Alibaba’s share price took a wild ride this morning after state media reported on National Security Bureau in Hangzhou taking criminal action on a person surnamed Ma for “using the internet to conduct activities that threaten the national security”.
Hangzhou is where Alibaba’s headquarters are located, and Jack Ma is probably the most famous person with that surname in the city.
The share price tumbled almost 10% before recovering:
The cause for recovery? The state media revised their report, referring the person as “Ma Mou Mou” instead of “Ma Mou”. “Mou” is used to replace the real character in the name, therefore the revision indicates that the person concerned has a two-character given name, and definitely not Jack Ma, who has a single character given name “Yun”.
While there are rumours that there could be either market manipulation or an attempt to test the public opinion and market feedback (if genuine actions are taken on Ma later), we find neither theory plausible.
What we’ve gathered seems to suggest a simple careless mistake by the junior level clerk editing and putting out the notice. The authorities genuinely did not expect such a violent reaction in the market – especially when stabilising the economy was one of the top priorities pledged by the CCP Politburo last Friday.
Internet users in China, however, seized the opportunity to jokes as usual.
One goes: “When the government clarified it is a Ma with a two-character given name, Tencent panicked because its founder, Pony Ma, has the Chinese name Ma Huateng; the government had to issue a second clarification that the concerned Ma is not in the internet industry – now it is the turn of Ping An, and its chief Ma Mingzhe to panic.”
The other is a fake tweet of Elon Musk: “The Ma Mou Mou they referred to … might be me.”
Musk’s name, translated into Chinese, is “Ma Si Ke” (or “Ma Yi long” as some people prefer to have transliteration of his real given name), which kind of fits the bill.