Can China still lead the world in tech without a new Jack Ma?

China has cut its global tech champions down to size, cracking down on antitrust abuses and undue risk taking. But the heavy-handed approach could backfire on Beijing by stifling an entrepreneurial spirit that has proven vital to the country’s rapid economic rise.

Several tech companies have been investigated in the past few months over alleged monopolistic behavior or other breaches of consumer rights. The ongoing probe — which president Xi Jinping has personally endorsed as necessary to maintain “social stability” — has led to record fines for some tech titans and massive overhauls for others. More than $600 billion has been wiped off the value of the biggest tech stocks in recent months.

A couple of China’s most successful entrepreneurs have quit high-level positions amid the turmoil. Zhang Yiming, the founder of TikTok owner ByteDance, recently announced he would step down as CEO at just 38 years old to take a less prominent role in the company. And Colin Huang, 41, said in March that he would resign as chairman of Pinduoduo, an upstart e-commerce company that competes with the likes of Alibaba. Meanwhile, Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma— China’s most famous tech entrepreneur — has largely dropped out of public view.

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