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加拿大极速飞艇计划: 阿里vs腾讯:中国王者之争

极速飞艇开奖记录 www.23y3y.cn Adam Lashinsky 2018年06月25日

二马都在建立中国数字经济龙头企业,但世界容得下两个王者吗?

Illustration by Alexander Wells?

巨头间的冲突避无可避。冷战时期的世界命运系于美苏对峙??煽诳衫趾桶偈驴衫衷返貌豢煽?。拳王阿里和乔治·福尔曼之争贯穿整个拳击黄金时代。连娱乐界都有泰勒·斯威夫特和坎耶·维斯特的口角冲突。(看看他都让她干了些什么。)

但仅论对全球商业的影响,这些史诗级的冲突和中国互联网巨头阿里巴巴与腾讯之争毫无可比性。两家企业的市场资本总额均高达5000亿美元。他们都在快速发展的中国数字产业占据重要版图:腾讯拥有最大的游戏和通信平台,阿里巴巴统治着电子商务王国。他们在国内外都大举投资。都不是诞生在严格意义的一线城市,但被当地人引以为豪:阿里巴巴位于上海附近的古城杭州,腾讯在毗邻香港的全新都市深圳。最后一点,两家企业在这个人口第一大国的用户比例都高得令人咂舌:阿里巴巴的各类线上市场拥有5.52亿活跃用户;腾讯的微信通信平台账户数量最近突破10亿。

尽管有诸多相似之处,腾讯和阿里巴巴仍有明显区别,像苹果和谷歌一样,在文化、风格、做法上都不同。两家公司都诞生于1990年代末,那时中国正处在探索互联网的阶段。多年后,他们在几乎互不相干的领域逐渐成长为行业龙头。然而,双方在发展过程中不可避免地会入侵对方领地。比如腾讯正在进军零售和金融服务领域,这是阿里的优势业务。另一厢,阿里也在腾讯的疆域上看到了突破口,比如说向阿里的众多小企业用户提供移动通讯工具。

还有一点不可避免地会被人拿来比较,两家企业的最高领导都姓马,虽然阿里的马云和腾讯的马化腾没什么关系。马化腾的英文名Pony(意为小马)就是这么来的。这两匹互联网千里马之间的竞争是真正意义的双马争雄。他们争的是在这个全球发展进化最快的数字经济市场中坐上头把交椅。

两位马先生是旧识,早就曾在公开场合互致敬意。但近年来,双方竞争升温,这些称赞更像是欲抑先扬里的扬,为的是明褒实贬——或者更甚。

比如说,工程师马化腾风格低调,鲜少接受西方媒体采访,却在去年12月中国广州《财富》全球论坛上抨击了阿里巴巴。因为阿里旗下的电商龙头网站淘宝向商家收取服务费,46岁的马化腾把这个对手比作贪婪的地主?!拔颐遣缓秃献骰锇榫赫?,而是要为其赋能”,马化腾通过翻译用中文发言。他说阿里巴巴可以随心所欲地向租户加租,“腾讯没有商场,不向商户出租商铺?!彼堤谘兜钠教ㄊ恰叭ブ行幕摹?,用户可以在平台上脱离腾讯独立出售商品,不用“交租”。

几个月后,天生擅长侃侃而谈的商界明星马云不指名道姓地报了一箭之仇。众所周知,腾讯擅长从平台中盈利?!拔颐堑钠笠滴幕浅2煌?,阿里巴巴这位53岁的创始人最近在杭州总部用英语接受采访时意味深长地说:“我们更理想主义。我们想在赚钱的同时做点好事。相比产品,我们更信任人?!?

两家公司并非在方方面面都存在竞争。阿里和腾讯开拓市场的方式不同,大多数时候无须针锋相对就可实现各自业务增长。阿里的主要战略是寻找适合其商业平台的公司,取得控股权;腾讯是在各行各业进行大量小规模投资,目的是建立合作关系,获得合作伙伴的技术。更何况,得益于迅速壮大的中国中产阶级,二者的竞争并非零和游戏。

然而,他们仍然可以选择硬碰硬,也正是这么做的:中国电子商务以美国人难以想象的方式主导经济生活的方方面面,而两家公司都禁止用户在自己的主要平台上使用对方的支付服务。据说他们和投资银行签约时,会专门增设条款要求该银行只能为自己服务。(许多公司都有类似限制,但腾讯和阿里造成的后果更严重,因为两家公司也都是重要的创投公司,这类限制会影响他们所投公司的正常工作。)即使有巨大的市场,完全可以兼容两家公司,他们的冲突仍在加剧。纽约专门研究中国零售业的咨询公司Coresight Research的CEO德波拉·韦恩斯维格说:“双方此前都在自己的圈子里玩,现在圈子的界限开始模糊重叠了?!?

杭州因西湖美景和京杭大运河闻名于世,也因运河在千年前成为中国最富裕的城市之一。今天,它因诞生了阿里巴巴而出名,1999年,马云和17个朋友在灰突突的湖畔社区公寓里创立了阿里巴巴。

阿里巴巴保留着湖畔公寓的原貌,但不是用作博物馆,而是作为一个充满了历史感的新业务孵化器。湖畔离阿里总部不远,但阿里工业园里的钢筋玻璃建筑哪怕放在硅谷也不显突兀,湖畔公寓却停留在了中国腾飞前的岁月里。公寓楼前的儿童推车、绳子上晾的衣服显然不是阿里员工的,他们属于真正生活在这个社区里的居民。走上一段不长的楼梯,就看到40几个工程师挤在一间四居室的公寓里,墙上挂着阿里创始团队的照片。一块白板上写着已故中国最高领导人邓小平的名言:“发展才是硬道理”,写下这句话的是马云自己。

眼下这里正在开发的项目叫钉钉,脏兮兮的公寓里有一台废置的微波炉,服务器架子上线路胡乱缠绕着,这些场景都能看出这是一个刚起步的项目,而把钉钉项目组安置在这个公寓里是有意图的。钉钉主攻通信服务,而你知道,腾讯的微信是通信领域的龙头产品,钉钉团队获得了在这个地方开发业务的无上荣耀。钉钉的全球商业发展主管Chris Wang说这个公寓是“圣地”,之前有三个杰出产品是在这里诞生的:阿里巴巴本身,它原本是为零售商和供货商牵线的网站;淘宝,阿里巴巴的主要零售平台,目前是公司的主营业务;支付宝,这一支付产品现已改名蚂蚁金服,自身的运营资本就有几十亿美元。

