The Unbearable Likeness of Being: The Story of ‘Little Jack Ma’

Fan Xiaoqin became an instant online child star for looking like Jack Ma. Now, that fame has faded and so has the wealth it once promised. What’s left is an innocence lost and a childhood compromised.

Six years ago, 7-year-old Fan Xiaoqin shot to fame online simply because of his uncanny resemblance to Jack Ma — the founder of Alibaba, China’s tech giant. From his poverty-stricken village deep in the eastern Jiangxi province, Xiaoqin, dubbed “Little Jack Ma,” was whisked away to the big city by China’s hungry online entertainment industry, and offered fame, wealth, and success.

For a while, it lasted. At the peak of his popularity, Xiaoqin made regular television appearances, lived in a plush apartment, and had a nanny who took care of his every need. His family even renovated their home using his earnings. But all that came to an abrupt end when local media reported last month that the company that once promised him the moon canceled his contract.

Little Jack Ma found himself back in his village.

But can Little Jack Ma now go back to being Fan Xiaoqin? The answer can only be found by taking a closer look at his life shortly before that fame faded — when local media reported that he’d lost almost all communication with his family, that he’d been absent from school, and that he was lagging behind his classmates. There were also allegations that Xiaoqin was injected with growth-inhibiting hormones.

The following article, published last December by Sixth Tone’s sister publication The Paper, offers a troubling glimpse into how cutthroat entertainment firms play with children’s lives, with little regard for their development or well-being.

This is the story of Little Jack Ma, reported by The Paper. It has been edited for brevity and clarity. The original can be found here.
– This article originally appeared on Sixth Tone.