It hasn’t stopped there. Alibaba’s sprawling businesses also include brick-and-mortar stores, online video, movies and other enterprises, and it has sought to expand in promising new markets like Southeast Asia and India.
But investors have begun to worry in recent months that Alibaba’s road is getting tougher, and shares of Alibaba and some of its rivals have fallen significantly in recent months.
The Chinese economy is showing signs of slowing, even among the country’s usually ebullient consumers. It faces rising competition among companies like Pinduoduo, which caters to lower-end consumers. Its main rival, JD.com, reported disappointing financial results last month, though Alibaba’s results were better.
The Chinese government has also taken a tougher line on its thriving technology scene over the past year. It has cracked down on video games and online news in recent months, and in general has taken a greater role in private enterprise.
The announcement also comes amid uncertainty at the top of JD.com. Its top executive — Liu Qiangdong, or Richard Liu in English — was arrested in the United States two weeks ago for alleged sexual misconduct. He has denied the accusation and has not been charged with a crime. He was released a day later and has since returned to China.
Alibaba and Mr. Ma on Monday portrayed the succession plan as a sign that the company isn’t dependent on one person. Mr. Ma’s involvement in the company isn’t likely to end with his resignation, however. He has a stake of more than 6 percent in the company’s shares. Crucially, he will also have considerable sway in the company and its affiliates thanks to its complicated legal structure. Under Chinese law, crucial licenses to do business in certain industries must stay in control of Chinese nationals when a company lists its shares overseas, as Alibaba has done.
Mr. Ma said he was stepping down to focus on education, a favorite subject of his. The announcement was made on Teacher’s Day, an annual event in China that emphasizes education.
“I also want to return to education, which excites me with so much blessing because this is what I love to do,” he said in the company statement. “The world is big, and I am still young, so I want to try new things — because what if new dreams can be realized?!”