The Communist Party’s top executives are leaving Beijing intensively. Is Xi Jinping’s praise of Zhang Jian a reminder of Ma?

After the Fifth Plenary Session of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in late October 2020, the CPC Politburo Standing Committee and other top leaders began a small cycle of intensive research trips away from Beijing. Among them were Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Jiangsu, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s visit to Henan, CPPCC Chairman Wang Yang’s visit to Hebei, and Vice Premier Han Zheng’s visit to Jiangxi. In addition, Vice Premier Sun Chunlan researched Xinjiang, and Guo Shengkun, secretary of the Central Political and Legal Committee, researched Ningxia.

Chinese President Xi Jinping began his visit to Jiangsu province in the morning of November 12, the same day he attended the 30th anniversary celebration of the opening up of Pudong in Shanghai. One of the striking features of Xi’s itinerary was his extensive speech on the exploits of Zhang Jian, a businessman who advocated “industrial salvation” in the late Qing Dynasty and early Republic of China.

Media reports of Xi’s remarks suggest that he holds Zhang Jian in high esteem. As China’s top leader’s words and actions in public are often topical, Xi’s speech has led to speculation that it may have something to do with the financial regulatory debate in which Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, a large private Chinese company, was earlier embroiled.

According to Xi, “this time, I came to the Nantong Museum specifically to learn more about Zhang Jian’s industrial, educational and social welfare undertakings.” “(Zhang Jian) actively introduced advanced technology and business ideas, advocated practical work to build a nation, rose and fell, and established a series of industrial, educational, medical and social public welfare undertakings to help the masses and benefit the townspeople, and was a model for national entrepreneurs in China.”

Xi Jinping then issued a call, “After private entrepreneurs become rich, they should see the wise, enhance their national sentiment, take up social responsibility, play the role of helping the rich first, and actively participate in and set up social welfare undertakings.”

In his early years, Zhang Jian followed the traditional path of ancient Chinese intellectuals to study and become an official, and once took the imperial examination, then advocated “industrial salvation of the country”, and physically abandoned politics to join the cotton textile industry, known as “China’s first modern industrialist”. In addition, he was also enthusiastic about public welfare and founded more than 370 schools, making great contributions to the development of education in modern China.

Zhang Jian’s idea of “saving the country by industry” is still proving to be an unbreakable truth even today, a century later, and is reflected in many of Xi Jinping’s public statements.

Xi’s related statements include, “For such a big country as ours to be strong, we must rely on the real economy, not the bubble.” “The real economy is the foundation of a great country, and the economy cannot be de-facto.” “The real economy is the foundation of a country’s economy and the source of its wealth.” “The country has to improve its competitiveness and rely on the real economy.”

In addition, Xi has also talked about the relationship between the real economy and finance saying, “Finance should serve the real economy” and “serving the real economy is the vocation and purpose of finance.”

As China’s top leader, these statements should not be seen as mere personal opinions, but rather represent the consensus of the CPC leadership’s collective decision making and the driving logic of China’s macro-regulation of the economy.

Xi’s visit to Jiangsu comes at a time when China’s economic and financial world is witnessing a sensational event that will likely go down in history, with Jack Ma criticizing China’s financial regulation, followed by the shutdown of Ant Group, which is close to going public, and the issuance of new regulations to regulate Internet lending and prevent monopolies in the platform economy. The incident showed China’s policy trend of regulating the financialization and monopolization of the Internet economy.

As a private entrepreneur, Ma’s personal career has been hit hard by this, and there is huge uncertainty about how his business will develop.

Against this backdrop, Xi Jinping chose the Nantong Museum site to praise Zhang Jian, who advocated “industrial salvation,” and to show the way for Ma and other private entrepreneurs. And Xi Jinping said that “private entrepreneurs get rich, we should follow the example of the wise, strengthen the national sentiment, take up social responsibility, play the role of the first rich to help the second rich, and actively participate in and run social public welfare undertakings”, it is worth Ma Yun carefully understand.