HONG KONG — Jack Ma, China’s richest man and the guiding power behind its largest e-commerce firm, belongs to an elite membership of energy brokers, 89 million robust: the Chinese Communist Party.
The social gathering’s official People’s Daily newspaper included Mr. Ma, govt chairman of the Alibaba Group and the nation’s most outstanding capitalist, in an inventory it printed on Monday of 100 Chinese individuals who had made extraordinary contributions to the nation’s growth over the final 40 years. The entry for Mr. Ma recognized him as a celebration member.
It might sound contradictory that the rich Mr. Ma belongs to a company that acquired its begin calling for the empowerment of the proletariat. But Mr. Ma’s political affiliation got here as no shock to many Chinese and China watchers. Though it nonetheless publicly extols the ideas of Karl Marx, the Chinese Communist Party largely deserted collectivist doctrine in the post-Mao period, releasing non-public entrepreneurs to assist construct the world’s second-largest financial system after the United States.
In reality, the disclosure reveals a celebration that’s keen to show its legitimacy by affiliating itself with capitalist success tales. Mr. Ma is a tech rock star in China, and his membership in the social gathering might prod others to comply with his lead.
“Even Jack Ma is a party member,” mentioned Kellee Tsai, dean of humanities and social science at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, referring to the social gathering’s pitch. “Doesn’t it make you want to join the party, too?”
Alibaba declined to touch upon the matter. The Hurun Report, a analysis group in Shanghai that tracks the rich in China, estimates Mr. Ma and his household’s web price at 270 billion renminbi, or $39 billion.
Today’s social gathering isn’t precisely unique. Its members signify practically 7 p.c of China’s inhabitants. Its ranks embrace authorities officers, businesspeople and even dissidents. Being a member usually suggests a want to community and get forward reasonably than specific one’s political beliefs.
For businesspeople particularly, membership is extra usually a matter of expediency. Party membership offers a layer of safety in a rustic the place private ownership protections are often haphazardly enforced or ignored entirely.
Though its constitution still describes members as “vanguard fighters of the Chinese working class imbued with communist consciousness,” the party has veered away from its communist roots and welcomed private entrepreneurs since 2001. Some of the richest men in China are party members, including Wang Jianlin of the Dalian Wanda Group, a property and entertainment conglomerate, and Xu Jiayin of the Evergrande Group, a property developer.
It is unclear when Mr. Ma joined the party or how much he pays in dues. The party sets dues at 2 percent of monthly salary for higher-income members.
The star power of the Chinese entrepreneur class has dimmed since Xi Jinping became the country’s top leader in 2012. Under Mr. Xi, the Communist Party plays a bigger role in not only Chinese politics but also the economy and everyday life. Any entity with more than three party members is required to set up a party cell. Some three-quarters of private enterprises, or 1.9 million, had done so in 2017, according to official data.
Companies say they face much greater pressure to set up the cells than in the past. Even some of the coolest start-ups in tech-savvy Beijing have designated party-building spaces.
The disclosure of Mr. Ma’s membership reflects the thinking that the party controls the economy and society, said Guo Yuhua, a sociology professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing and a critic of the party.
“It’s going backward from the Deng Xiaoping era, when the party advocated the separation of the party and the government,” she said, referring to the party leader who ultimately governed China during its early years of reform in the 1970s and ’80s.
The disclosure also drew attention because Mr. Ma had in the past tried to keep his distance from the government. When asked at public appearances how he managed government relations, he often said, “Fall in love with the government, but don’t get married.”
But as Mr. Xi tightens ideological controls and the power of the state grows, many successful entrepreneurs have made a point of showing their party loyalty.
Mr. Ma visited Yan’an, the city often considered the birthplace of the Chinese Communist Revolution, in 2015, according to the Chinese news media. Pony Ma, who is chief executive of the internet giant Tencent Holdings but is not a party member, nonetheless showed up in Yan’an as well this year, wearing a Red Army uniform. Yan’an is also where Mr. Xi spent much of his teenage years.
In recent weeks, amid signs of a slowing economy and an intensifying trade war with the United States, China’s leaders have taken a softer tone toward private enterprise, making supportive remarks and promising tax cuts.
Making it clear that Mr. Ma, the most successful businessman in China, is a member could strengthen the party’s legitimacy.
“Above all,” said Ms. Tsai of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, “the party is quite open about the fact that it wants to survive.”