Jack Ma is China’s richest man. When he sold shares in his company, Alibaba, in New York in 2014, he pulled off the world’s biggest initial public offering (IPO). He runs the world’s biggest shopping day, which this year pulled in $31bn. Not bad going for a man who has just been outed as a member of the Communist Party. China, and particularly the swelling ranks of its wealthy elite, are past masters at handling such cognitive dissonance. Call it pragmatism. No one goes to US investors and says “Hi, I’m a Communist and I’m raising $25bn.” But Ma’s charm offensive worked. Back home, he set about redistributing the spoils — into jobs (by some estimates, shopping platform Taobao alone spawned 37-million) and into technology, two things terribly important to the 21st century Communist Party. Shopping also helped tilt the economy away from fixed investment and towards consumption, which is another government aim. One might quibble that carving out Alipay — now the $150bn gorilla that is ...

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