乍一看,钉钉和微信惊人得相似。用户可以用钉钉发信息、打电话、交换联系方式,就像微信一样。然而钉钉的内核是像Slack、Skye一样,为用户提供低成本的“企业沟通和协作平台”,这反映了阿里巴巴的商业导向。阿里巴巴的每一个员工都能说出公司的使命是“让天下没有难做的生意”。钉钉的目标是为小企业提供类似于微信的功能,继而向他们提供客户关系维护、云存储工具等典型商业软件,收取费用?!爸行∑笠敌枰杀镜土牟贰?,王说,“阿里有先进的技术”,这正是小企业所缺少的。

多年来,阿里巴巴一直在教用户做生意时怎么利用技术,现在他们的新目标是向他们直接出售技术。比如,阿里为出售云计算租赁服务进行了大笔投入,现在已经是中国一流供应商了,去年公司从该业务中收入21亿美元。(亚马逊几乎同时在美国开始实施类似战略。)两年前,阿里巴巴开始推广“新零售”的概念,向杂货店、百货商店甚至是夫妻店等传统零售商提供技术和服务。

“新零售”旨在将最传统的商业模式数字化。5月末一个懒洋洋的下午,和父亲一起在浙江大学附近开小门面的黄安骄傲地向我们展示,他作为阿里巴巴“一体化零售项目”的小白鼠,都学到了些什么。他和父亲给店铺重新起了名字,这个7-11典型便利店大小的门脸叫做“天猫无君超市”(音译),天猫是阿里销售高端品牌的网上商城。通过加入项目,这个小店铺拥有了库存管理软件、监测客流量的传感器及依靠摄像头生成的可以显示顾客停留时长的热度图?!跋衷谟辛耸?,我就不用怀疑自己的决定了?!被瓢菜?,他在电脑和手机上就能管理这些数据。

这个隶属于阿里巴巴的商店是这家大集团所谓“从线上走向线下”战略的一部分。阿里巴巴在线上连锁品牌苏宁和一个类似于好市多的超级市场高鑫零售都有股份。公司还开了自己的零售连锁盒马鲜生,富足的购物者可以从盒马的水槽里挑一条活鱼做午饭食材。阿里巴巴还收购了国内外卖行业领先品牌饿了么。这些公司都是阿里云和其他技术服务的用户,也是阿里为支付宝拓展顾客基础的一种方式?!拔颐堑墓刈⒌阋恢倍际巧桃怠?,阿里巴巴的CEO张勇说。(马云是执行主席,他在五年前放弃了CEO一职。)??

事实上,商业导向是把阿里各项迥然不同的业务整合在一起的粘合剂。阿里巴巴一开始推出支付宝是为了让商户可以在线收款。现在支付宝是蚂蚁金服的一部分,蚂蚁金服筹资140亿美元,是史上最大的单笔融资。阿里巴巴抓住“光棍节”这一非官方节日,把它打造成一个全国性的电商狂欢节,创造了美国人所谓的“霍尔马克节(商业节日)”。2017年双11的总销售额为253亿美元,比美国人在整整五天的感恩节购物假期里的在线消费总额还要高60亿美元。阿里巴巴还集结了一系列物流公司,打造了全国性的物流快递巨头菜鸟,目前阿里巴巴正在稳步提升其在菜鸟的控股权。马云说,菜鸟的目标是在24小时内将商品送达全国各地,72小时内送达全球,能实现前者已是壮举,后者更难实现。

阿里巴巴这些迥然各异却协调统一的业务范畴体现了公司的价值观,也体现了阿里人认为自己怎样击败腾讯(如果他们确实说出了这句话)?!八窃诠饷挥幸滴瘛?,阿里副主席蔡崇信说,“他们想通过在其它国家做点投资来走捷径。但只有你真正去经营业务,才能形成协同效应,创造价值。如果你只做金融投资,只能指望得到内部回报率,不是在真正地创造价值?!辈坛缧啪哂忻拦逃尘?,是马云多年的金融和战略助手。

如果说杭州是中国最古老的大城市之一,腾讯所在地深圳则是最新的城市之一。深圳曾是香港和广州中间的一个小镇,但1980年改变了这座城市的运数,当时中央规划将深圳作为中国首批经济特区。工厂迅速涌入,然后出现了给全世界年轻人生产小玩意儿的“制造商”,最后来到的是包括无人机产业新星大疆、备受争议的智能手机制造商中兴等科技公司。今天深圳已经是一个有宽阔的三车道林荫大路的大城市,摩天高楼鳞次栉比,其中包括世界第四高平安金融中心,高达近2000英尺。站在平安金融中心的观景台上,可以看到香港和珠三角,而当地的宣传者们更喜欢把这片辽阔的区域称为大湾区。

腾讯在深圳有好几栋大楼,包括刚刚启用的总部大楼。这座大楼的双子塔共用一个大堂,由一座空中廊桥连接,配备了最现代化的工作设施,十分舒适。员工用面部识别感应系统刷开电梯。各种便利设施应有尽有,包括空中跑道和空中游泳池。腾讯大堂洋溢着大都市的时髦风格,和阿里园区那种城郊书呆子气形成鲜明对比。

腾讯诞生于1998年,处女作QQ是个人电脑通信服务工具,是以色列同类产品ICQ的复制品,ICQ也是如今AOL即时通讯工具的基础。腾讯很快就因为山寨而饱受诟病,但它擅长在拿来主义的基础上进行创新。QQ在通讯平台上向用户提供游戏、电话以及其他互联网服务,腾讯通过向游戏玩家出售“虚拟商品”来盈利,比如销售生命值、增加用户的游戏时间等。智能手机的时代来临后,腾讯利用内部竞争机制,让企业内的不同团队比拼开发微信——最后负责QQ的团队并没有胜出。

如果不在中国,很难理解微信无所不在的力量。腾讯独具匠心,利用二维码这个老技术,让用户在微信上通过手机摄像头扫描二维码,获得各种各样的信息。二维码是中国人现在交换联系方式、下载优惠券的主要途径。腾讯在2013年推出微信支付后,二维码成为了人们进行财务交易的方便渠道。马化腾说:“我们将微信从一个人与人之间的联系平台,转变成了人与服务之间的平台?!?

THERE’S SOMETHING IRRESISTIBLE about a clash of titans. The fate of the world hung in the balance during the Cold War standoff between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. Coke vs. Pepsi once mattered mightily. Ali-Foreman defined a pugilistic era. And then there’s the celebrity spat pitting Taylor Swift against Kanye West. (Look what he made her do.)

For sheer global commercial stakes, however, these epic clashes have nothing on the battle between the two heavyweights of the Chinese Internet industry, Alibaba and Tencent. Both have market capitalizations that hover around half a trillion U.S. dollars. Both command sectors of the rapidly growing Chinese digital landscape: Tencent owns the leading gaming and messaging platform, while Alibaba rules e-commerce. Both are aggressive investors inside and outside China. Each is the pride of their not-quite-first-tier hometowns: Alibaba of the ancient city of Hangzhou near Shanghai and Tencent of shiny-new Shenzhen across the border from Hong Kong. Finally, both touch an astounding percentage of the world’s most populous country: Alibaba’s various online marketplaces count 552 million active customers; Tencent’s WeChat messaging service recently surpassed 1 billion accounts.

