Alibaba founder Jack Ma to financially support 8-year-old lookalike until university

Fan Xiaoqin (left) and a picture of Jack Ma when he was young.
Fan Xiaoqin (left) and a picture of Jack Ma when he was young.PHOTO: WEIBO

Alibaba Group founder Jack Ma has said he will financially support the education of his eight-year-old lookalike after being moved by the boy's plight, China's Xinhua news agency reported on Monday (Nov 14).

Mr Ma, who is China's second richest man, made the pledge to fund little Fan Xiaoqin's education, from primary school to college, in a statement from the e-commerce giant released on Sunday, Xinhua said.

Fan, also known by his nickname "mini Jack Ma", shot to popularity after Chinese Internet users noticed his striking resemblance to the Chinese billionaire when photos of him were circulated online last year.

The photos of Fan, who lives in Yongfeng County in the eastern Jiangxi province, was taken by a fellow villager in 2014.

Social media users were also touched after learning of the boy's family circumstances.

According to the report, Fan was born into a poor family. His mother has polio and is blind in one eye, while his father - the family's sole breadwinner- lost his leg in an accident. Fan's grandmother has dementia.

Neither Fan nor his elder brother have attended school.

Mr Ma had previously expressed his amazement at the similarity of their looks, saying in a Sina Weibo post last year: "At first glance, I thought it was a photo of me when I was little. The only difference between us is the way we fastened our buttons," he wrote.

But he was moved to help Fan after calls from Chinese netizens for him to do so were renewed during this year's Singles' Day annual shopping event, which Mr Ma's company created in 2009.

This year, the company's sales on the Nov 11 online shopping spree topped 120 billion yuan (S$24.8 billion) and with that, the social media clamour for Mr Ma to help his doppelganger also grew.

Mr Ma has now heeded those calls. He also used his announcement on Sunday to put the spotlight on the country's 40 million children who still live in poverty.

Mr Ma noted in the Alibaba statement that Fan's situation " is not a joke", but a "serious fact".

"There are still many poor people in the country. The problem of growth and education of China's rural and left-behind children is alarming," the statement said.

China's Civil Affairs Ministry last week said there were a total of 9.02 million rural children "left behind" by their parents, who have moved to the towns and cities to look for work.

"To fund one child's education is easy, but in order to help millions of poor children, more resources need to be used," the statement added.