Shock and horror! Jack Ma is a member of the Communist Party of China!
The big “revelation” first appeared in the form of an innocuous mention in a report by party mouthpiece People’s Daily on the founders of the three Chinese internet giants – Jack Ma of Alibaba, Baidu’s Robin Li and Tencent’s Pony Ma – being included in an honours list for their contribution to the country’s reform and opening up.
That was enough to send Western media outlets into a tizzy and set off a barrage of breathless “news” reports suggesting scandal and ominous portent.
Never mind that this piece of information has been public knowledge since at least 2015. Or that the party has nearly 90 million members, which makes affiliation just a fact of life in China. It doesn’t automatically make them all card-carrying fanatics in Mao suits hiding behind the Bamboo Curtain.
Sure, the Communist Party counts among its ranks some of the most hard-core nationalists and sycophants, but it also boasts countless reformers and liberal minds. Party affiliation is simply a matter of practicality for advancement in China, and to see it as being synonymous with political stance and skulduggery smacks of ignorance and prejudice.
Demonising China has long been a preferred pastime for the xenophobes and fearmongers, but here’s some breaking news for them: the McCarthy era ended in the 1950s. In any case, you wouldn’t be too far off the mark to argue that socialism only exists by name in the country and the CCP is no longer a communist party in the conventional sense of the term, as dictatorial as it may still be.
Notice that local media outlets in Hong Kong collectively shrugged their shoulders at the “news” and most did not bother to play it up. Obviously they understand China far better than the purported luminaries of the Western media.
When I asked one old China hand in this city – who is often critical of the Beijing regime – his ready reply was: “Jack Ma is a party member. And I’m on Facebook. And bears defecate in the woods. So?”
In stark contrast, the likes of international news agency AFP saw fit to engage in scurrilous muckraking, asking the South China Morning Post, which is owned by Alibaba, what impact Ma’s CCP link would have on our editorial operations. Seriously? That tedious trope of addled preconceptions in the minds of these tired old hacks in their tinfoil hats flogging the same old dead horse. Get a life.
The Post has answered these questions time and time again, ad nauseam, since it was bought by Alibaba. We have painstakingly explained how Ma is not even a member of the board of this newspaper, and has absolutely nothing to do with its editorial content or daily operations, but no, why let the facts get in the way of a “good” story.
Particularly galling was our grand inquisitors’ sense of supreme entitlement in demanding to know why we had decided not to publish the story (we did, actually, when we found a more newsworthy update in that Ma had joined the party in his university days). Who died and made them the global police of journalistic standards?
No Western publication will stomach being regularly questioned in this manner over its story choices and editorial decisions. It’s an insult and affront to all the multitalented, conscientious and dedicated professionals working at the Post.
There is a cognitive dissonance here that a non-Western media outlet can have the audacity – and the financial wherewithal – to pursue global ambitions. Frankly, it reeks of racism and envy.
Which reminds me, where is that pesky Chinese scientist who’s been hitting the headlines with his ethically questionable claims to have created the world’s first gene-edited babies? Maybe he can edit the bias and bigotry out of our detractors’ genes. Lord knows we’ve tried to help them see reason.
Yonden Lhatoo is the chief news editor at the Post