For all these similarities, Tencent and Alibaba are sharply distinct companies, as different in culture, style, and approach as Apple is from Google. The duo sprang from the same era, the late 1990s, when China was discovering the Internet, and for years they built giant businesses more or less out of each other’s way. Yet as they’ve grown, each inevitably has begun to encroach on the other’s turf. Tencent, for instance, is investing in retail and financial services, sectors that are Alibaba’s strength. Alibaba in turn sees an opening in Tencent’s domain, particularly by offering mobile-messaging tools to its vast network of small-business partners.

There’s one last unavoidable comparison between the two combatants. Their top leaders share a surname, though Alibaba’s Jack Ma and Tencent’s Pony Ma aren’t related. As the Chinese character for Ma signifies a horse—the genesis of “Pony’s” English nickname—the contest between the two stallions of the Chinese Internet literally is a two-horse race. And the trophy they’re racing for is nothing less than the No. 1 position in a digital economy that’s growing faster and evolving more dynamically than any other nation’s.

The two men, who’ve known each other for years, are quick to profess mutual respect. But as their rivalry heats up, those assertions are increasingly a prelude to damning the other with faint praise—or worse.

Huateng “Pony” Ma, a reserved engineer who rarely speaks to Western media, lashed out at Alibaba at the Fortune Global Forum in Guangzhou, China, in December, for example. Ma, who is 46, compared his nemesis to a greedy landlord because Alibaba’s market-leading Taobao e-commerce site charges merchants listing fees. “Our position is not to compete with our partners but to enable them,” said Ma, speaking in Mandarin through an interpreter. Alibaba, he noted, can raise the rent on its tenants whenever it wants, whereas “Tencent doesn’t have a mall where we rent the shops to vendors.” Instead, he argued, WeChat offers a “decentralized” platform that partners can use to sell things independently from Tencent, with “no rental fee.”

Months later, 53-year-old Jack Ma, a globetrotting business celebrity with a gift for gab, returns the volley without mentioning his competitor by name. Tencent has a reputation as a company adept at wringing profits out of its platform. “Culturally, we are very different,” the Alibaba founder says, speaking expressively in English, during a recent interview at Alibaba’s headquarters in Hangzhou. “We’re more idealistic. We want to do something good, while making money. We trust people more than our products.”

There are limits to this archenemy motif. Alibaba and Tencent attack the market differently, in ways that have often allowed them to grow without butting heads. Alibaba’s is largely a strategy of buying controlling stakes in businesses that are a fit with its commerce platform; Tencent takes hundreds of minority stakes in an array of businesses to win over partners and gain access to their technology. What’s more, the competition is hardly a zerosum game, thanks to the rapidly expanding Chinese middle class.

Still, the companies can and do play hardball. In an economy in which e-commerce is dominant in ways unthinkable in the U.S., each company stymies the other’s payment service on their main platforms. And when Tencent and Alibaba sign on investment bankers, they reportedly make it a condition that the bankers work exclusively for them. (Many companies impose such restrictions, but they have greater consequences coming from Tencent and Alibaba given that the two also are major venture capital investors and the prohibitions could impinge on work with the companies in which they invest.) Even if the world is big enough for both of them, Tencent and Alibaba increasingly are in conflict. “Until recently, everyone played in their own sandbox,” says Deborah Weinswig, New York–based CEO of the China-focused retail consultancy Coresight Research. “Now the sand is starting to spill over.”

HANGZHOU is famous for its bucolic West Lake, and for being the terminus of a canal from Beijing that a millennium ago made it one of the richest cities in China. Today, it is best known as the place where Jack Ma and 17 friends started Alibaba in the drab Hupan apartment complex in 1999.

Alibaba maintains the Hupan site in its original state, but not as a museum. Instead, the company uses it as a history-steeped new-business incubator. A short drive from Alibaba’s massive headquarters, a campus of steel-and-glass buildings that wouldn’t be out of place in Silicon Valley, the Hupan apartment is stuck in China’s pre-glamorous phase. A baby stroller and laundry drying on clotheslines sit outside the building, presumably belonging to people who, unlike Alibaba’s employees, actually live in the complex. Up a short flight of stairs, 40-some engineers are crammed into a four-bedroom apartment, where photos of the founding Alibaba team adorn the walls. A whiteboard bears a famous quote from late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping. “Development is the absolute principle,” it states, scribbled there by Jack Ma himself.

The fledgling business enlivening the apartment today is called DingTalk, and its placement in this grimy flat—a dilapidated microwave and spaghetti-wired server rack attest to its startup authenticity—is purposeful. DingTalk is meant to take on Tencent’s category-leading WeChat messaging service, you see, and its leaders have been bestowed the ultimate privilege of incubating a business here. The apartment is a “holy space,” says Chris Wang, head of global business development for DingTalk, noting three illustrious businesses that preceded DingTalk here: Alibaba itself, originally a website that matched vendors with suppliers; Taobao, its main retail platform, which dominates Alibaba’s business today; and Alipay, the payment product that became Ant Financial Services, a multibilliondollar operation in its own right.

At first blush, the similarities between DingTalk and WeChat are striking. Users can employ it to send messages, make phone calls, and exchange contact information, just like WeChat. Yet the guts of DingTalk, a series of low-cost Slack- and Skype-like “enterprise communications and collaboration programs,” reflect Alibaba’s commercial orientation. Alibaba’s mission, any employee can tell you, Thanks is to “make it easy to do business anywhere.” DingTalk’s goal is to provide WeChat-like functionality to small businesses, and then to upsell them typical business-software fare like customer-relationship and cloud-storage tools. “Small and medium-size enterprises need something very low cost,” says Wang. “We at Alibaba have access to great technology” that smaller companies lack.

After years of teaching businesses how to use technology, selling it to them directly is a major new thrust for Alibaba. It made significant investments in selling cloud-computing rental services, for example, and now it’s the leading provider in China, reaping $2.1 billion in revenue last year from that business. (Amazon began implementing a similar strategy in the U.S. around the same time.) And two years ago, Alibaba started pursuing a “new retail” concept of providing technology and services to traditional retailers, including grocers, department stores, and even mom-and-pop bodegas.

