China's richest man, the Alibaba founder and chairman Jack Ma, has been revealed as a member of the ruling Communist Party of China, having joined during his university days but never publicised his membership.
The revelation came in the People's Daily, the official organ of the party, in an article about government plans to honour entrepreneurs for their contribution during 40 years of opening up and reform of the Chinese economy.
“Ma (54), a CPC member, has been a huge driving force for domestic demand,” the body’s central committee was quoted as saying.
“Under his leadership, Alibaba ranks among the top 10 global companies in terms of market value, making China a leading player in the international ecommerce industry, internet finance and cloud computing, spawning a large number of entrepreneurs and startups.”
Mr Ma started Alibaba in 1999, and the former English teacher transformed it into one the world’s most important ecommerce and digital payments companies. His net worth is estimated at about €35 billion.
China's leading capitalist being a member of a Marxist-Leninist organisation might seem contradictory, but in reality China abandoned classic communist dogma in the years after the death of the Great Helmsman, Mao Zedong.
Since then China has adopted a policy of “socialism with Chinese characteristics” and been transformed into the world’s second biggest economy.
Mr Ma is enormously popular in China and a role model for those who want to get rich in the new China. He had been coy on the matter previously, often saying companies should be in love with the government, but not get married.
Under President Xi Jinping, the party has adopted more of a role in business and finance, and has introduced tighter ideological controls, prompting some of the country’s top capitalists to show their loyalty to the party.
Other leading capitalists mentioned in the list, but described as "non-partisan", include Pony Ma, chief executive of Tencent, which owns the hugely popular WeChat social network, and Robin Li, who is head of the Baidu search engine.
Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent are the three giants of China's booming tech industry and are often collectively referred to as BAT.
According to reports circulating on social media, Mr Ma joined the 90 million-member party when he was a student at Hangzhou Normal University. A classmate said he joined when he was in his 20s.
In September, Mr Ma announced that he was retiring to concentrate on education philanthropy.
Although he is a party member, he is not a delegate at China’s annual parliament, the National People’s Congress, nor is he on the top political advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.