Jack Ma, billionaire founder of China’s leading e-commerce giant Alibaba, has sold his own painting for 2.42 million yuan (HK$3.07 million) in his company’s debut charity auction, widely viewed as an attempt to promote the group’s new mobile messaging application Laiwang.
The traditional Chinese-style brushstroke artwork, imaginatively titled “Ma-style painting,” was sold on Alibaba Group’s consumer-to-consumer online retail platform Taobao in an auction that became increasingly heated. More than 913 bids were placed over the three-day-bidding process and the company was forced to push back the auction deadline dozens of times for enthusiastic bidders, according to the Taobao website.
A bidder from Hong Kong won the auction for the abstract painting and the proceeds were donated to a charity project co-organised by Taobao and the Red Cross Society of China.
The idea for the auction first arose when Ma earlier this month made a promise that if the number of registered users following his Laiwang account reached 100,000 by December 12, he would sell a painting that he created himself. The number of his followers shot up to almost 430,000 on the same day.
The auction was widely viewed as a marketing stunt for Laiwang, which was launched in September, as Ma had originally announced the auction on his Laiwang account and said users wanting to bid would have to register and follow him on the mobile messaging application.
The auction came at a time when the number of completed transactions on Alibaba’s e-commerce services surpassed that of overseas giants eBay and Amazon put together, and when the group was defending Laiwang from criticism that it was very similar to rival messaging application WeChat.
Ma’s ambitious leap into the mobile messaging field drew widespread media attention when in October he reportedly demanded his employees collect at least 100 external contacts on the application. Several days later he again claimed that he would shut down his account on WeChat, Laiwang’s biggest rival and by far China’s most popular smartphone messaging application.
Meanwhile, Ma’s painting elicited several guesses from internet users baffled over what exactly it depicted. Among the guesses were lollipop, drifting cloud, a tai chi symbol, battercake, and a cup of cappuccino decorated with a swirl of cream.