The “new retail” push aims to digitize the most mundane businesses. On a lazy afternoon in late May, Huang An, who with his father runs a small market in Huangzhou near Zhejiang University, proudly demonstrates what he has learned as a guinea pig for Alibaba’s “integrated retail program.” He and his dad have rebranded their shop, about the size of a typical 7-Eleven, the Tmall Weijun Supermarket, Tmall being Alibaba’s online emporium for higher-end brands. The program brings this small operator modern tools like inventory-management software and sensors to monitor foot traffic as well as camera-generated heat maps to show where customers are spending their time. “I don’t need to second-guess my judgment anymore because now it is based on data,” says Huang, who manages that data on a desktop computer as well as on his mobile phone.

The Alibaba-affiliated store is just one part of the conglomerate’s so-called online-to-offline strategy. Alibaba has taken stakes in an electronics chain, Suning, and a Costco-like hypermart, Sun Art. It has opened its own line of grocery stores called Hema, where affluent shoppers can choose a live fish from a tank and have it prepared for lunch. And it has bought outright Ele.me, a leading food-delivery service. Each is a customer for Alibaba’s cloud and other technology services, as well as a way to expand the customer base for the marketleading Alipay. “We always focus on commerce,” says Daniel Zhang, Alibaba’s CEO. (Jack Ma is executive chairman, having given up the CEO role five years ago.)

Commerce, in fact, is the glue that holds together Alibaba’s disparate parts. It began Alipay as a way to let merchants collect from shoppers on Taobao. Now Alipay is part of Ant Financial, which recently raised $14 billion, thought to be the largest venture capital investment ever. Alibaba co-opted “Singles Day,” an unofficial holiday that celebrated unmarried adults, creating what Americans would call a “Hallmark holiday” by turning it into a nationwide orgy of e-commerce. Singles Day in 2017 rang up total sales of $25.3 billion—that’s almost $6 billion more than Americans spent online over the entire five-day Thanksgiving weekend shopping period. Alibaba also stitched together an alliance of shipping companies to form a China-wide delivery giant called Cainiao, in which Alibaba has steadily increased its ownership stake. Its goal, as dictated by Jack Ma, is to be able to deliver merchandise anywhere in China within 24 hours, no small feat, and globally in 72 hours, also a stretch goal.

These disparate but coordinated parts encapsulate Alibaba’s commercial worldview, and also its view of how it matches up—favorably, if it does say so itself—with Tencent. “They don’t operate anything outside of China,” says Joe Tsai, Alibaba’s U.S.-educated vice chairman and Jack Ma’s longtime finance and strategy lieutenant. “They kind of want to take the shortcut approach by sprinkling some investments in these countries. Only when you operate can you generate synergies and really create exponential value. Whereas if you just make a financial investment, you’re counting an internal rate of return. You’re not creating real value.”

IF HANGZHOU is one of China’s oldest big cities, Shenzhen, the home of Tencent, is one of its newest. Once a small town on the way from Hong Kong to Guangzhou (formerly Canton), its fortunes changed in 1980, when central planners declared Shenzhen one of China’s first special economic zones. Factories flooded in, then “makers” who tinkered on the world’s next-generation gadgets, and finally global technology companies including drone star DJI and controversial smartphone maker ZTE. Today, Shenzhen is a massive city with broad, tree-lined boulevards and scores of skyscrapers, including the nearly 2,000-foottall Ping An Finance Center, the fourth-tallest building in the world. The building’s observation deck offers a stunning view of distant Hong Kong as well as the Pearl River Delta, an expanse that local boosters like to call the Greater Bay Area.

Tencent occupies several Shenzhen skyscrapers, including its just-opened headquarters that join two towers in a single lobby. The twin towers also are connected by an aerial bridge, and they offer the latest in urbanworkplace comfort. Facial-recognition sensors grant workers access to elevators. A running track and swimming pool high in the sky are among the many amenities. The vibe in Tencent’s lobby is cosmopolitan and stylish, in pointed contrast to the suburban-nerd atmosphere at Alibaba’s campus.

Tencent began life in 1998, and its first product, a messaging service for personal computers called QQ, was a copy of ICQ, the Israeli messaging service that also was the basis for AOL’s Instant Messenger. Tencent quickly got a rap as a copycat, but it excelled at innovating on top of what it borrowed. QQ offered games, phone calls, and other Internet services embedded within the messaging platform, and Tencent made money by selling “virtual goods” within its games, like adding “energy” to make a game last longer. When the era of the smartphone hit, Tencent proved adept at competing against itself: A contest among several internal teams begat WeChat—and the group responsible for QQ did not win.

It is difficult for those outside China to appreciate the ubiquitous power of WeChat. Tencent ingeniously appropriated an older technology, the two-dimensional QR code, in empowering WeChat to utilize a smartphone’s camera to scan all manner of information. QR codes are how people in China exchange their contacts or download coupons. Once Tencent added WeChat Pay in 2013, the codes became a convenient way to exchange money too. Says Pony Ma: “We have transformed WeChat from people-to-people connections to people-to-service connections.”

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确实如此,微信最近的账号数已超10亿(因为一些用户有不止一个微信账号),因此微信更像是一个服务于整个经济体系的数字操作平台。这并非偶然。2014年微信推出了“红包”功能,效仿的是中国上千年来新年发红包的习俗。这一功能火爆全网,截至去年年底,已经有8亿用户的微信绑定了银行账号?!叭缃裨谥泄餍懈饕?,无论是停车场、菜市场甚至是寺庙、街上的乞丐都接受扫一扫微信支付?!甭砘诓晃薜靡獾厮?。

正因为可以巧妙地利用科技适应文化习惯,腾讯和阿里才能摆脱抄袭的身份不断发展?!八堑某晒υ谟谖幕葱隆?,纽约社会学家、现为研究中国社会数字行为的咨询师崔西亚·王说,“他们能够驾驭文化,才走到了今天这一步”,她指的是腾讯红包产品的成功和阿里的双11战略?!八窍裨岸〗兄参锛藿右谎?,进行了文化嫁接?!钡庵至榛钚砸布泳缌肆礁龉镜某逋?。2014年中国的在线支付交易81%是通过支付宝实现的。目前,中国的移动支付市场已经翻了16番,支付宝的市场占比降低到54%,微信支付占了38%。

腾讯的下一个工作重点是将零售市场从线上转移到线下,阿里巴巴志亦在此,这也并非巧合。腾讯把自己的项目称为“智慧零售”,阿里巴巴的是“新零售”,腾讯的服务主要围绕微信的两个独有功能展开。一个是“公众号”,品牌和其他商家可以通过微信公众号接触用户。另外一个是“小程序”,一种搭建在微信平台内部的轻型应用,比起从零开始做起的应用程序,需要的开发力量更少,也无须下载。

Indeed, with WeChat recently having surpassed 1 billion accounts— some users have more than one—the service is becoming something akin to a digital operating system for the entire economy. This isn’t an accident. In 2014, WeChat offered a digital product called a “red envelope” that mimicked the centuries-old custom of giving gifts of money at the Chinese New Year. The feature went viral, and by the end of last year, 800 million users had linked WeChat to their bank accounts. “Now everywhere in China, in parking lots, farmers’ markets, even at temples, and beggars on the streets, they all accept WeChat Pay with a simple scan,” boasts Pony Ma.

