China has a new capitalist role model, and he's not Jack Ma

The lauding of Zhang Jian as a patriotic entrepreneur and philanthropist is revealing of the Communist Party's current preoccupations

Alibaba founder Jack Ma at the company's annual tech conference in Hangzhou in 2018. His Oct 24 speech, which criticised Chinese regulators, angered President Xi Jinping, who then ordered regulators to suspend Alibaba affiliate Ant Group's initial pu
Alibaba founder Jack Ma at the company's annual tech conference in Hangzhou in 2018. His Oct 24 speech, which criticised Chinese regulators, angered President Xi Jinping, who then ordered regulators to suspend Alibaba affiliate Ant Group's initial public offering. The IPO would have been the world's biggest.PHOTO: ALIBABA GROUP

Zhang Jian, a pioneering 19th-century capitalist, has been brought back to life many times by the Chinese Communist party since his death in 1926, depending on its propaganda needs.

But his latest reincarnation, as a patriotic nation builder and philanthropist, marks his highest profile reappearance yet, championed by no less a communist puritan than President Xi Jinping.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 01, 2020, with the headline 'China has a new capitalist role model, and he's not Jack Ma'. Print Edition | Subscribe