'Tasting splendour' ended in tragedy

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 May, 2012, 12:00am


'There is just one life. Taste all the splendour the world has to offer.'

Those are the words that Ma Chi chose to greet people with on his instant-messaging service.

Then, while living in Singapore three weeks ago, the 31-year-old businessman from Luzhou, Sichuan province, sped through a stop light in his red Ferrari 599 GTO and crashed into a taxi. Ma was killed instantly. The taxi's driver and passenger, a Japanese woman, died later in hospital.

The crash roused public anger in Singapore, where tensions have long simmered between residents and the foreigners who make up more than half of the city's population. Some contended that the careless, self-indulgent Ma, who worked in finance and had applied for residency, embodied the worst of a wave of newly rich mainland Chinese who have flocked to the city.

The Chinese embassy urged its citizens in Singapore to 'respect life, value the safety of themselves and others' and 'abide by its laws and regulations'. Back at home, the blogosphere swirled with rumours about the source of Ma's wealth and whether he was a scion of some prominent family.

But reports by mainland media have since provided a more detailed picture about his life in the fast lane.

A story published in The Beijing News on Friday described him as an enterprising youth who grew up under the name of Xiao Jingjing in Sichuan's coal country. His grandparents on this mother's side were revolutionaries and the family enjoyed a good reputation.

Ma's mother worked as a doctor in the Chuannan coal mine, Zhou Weiqun, who used to work with her, told the paper. Ma's father taught computer classes at a local school. Ma was shy, Zhou said.

'Their wealth was not visible,' she said. 'At least they didn't have a car back when they were living in the coal-mine area.'

Ma traded stocks with his home computer and had accumulated significant money by the time he was in high school.

He was for a time a contract worker at a local China Mobile branch, where colleagues were aware he was making a lot of money through stocks and investments in hedge funds, said Zhong Yi, a former colleague.

He once sent a group e-mail to colleagues to 'take all you have to buy stocks because it is going to be very bullish'. The market boomed, but no one listened.

Ma left the company in 2005, after failing an interview to become a permanent employee. He moved to Singapore three years later, marrying a former Deyang television anchor named He Tingting along the way.

For his 30th birthday, Ma bought himself the US$1.4 million Ferrari he would crash a year later. Zhong said the way Ma died reminded him of the greeting on his instant-messaging account. Ma lived his life at full speed, tasting the splendour. But in the end, three people died.