The shrewd adoption of technology to cultural norms shows how both Tencent and Alibaba have moved well past copycat status. “Their success is due to their ability to be culturally innovative,” says Tricia Wang, a New York–based sociologist turned consultant who studies social digital behavior in China. “They got to where they are by hijacking the culture,” she says, citing Tencent’s red envelope success as well as Alibaba’s Singles Day stratagem. “They did a culture graft in the same way horticulturists perform grafts on plants.” This agility also has put the companies on a collision course. In 2014 Alipay powered 81% of online payments in China, per iResearch data. And while the mobile-pay market has grown some 16-fold since then, Alipay’s share has shrunk to 54%, while WeChat Pay now commands 38%.

It’s also no coincidence that Tencent has identified as its next big thrust the online-to-off-line retail market that Alibaba also covets. Tencent calls its efforts “smart retail,” compared with Alibaba’s “new retail,” and Tencent’s offerings are centered around two features unique to WeChat. One is the “official account,” a kind of template for brands and other businesses to reach consumers through WeChat. The other is the “mini-app,” a lightweight application inside WeChat that requires less development effort than a built-from-scratch app and doesn’t require consumers to download anything.

腾讯的微信支付在中国随处可见,默默无名的二维码技术也因此变成了用户购买产品、进行支付的便捷方式。图片来源:Qilai Shen—Bloomberg via Getty Images

尽管去年才面世,小程序已经席卷中国电子商务?!耙蛭辛诵〕绦?,微信开始看到社交商务的爆炸式发展正在改变中国的面貌?!绷闶鄯治鍪ξざ魉雇袼?。(美国的社交媒体巨头也试图开发这一领域,但成果寥寥。)韦恩斯威格说2017年中国的零售业销量增加了10.2%,美国增加了4.2%,而微信一年之间增加的小程序数是苹果商店推出头四年增加的应用软件总和。

像阿里巴巴一样,腾讯也投资了一些零售商和服务供应商,最重要的两笔投资是上市公司京东和IPO大热门美团点评,京东是阿里巴巴的主要电商对手,后者是阿里最近收购的饿了吗在外卖界的对头。腾讯对零售的兴趣并非为了攻击阿里,而是根据其业务的商业发展逻辑形成的。腾讯战略总监、智慧零售项目主管Davis Lin在深圳的一次采访中说,“零售占中国GDP的40%~50%。(美国只有大概26%。)零售“和用户的生活息息相关”,他接着说道,由此引用了腾讯的使命,“通过互联网服务提升人类生活品质”。微信的许多服务都是免费的,因此微信支付是利用各类活动赚钱的重要门户?!拔颐怯昧瞬畈欢嗨哪甑氖奔浞⒄沟较衷谡飧龈叨?,阿里巴巴用了超过十年”,他指的是微信支付的用户数量,“现在要开始真正的竞争了?!?

多年以来,阿里巴巴和腾讯视彼此为对手,只因为他们都是中国互联网现象中取得成功的知名企业。一开始他们甚至并没那么成功。和20世纪90年代末的“门户”网站巨头相比,马化腾回忆道:“我们是互联网产业浪潮中的小兄弟,我们只是二三线的小公司?!?

这两个小兄弟也曾试探性地进入对方的领域,但没取得什么成绩。比如说阿里曾成立游戏部门、开发社交网络,但都没有火起来。腾讯建立了电商网站拍拍,但最终把它卖给了京东。微信的快速崛起使腾讯成为一个社会级现象,2013年,马云公开呼吁员工众志成城“杀死企鹅”,这明显指的是腾讯那只不会飞的吉祥物。(中国公司很喜欢用动物作自己的标志,阿里巴巴高端商城天猫的吉祥物是天猫,盒马的标志是一只憨态可掬的河马,蚂蚁金服用名字就能说明一切了。)

马云对微信的担忧是有道理的。腾讯2014年初推出了红包功能,支付宝在移动金融服务领域突然有了一个实力颇强的对手。阿里巴巴的这位执行主席在阿里的社交媒体网站上将腾讯的行为称为“珍珠港袭击”,称其计划完美、执行缜密。这导致了两家公司在支付、零售、云计算、人工智能、医疗健康产品以及其他一些市场领域中都产生了冲突。马化腾说他数了数,有十几个领域,“我们都和阿里巴巴有激烈竞争?!笨赡苡械愣嗔??!坝惺焙蛭一崴担骸娴穆??这个也要竞争?’我有时都觉得烦?!?

腾讯的领导可能觉得有点烦,但他在阿里巴巴的对手却被彻底激怒了。阿里巴巴副主席蔡崇信说起对手时毫不遮掩,公开称腾讯的游戏让人上瘾,中国的政府机构也正是这么说的?!跋胂肟?,”蔡崇信有次在洛杉矶吃早餐时说,“他们的产品让人上瘾,极不利于孩子的身心健康,这和烟草公司有什么区别?”(腾讯的游戏业务是全球性的:蔡崇信说,他的儿子是大热互联网生存游戏《堡垒之夜》的狂热粉丝,《堡垒之夜》是由北卡罗来纳州的传奇游戏公司Epic Games发行的,腾讯在该公司控股40%。)蔡崇信推测道,腾讯要转向零售或许和这点有关?!八强赡苋鲜兜搅苏庖坏?,因此对自己说,‘等一等,我们做的生意好像不对?!?

蔡崇信可能误解了腾讯的动机,但无论如何,他觉得阿里巴巴的实力更强?!疤谘兑丫跣蚜?,决定要在电子商务中占据一席之地,”他说,“但是我们做这个已经做了19年……这个生意并不仅仅是给用户开发一个应用软件或者产品,而是为顾客建立生态系统和供应链?!?

Introduced only last year, mini-apps have taken Chinese e-commerce by storm. “Because of mini-apps, WeChat is starting to see this explosion of social commerce that is changing the face of China,” says Weinswig, the retail analyst. (This is an area America’s social media giants have attempted to exploit, with little success.) Weinswig says total 2017 retail sales were up 10.2% in China, compared with 4.2% in the U.S., and that WeChat added about as many mini-apps in a year as Apple’s online store added apps in its first four years.

