The Big Tech Show: From Bao Fan to Jack Ma - why are Chinese tech billionaires going missing?

Chairman of Alibaba Group Jack Ma (Firdia Lisnawati/AP)

When the Chinese investment bank Chinese Renaissance reported they were unable to contact its founder, tech billionaire Bao Fan, shares in the company plunged by over 20pc.

Bao’s disappearance renewed speculation that the Chinese government are in the process of cracking down on the technology industry and the leading figures operating in it.

But it’s not the first time a tech billionaire has gone missing in recent years. In November 2020, Jack Ma the founder of online retail giant Alibaba was not seen in public for three months after he criticised market regulators.

Why do prominent figures in Chinese business keep vanishing? This week on the Big Tech Show, Adrian Weckler is joined by journalist Clifford Coonan, who spent 15 years as a Beijing correspondent to discuss what could be behind these disappearances.

From Bao Fan to Jack Ma - why are Chinese tech billionaires going missing?

Listen on Apple
Podcasts Listen on

Clifford says when prominent figures in China go missing from public view, it often means they have been put on some sort of house arrest. While Bao Fan’s situation brought greater attention to the situation in China, Clifford says it has been happening for some time.

“[Bao Fan] is part of a trend that we've seen in recent years in China of vanishing billionaires. This has been going on for a long time...the Chinese rich list was always seen as a curse because you had a pretty good chance of disappearing at some point, once your head went above the parapet.”

Spending over a decade in China as a journalist, Clifford has had his own experiences being pulled up by the Chinese police.

“You used to get picked up quite a lot by the police, particularly outside of Beijing, because they would panic when they saw a foreign'd be brought to a police station and then interrogated. I remember one time having to answer a lot of questions about Roy Keane of all people.”

You can listen to the full episode on or wherever you get your podcasts.

The Big Tech Show is in association with Square.