The Tao of Alibaba

In “The Tao of Alibaba”, Brian A. Wong explores the philosophy behind the retail giant and its effects on China’s decades-long economic transformation.

The visionary thinker R. Buckminster Fuller articulated a philosophical, almost spiritual faith in the power of technology to transform the human condition, to elevate human dignity and empowerment. He criticized some technologies — fossil fuels, for instance, and atomic energy — but few have believed more wholeheartedly, with an almost childlike exuberance, in the transcendent power of well-engineered, innovative tools to liberate people from the clutches of poverty, disease, and exploitation.

“We’re going to start emancipating humanity from being muscle and reflex machines,” Fuller wrote in his slender book Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth. “We’re going to give everybody a chance to develop their most powerful mental and intuitive faculties.” And that mission, in his view, was urgent. “We have discovered that we have the inherent capability and inferentially the responsibility of making humanity comprehensively and sustainably successful.”

Jack Ma and his transformative technological “tool,” the Alibaba digital ecosystem, falls into that ambitious, visionary project. He had the good fortune, though, to have launched his business at the dawn of the digital age, and so Jack was not only able to embrace a philosophical dedication to individual empowerment and societal transformation but also to create platforms that have contributed to that kind of uplift on a historic scale. The Alibaba digital ecosystem benefited from and helped accelerate one of the greatest successes of economic advancement in history: China’s meteoric rise over the past four decades from a deeply impoverished, struggling agricultural nation into what is now both an industrial and postindustrial powerhouse that is generating unprecedented wealth for its citizens.

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