Like Alibaba, Tencent has invested in retailers and service providers. The two most prominent are publicly held JD.com, Alibaba’s biggest e-commerce competitor, and Meituan Dianping, the food-delivery foe of Alibaba’s recently acquired Ele.me and a hot IPO prospect. Tencent frames its interest in retailing not as an attack on Alibaba as such but rather as a logical progression of its business. “Retail is 40% to 45% of the GDP of China,” says Davis Lin, Tencent’s strategy chief and head of its “smart retail” effort, in an interview in Shenzhen. (The comparable figure in the U.S. is only about 26%.) Retail “is related to every bit of a user’s life,” Lin goes on, evoking Tencent’s mission of “enhancing the quality of human life through Internet services.” Many of WeChat’s services are free, making payments a key gateway to cashing in on all this activity. “We’ve been able to climb to where we are in roughly four years, which took Alipay more than 10 years,” says Lin, referring to the number of users on WeChat Pay. “Now it’s a real competition.”

FOR YEARS ALIBABA and Tencent were rivals only in the sense that both were successful and prominent examples of the Chinese Internet phenomenon. At first they weren’t even that successful. “We were little brothers in the Internet industry playground,” Pony Ma reflects, compared with the leading “portals” of the late 1990s. “We were second- or even third-tier companies.”

Over time, the two probed the other’s perimeter, to relatively little effect. Alibaba, for instance, launched a gaming division and a social network, neither of which caught fire. Tencent built an e-commerce site, called Paipai, but eventually sold it to JD.com. The rapid rise of WeChat, however, made Tencent a societal phenomenon, and in 2013, Jack Ma publicly urged employees to band together to “kill penguins,” an unmistakable swipe at Tencent’s flightless mascot. (Corporate China loves its animal-themed standard-bearers: The mascot of Alibaba’s high-end shopping site is the Tmall Cat, its Hema grocery store’s logo is a lovable-looking hippo, and Ant Financial’s namesake is self-evident.)

Jack Ma was right to be concerned about WeChat. Tencent launched its red envelope program in early 2014, and suddenly Alipay had a credible competitor in mobile financial services. The Alibaba executive chairman, writing on an Alibaba social media site, labeled Tencent’s action a “Pearl Harbor attack” that had been “beautifully planned and executed.” That led to skirmishes in market segments like payments, retail, cloud computing, artificial intelligence, health care initiatives, and more. Pony Ma says he has counted more than 10 areas “where we fight Alibaba fiercely.” Perhaps too many. “Every now and then I say, ‘Really, this area too?’ It bothers me sometimes.”

Tencent’s chief may be bothered, but his counterparts at Alibaba seem downright agitated. Joe Tsai, the vice chairman, doesn’t mince words about his rival. He calls out Tencent’s games for being addictive, as have government agencies in China. “Think about it,” Tsai says over breakfast in Los Angeles. “They make a product that’s addictive, that is not terribly healthy for kids. How’s that different from a cigarette company?” ( Tencent’s reach in gaming is global: Tsai notes that his son has become an avid fan of the virally popular “battle royale” game Fortnite, published by North Carolina’s Epic Games, in which Tencent holds a 40% stake.) Tsai surmises that Tencent’s pivot to retailing is connected. “They probably came to an existential realization and said, ‘Wait a minute, we’re in the wrong business.’”

Tsai may be misinterpreting Tencent’s motives, but regardless, he thinks Alibaba holds the stronger hand. “Tencent has woken up and decided that they also want to become somebody in e-commerce,” he says. “But we’ve been doing this for the last 19 years … It’s not just about developing an app or a product for users. It’s about creating an ecosystem and also the supply chains for the merchants.”

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生态系统是个运营词汇,两家公司在?;ぷ约旱钠教ㄉ隙疾灰庞嗔?。每家公司都大手笔投资了共享单车、在线打车等新潮的服务应用,目的是为了更好地把用户锁定在自己的生态系统和相应的支付服务中,在这个人们热爱使用移动支付购物的国家,锁定支付服务十分关键。(比如说,如果你想用阿里巴巴的平台伙伴Ofo单车,用腾讯的微信支付就很不方便;如果要用腾讯阵营里的共享单车品牌摩拜单车,用支付宝就很麻烦。)两家公司成功建立了互联网版本的“围墙花园”,香港普华永道的咨询师汤姆·波特威斯特尔说,他对这两家公司都进行了大量研究?!坝没薹ㄔ诹礁龌チ教ㄖ兴嬉馇谢??!北热缢?,要想从微信直接进入淘宝就很麻烦。这和硅谷巨头之间的相处方式相比,显得不太绅士。苹果应用商店中有Facebook和谷歌的应用程序。波特威斯特尔说这些西方公司虽然可能“亦敌亦友,但他们共同构建了完整的互联网用户体验?!辈幌裉谘逗桶⒗锇桶?。

但在极少数情况下,两家公司也会共同投资,就像2013年他们和平安保险(平安CEO也姓马)共同成立了一家互联网保险公司众安公司。事实上,如果历史有规律可循,这两个公司之间的明争暗斗最终都会变成这种合作?!疤谘赌诓?,人们很看好阿里巴巴,”一个前腾讯圈内人士这么说,“他们都在淘宝上买东西?!倍?,腾讯必须要进行大规模投资,而且要采用不同方式,才能比得上阿里巴巴的物流实力和菜鸟联盟?!拔⑿攀且桓鲋匾肟?,但仅此而已?!闭馕磺澳诓咳耸克?。与此同时,因为阿里正在主攻钉钉等商业应用,阿里也明白它自己没有办法挑战微信在消费者通信服务中的主导地位。阿里CEO张勇也承认:“连我都用微信?!?

从阿里和腾讯各自的投资战略上,双方的较量最明显。两家公司都热衷投资,香港Bernstein公司精明的分析师巴夫托什·瓦杰帕伊数了数,过去三年腾讯总共进行了280笔投资,阿里巴巴是174笔?!八苷嬲私獍⒗锇桶秃吞谘锻蹲实乃邢钅磕??”瓦杰帕伊在给客户的报告中写道。他把这两家有投资狂热症的公司定义为“购物狂”,怀疑可能他们“对自己的投资(都没有)记录,而考虑到投资的种类和数量巨多,可能这些投资莫名就消失了?!?

