40 years of reform and opening up

Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent founders nominated along with deceased national role models in honours list marking 40 years of economic reform

  • Up to 100 individuals will be honoured as part of the 40th anniversary of China’s reform and opening up
PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 November, 2018, 12:49pm
UPDATED : Monday, 26 November, 2018, 6:08pm

The founders of China’s three biggest technology companies, Baidu, Alibaba Group Holding and Tencent Holdings – collectively known as BAT – are expected to receive national honours for their contributions to economic reform, putting them on the same pedestal as the first female Chinese Nobel laureate and deceased Communist Party role models.

Up to 100 individuals will be honoured as part of the 40th anniversary of China’s reform and opening up, according to Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily, which published the nominee list on Monday as part of a five-day public review.

Robin Li Yanhong, chairman and chief executive of Baidu, is acknowledged for “pushing forward the development of artificial intelligence and big data, and technological implementation in fields including manufacturing, automobiles, education, finance and services”, as well as social governance, according to the announcement.

The commendation committee also gave a nod to Li’s decision to return to China from the US in 2000 to establish Baidu, which it said has become the “second largest” search engine in the world. Google, the world’s largest search engine, quit the China market in 2010 due to censorship and hacking issues, allowing Baidu to capture most of the Chinese market.

Robin Li praises state policy for rise of Baidu and AI success

Under Jack Ma, Alibaba has become one of the world’s top 10 companies by market capitalisation and has enabled China to advance its competitiveness in e-commerce, internet finance and cloud computing, People’s Daily wrote about Ma’s nomination.

“The electronic world trade platform (eWTP) proposed by [Ma] was included in the G20 communique [in Hangzhou in September 2016] and is now an important private sector force behind the Belt and Road Initiative,” it added.

Alibaba, which owns the South China Morning Post, is the sixth most valuable company in the world with a market cap of US$389.68 billion, behind Apple, Microsoft,, Alphabet and Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway. Tencent is No 10 at US$354.2 billion after becoming the first Chinese company to breach US$500 billion in market cap before the tech sell-off.

Pony Ma Huateng, chairman and chief executive of Tencent, is acknowledged for his role in the “digitisation upgrade” of administration work, consumption, health care services and environmental protection, and the integration of technology with other traditional sectors.

“Tencent has grown from a small firm with merely five staff into one of the world’s most influential internet companies,” the committee noted. Tencent’s WeChat super app has more than 1 billion users in China, but the company’s business activities outside China are mostly in the form of investments in other tech companies.

Pony Ma tells Chinese state media that fate played a role in Tencent’s success

Other business leaders expected to receive the same honour include company founders Liu Chuanzhi of computer maker Lenovo Group, Li Dongcheng of electronics maker TCL, and Li Shufu of carmaker Geely Group.

The nominations come amid a crisis of confidence in China’s private sector, which believes it is not being recognised for its contributions to the economy. In an unprecedented move to address the concern, Chinese President Xi Jinping earlier this month issued an open letter promising to value and protect private enterprise and then convened a symposium to hear the views of dozens of entrepreneurs.

The honour is also proposed to be given posthumously to some of the country’s “national role models”, including Kong Fansen, a civil servant who worked for the Communist Party in Tibet in the 1980s, and Chen Jingrun, a Chinese mathematician who made significant contributions to number theory before his death in 1993.

Tu Youyou, the first female mainland Chinese Nobel laureate, also appears on the list. In 2015 she was a co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for work on a novel therapy against malaria.

The nominations are based on recommendations from central Communist Party committees and input from various departments and regions, according to the announcement. Anyone wishing to comment on the list of nominees has until Friday to do so, according to People’s Daily.