Jack Ma, executive chairman of China’s largest e-commerce platform Alibaba, has been a member of the 89.6 million-strong Communist Party since his university days in the 1980s. Alibaba owns the South China Morning Post . Back then, Ma was in his early 20s and was chairman of the student union at Hangzhou Normal University. He became a Party member in his sophomore or junior year, according to a social media post by one of Ma’s classmates that was widely circulated by news outlets including People’s Daily and Xinhua late on Tuesday. “At that time, joining the Party not only required hard study, but also integrity, organisational ability, enthusiasm and idealism,” said Ma’s classmate in the post, adding that Ma was “really one in a hundred”. As student union chairman, Ma spoke a lot about how to help the students in need and organised many activities as “conditions were bitter”, according to the post. They included a talent contest to pick out the 10 best singers and organising hundreds of students to earn extra cash by becoming temporary train conductors during the annual Spring Festival travel period. The identity of the Weibo poster has not been revealed, although the person says he or she was the chairman of the students union in the chemistry department of the University at the time. Local cadres beat tech titans to dominate Communist Party reform honours list Ma joined the Party when he was a university student as it was the idealistic thing to do for young people at the time and he wanted to do something for his country, a person close to Ma said on condition of anonymity. Interest in the political affiliation of Jack Ma – China’s richest man with an estimated net worth of around US$40 billion – was reignited after he was named in a prospective list of 100 people to be honoured by the Party for their contributions on the 40th anniversary of the reform and opening-up policy adopted in 1978. Although there has been a general assumption that Ma is politically neutral, his Party affiliation has been in the public domain since at least 2015, when he was elected chairman of the chamber of commerce in his native Zhejiang province. A bio of Ma with the information is available on the chamber's website. Though a Party member, he is neither a delegate to the National People’s Congress nor a member of China’s top political advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and has not held an official post. Alibaba declined to comment on when Ma became a Communist Party member. “Political affiliation of any executive does not influence the company's business decision-making process,” the company said in a statement. “We follow all laws and regulations in countries where we operate as we fulill our mission of making it easier for people to do business anywhere in the digital era.” About one in every 15 people among the country’s 1.4 billion people are members of the Party. It is generally perceived as the country’s elite club of power brokers, comprised of senior members of the Chinese government, state-owned enterprises and also private enterprises. Prominent members from the business circles include Lenovo founder Liu Chuanzhi and Lu Guanqiu of Wanxiang Group. The majority, however, are rank-and-file members who hail from all walks of life. Alibaba chairman Jack Ma pens moving tribute to writer Louis Cha “Even Jack Ma is a party member,” Kellee Tsai, dean of humanities and social science at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, told The New York Times columnist Li Yuan, referring to the party’s pitch. “Doesn’t it make you want to join the party, too?” Alibaba raised US$21.8 billion on the New York Stock Exchange in September, 2014 in an initial public offering – the largest US IPO ever at that time. The 54-year-old Ma in September announced a plan to step aside and hand over the reins as executive chairman to current CEO Daniel Zhang in a year’s time. Ma will remain on the board and as a permanent member of the Alibaba Partnership.