两家公司的投资风格明显不同。阿里喜欢买下公司的多数股权甚至全权控股,也反映了蔡崇信所说的阿里的“运营思维”。阿里在东南亚的投资正是采用了这种模式,控股电商网站Lazada,任命阿里巴巴的联合创始人及多年高管彭蕾作CEO。相比之下,腾讯更喜欢进行多笔小额投资,比如购买美国游戏巨头动视暴雪( Activision Blizzard)5%的股份。即使腾讯取得了公司的控股权,通常也不干涉管理事务。比如洛杉矶的拳头公司 (Riot Games) ,腾讯在获得拳头的热门游戏《英雄联盟》授权的同时,也和公司的风投机构一起进行了投资。之后腾讯全额买下拳头——但并不插手公司的运营?!八侵廊绻颐堑孟蚬镜男矶喔呒陡弊懿煌;惚ǜ髦质虑?,会毁掉我们的很多价值?!比返牧洗词既寺砜恕ぢ跞鸲?。

Ecosystem is the operative word, and both companies can have sharp elbows when protecting their platforms. Each has invested aggressively in newfangled app-driven services like bike sharing and ride hailing, the better to lock in users to their ecosystems—and their respective payment services, key features, in a country where consumers are more than happy to forgo cash when they shop. (If you want to use Alibaba platform partner Ofo, for example, it is relatively inconvenient to pay with Tencent’s WeChat Pay; using Alipay is a hassle when renting with Mobike, the bike-share contestant in Tencent’s camp.) The two have effectively created “walled-garden” versions of the Internet, argues Tom Birtwhistle, a consultant with PwC in Hong Kong who has studied both companies extensively. “Consumers are blocked from traversing the two Internets.” You can’t move easily, for instance, from WeChat to Taobao. That’s a far less genteel approach than Silicon Valley’s titans take with one another: Apple hosts apps from Facebook and Google, for example. Those Western companies, argues Birtwhistle, may be “frenemies, but they’ve assembled together to form an integrated online experience.” Not so Tencent and Alibaba.

On rare occasions, the two invest together, as they did in 2013 by starting an online insurance company, called ZhongAn, with insurer Ping An (whose CEO also is named Ma). Indeed, if history repeats, it’s possible that many of the companies’ jabs and feints at each other’s properties will amount to just that. “Internally, Tencent people hold Alibaba in high regard,” says one former Tencent insider. “They all buy on Taobao.” What’s more, Tencent would have to invest heavily and in a new way to match the physical logistics prowess of Alibaba and its Cainiao affiliate. “WeChat is positioned to be an important entry point, but no more,” says the insider. At the same time, as it focuses on business applications like DingTalk, Alibaba understands it can’t challenge WeChat’s dominance in consumer messaging. Acknowledges Daniel Zhang, Alibaba’s CEO: “Even I use WeChat.”

THE AREA WHERE the Tencent-Alibaba battle is most obvious is in their respective investment strategies. The two have been such assiduous dealmakers that the astute Hong Kong–based Bernstein analyst Bhavtosh Vajpayee counted 280 Tencent deals over the past three years and 174 for Alibaba. “Who can possibly fathom everything Alibaba and Tencent have invested in already?” Vajpayee writes in a report to clients. Branding the deal-crazy companies “shopaholics,” he wonders if they “have a record of their doings, [as] investments and stakes can get lost in the crevices somewhere, given the sheer numbers involved.”

The two have clearly divergent styles. Alibaba tends to take large or controlling stakes, reflecting what Joe Tsai calls the company’s “operating mindset.” That’s been the case in Southeast Asia, where it took control of e-commerce site Lazada and installed Lucy Peng, an Alibaba cofounder and longtime executive, as CEO. Tencent, in contrast, favors multiple small stakes, such as its 5% share of U.S. gaming giant Activision Blizzard. And when it does take control, it typically leaves management in place. At Riot Games in Los Angeles, for example, Tencent invested alongside the company’s venture capitalists when it licensed Riot’s popular League of Legends title. Later it bought the company outright—but didn’t mess with how it’s run. “They were selfaware that it would destroy a lot of value if we had reported to some SVP of such and such,” says Marc Merrill, Riot’s cofounder.

马云(左)和马化腾在2013年众安开业典礼上,众安是阿里和腾讯共同投资的一家保险公司。现在这两家公司不仅不会投资同一项目,还经常投资同一行业里的两家竞争对手。图片来源:VCG via Getty Images

不干涉不意味腾讯总是表现良好。模仿在腾讯文化中根深蒂固,腾讯也毫不回避在获得其合作伙伴产品授权的同时开发类似产品?!疤谘都仁峭蹲收?,也是竞争者?!甭迳柬洞匆倒維mule的联合创始人兼CEO杰夫·史密斯说,他们公司开发的移动应用可以让5000万用户每天弹奏或演唱2000多万首歌,而且很多时候是大家共同演唱?!八谴蛟斐晒萍脊镜娜φ喂酆臀颐堑暮芟瘛?,史密斯说,他指的是QQ和微信的竞争故事。这个创业家将腾讯称为一个“很好的合作伙伴”,因为Smule可以接入腾讯的内容分发网络,谷歌和亚马逊都有类似的竞争产品。腾讯哪怕并不直接收购公司,也因为广泛投资而和各类公司的优秀技术和人才保持密切关系,从中获益良多。

Being hands-off doesn’t mean Tencent always plays nice. Imitation is ingrained inits culture, and Tencent doesn’t shy away from simultaneously licensing the products of its partners and creating similar offerings. “Tencent is both an investor and a competitor,” says Jeff Smith, co-founder and CEO of San Francisco startup Smule, whose mobile apps allow a community of 50 million users to play and sing more than 20 million songs a day, often with each other. “Their views on the realpolitik of building successful technology companies reflect our own,” says Smith, citing the storied QQ-versus-WeChat competition. The entrepreneur calls Tencent a “great partner,” including, for example, the access Smule gets to Tencent’s content distribution network, a service that competes against Google and Amazon. Tencent, in turn, benefits from its broad investing by keeping close tabs on smart technology and talented people, even without owning their companies outright.

公司的投资风格也体现了他们对国外业务的探索。尽管国内收入占公司总收入的极大比重,但两家公司都已经将目光投向了东南亚。腾讯在新加坡上市游戏企业SEA中占股40%,而且据说正在考虑其他大规模投资。阿里巴巴战略目标宏大,表示希望公司可以为20亿顾客提供服务,将东南亚作为首个主要开拓市场?!岸涎呛椭泄木梅⒄估嗨??!辈坛缧潘?,他的意思是年轻人口多、手机持有率高、零售产业开发不足。蔡崇信说:“这些特点和中国差不多,而且还没有传统工业的拖累?!?

