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Jack Ma: Ebullient billionaire and totem of China's rise

Jack Ma, the ebullient and unconventional billionaire founder of tech giant Alibaba, now finds himself battling the ignominy of having the world's biggest-ever IPO halted days before its launch by Chinese regulators. The most recognisable face in Asian business, Ma was set to see his wealth bulge to over $70 billion in a record-breaking IPO of the group's financial arm Ant Group in Hong Kong and Shanghai on Thursday. But with IPO fever peaking, Chinese regulators abruptly slammed on the brakes, over what initially appeared to be concerns about the company's reach into the finances of hundreds of millions of Chinese people.

Now China's poster boy for entrepreneurialism finds himself caught in the glare of the Communist-run state, called in for a dressing down this week before the $34 billion listing was abruptly halted. It is a public relations nightmare for Ma, a Communist Party member, whose rags-to-riches backstory has come to embody a self-confident generation of Chinese entrepreneurs ready to shake up the world.

Charismatic, diminutive and fast-talking, Ma was a cash-strapped entrepreneur working as an English teacher when someone showed him the internet on a 1990s trip to the United States -- and he was hooked. He toyed with several internet-related projects, before convincing a group of friends to give him $60,000 to start a new business in 1999 in China, then still emerging as an economic giant.

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