneyGram, a money-transfer firm, on national-security grounds. The reality was always more complicated, but Mr Ma embodies an idea of China as market-driven and open. That idea has faded.
Jack be nimble
None of this is to say that enterprise is fizzling in China. Indeed one of Mr Ma’s legacies is a shift to a culture that values startups more than ever. His charisma and folksy advice have earned him cult-like status among the country’s entrepreneurs. Venture capitalists are lavishing money on hundreds of newcomers, in industries from biotech to electric vehicles. Small private firms will continue to flourish.
But it is harder to be as disruptive today as Mr Ma was 20 years ago. That is partly because his own creation is so dominant. Increasingly, however, the greatest obstacle to disruption is China’s rulers. The party is intent on having a say much earlier in the development of industries that it considers important. As a result, China is unlikely to see new business leaders with the boldness and brio to match Mr Ma.
This article appeared in the Leaders section of the print edition under the headline"Ma where he came from?"