这两家中国巨头什么时候会对更成熟的美国市场发动直接攻击,这是硅谷一个老生常谈的话题了。简单点说,不是最近。这个结论可能会让硅谷高管稍微得到点安慰,要知道他们可是为自己的产品完全被排除在中国市场以外痛苦不已。尽管已经对许多美国公司进行了投资,两家公司都曾以涉及敏感的国土安全为由被拒绝交易。今年早些时候,美国外国投资管理委员会拒绝了蚂蚁金服想要购买美国汇款公司速汇金(MoneyGram)的提议。在之前一个关注度没那么高的案子里,这个委员会也拒绝了腾讯想要投资Here Technologies的提案,这家德国数字地图公司在美国有大量业务。

这两家中国互联网巨头的共同特点是既拥有令人难以置信的快速反应,又能进行长期规划,这种节奏对两家企业的领头马提出了更高要求。从马云身上,你既能感受到紧迫感,又能看到他的长线规划。他把办公区藏在了阿里巴巴园区的一个角落里,从熙熙攘攘的员工楼前,要穿过一座小桥。马云办公区的设计参照了苏州园林的经典风格。但这一处隐世之地的内部设计博采众长,尽显马云饱经世故的丰富阅历。

5月末烟雨蒙蒙的一天,阿里巴巴的这位创始人选择在日式会客厅接受采访,室内摆放着榻榻米垫子和低矮的椅子,墙挂式音箱中流淌出柔和的中国古典音乐。他来之前,桌上已经摆好了两碗樱桃,两杯茶水袅袅生烟。马云的思维方式注重未来导向,他说,中国的一位企业大亨最近告诉他觉得累了,问他怎么能持续前进?!拔遗ぷ魇且肟?、享受平静生活的那一天做准备”,马云说,“为了那时候我不用再回来干修厨房这样的活?!彼顾担骸坝氪送?,还有一件事在驱动着我和很多同事:我们总想为社会做点好事?!?

会议结束后,马云乘车前往阿里巴巴的礼堂,出席数百名新员工的欢迎典礼。他告诉大家,阿里的日子不好过?!澳憧赡艿没ㄉ弦荒晔奔洳拍芘靼孜颐窃诟墒裁础?,他提醒大家,“三年以后,你才有可能成为一个真正的阿里人?!彼嫠哒庑┬卤?,阿里巴巴有理想、务实而乐观,但不是每一个人都能适应?!盎褂惺奔淅肟?,对着哄堂大笑的众人,他不动声色地说道。

多年的企业竞争也影响了马化腾。在广州《财富》论坛上,他对人们批判腾讯游戏让人上瘾又无孔不入进行回应时,承认社会过度依赖手机了?!拔蚁衷谧谡舛?,手机在台下,都有些焦虑?!彼?。他承认最近视力更差了,但并非是因为上了年纪,而是因为花太多时间盯着手机?!拔蚁M乱淮募词蓖ㄐ牌教ú换岫晕颐堑难劬υ斐烧饷创蟮母旱?。如果只需要脑电波就可以把信息传到大脑里,简直完美?!?

给他点时间,梦想可能成真。再过段时间,阿里巴巴可能也会推出一个脑电波平台——再用一个毛茸茸的小动物当吉祥物。(财富中文网)

Eamon Barrett和 Kurt Zhong对报道亦有补充。

本文另一版本发表在2018年7月1日的《财富》杂志,标题为《二马之争》。

译者:Agatha?

Investment styles also inform the companies’ search for growth outside China. Their home country accounts for the lion’s share of overall revenue for both companies. But both have set their sights on Southeast Asia. Tencent owns a 40% stake in the publicly traded Singapore gaming company SEA and has reportedly been considering other large investments. Alibaba, given to grand strategic goals, has said it wants to serve 2 billion customers and will make Southeast Asia its first major expansion area. “These economies are very similar to how China grew up,” says Joe Tsai, citing youthful populations, high levels of mobile-phone penetration, and an underdeveloped retail sector. “These are very similar characteristics that we see in China, without the existing baggage of traditional industries,” says Tsai.

When the two Chinese giants might attack the more-developed U.S. market directly has been a perennial discussion point among their Silicon Valley counterparts. The short answer is not soon—a conclusion that may serve as some consolation for U.S. executives smarting at their near-total exclusion from the Chinese market. Despite having made many investments in U.S. companies, each has been swatted away from deals deemed sensitive on national-security grounds. Earlier this year, the intergovernmental Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States blocked Ant Financial’s attempt to buy U.S. remittance company MoneyGram. In a less closely watched move, CFIUS also nixed an investment by Tencent in Here Technologies, a Dutch digital mapping company with significant operations in the U.S.

ONE OF THE HALLMARKS of the Chinese Internet powerhouses is that they simultaneously move incredibly quickly and plan for the very long term—a tiring pace that demands a lot of the two horses who lead them. Jack Ma exudes that dual sense of urgency and longrange planning. His office complex is tucked away in a corner of the Alibaba campus, across a small bridge from the chockablock buildings where his employees work. He has designed his compound in the fashion of the classical gardens of Suzhou, a treasured, ancient spot near Hangzhou. But the eclectic look of Ma’s corporate hideaway reflects his man-of-the-world sensibilities, with various cultures represented inside its walls.

On a smoggy day in late May, the Alibaba founder chooses to meet in his Japanese sitting room, with tatami mats, low-slung chairs, and traditional Chinese instrumental music playing softly on wall speakers. Two bowls of cherries and two cups of steaming tea are set down before he arrives. Ma’s mind is very much on the future. He relates that a fellow Chinese corporate mogul has recently told him he’s tired, and asked Ma how he keeps going. “I work hard because I’m prepared for the day when I leave this company and I can enjoy a peaceful life,” says Jack Ma. “I won’t have to come back to do something, like fix the kitchen,” he says. “In the meantime, this is the thing that drives me and so many of my associates: We always want to do good things for society.”

At the conclusion of this meeting, Ma hops in a car to go to an Alibaba auditorium to greet hundreds of new employees. He warns them that life at Alibaba won’t necessarily be easy. “It takes a year to even figure out what’s going on,” he cautions. “And you’re not a true ‘Aliren’”—the Alibaba analog to “Googler”—“before three years of service.” He tells the recruits Alibaba is idealistic, pragmatic, and optimistic, but that it’s not for everyone. “There’s still time to leave,” he deadpans to hearty guffaws in the room.

The years of entrepreneurial battles are catching up with Pony Ma as well. At the Fortune conference in Guangzhou, he addressed criticism about the addictive and omnipresent nature of products like Tencent’s games by acknowledging society’s overattachment to their phones. “Even I get a bit anxious sitting here while my phone is offstage,” he said. He allows that just recently his eyesight has gotten worse, which he attributes not so much to the onset of middle age as to too many hours spent staring at his phone. “I wish the next-gen instant-messaging platform would not be such a burden on your eyes,” he said. “If there’s a brain wave that can transmit the message to my consciousness, that would be perfect.”

Give him time, and it just might happen. Wait a little longer, and Alibaba just might launch a brain-wave platform, too—with a cuddly critter for a mascot.

Additional reporting by Eamon Barrett and Kurt Zhong

A version of this article appears in the July 1, 2018 issue of Fortune with the headline “Ma Vs. Ma.”

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