An eight-year-old boy in east China is getting visitors from across the country as people try to cash in on his looks – the child is a dead ringer for Chinese billionaire Jack Ma.
Up to 50 people a day have visited Fan Xiaoqin over the past two weeks. The boy looks remarkably like one of China’s richest men, Jack Ma who founded the e-commerce company Alibaba, and rumours had been swirling on social media that the billionaire had promised to fund his education, right through to university.
The boy’s family, who live in Jiangxi province, are poor and rely on government benefits. Xiaoqin’s father Fan Jiafa is disabled – his right leg has been amputated – his mother has had polio, and his grandmother, who is in her 80s has Alzheimer’s.
When journalists asked Alibaba if there was any truth to the gossip, they were told it was unfounded. The company issued a statement on Weibo: “All the news about Mini Jack Ma shouldn’t be treated as a joke… To fund one child’s education is easy, but in order to help millions of poor children, more resources need to be used.”
That hasn’t dampened the public’s interest, though. “Mini Jack Ma” as he is now known, first became an online sensation in 2015 then faded from public view, but with this month’s new and unfounded rumours, people started contacting and visiting the family offering Xiaoqin starring roles in films and adverts.
“It’s a good thing that my son looks like Jack Ma,” Fan Jiafa told BBC Trending, but he has reservations about some of the offers they’ve received. “I don’t want him to go into the film industry and make money now. I hope Xiaoqin can be independent one day and support himself but I believe only education can improve his life.”
At the moment, Xiaoqin is struggling to keep up in school and can’t write. “I just hope Xiaoqin can receive good education,” says his dad. “I don’t read and write much as I just spent two years in primary school. I think studying is the most important thing.”
And the family has had plenty of moral support on social media. “How depressing! Some people are really opportunistic!” commented one angry Weibo user.
“Can we stop over commercialisation, he is only a child!” said another. One more added: “The whole thing is a mixture of cruelty and abuse with this boy. I just hope when he grows up, he can live like Jack Ma, not only look like him.”
Not everyone appears to be trying to make money out of the boy though. Zhang Chengliang drove for eight hours to reach the family and offered to support both Xiaoqin and his elder brother if they go to a primary school near his own home in a city about 800km away. Zhang has already sponsored about 200 other children in this way.
“I can provide a better education environment for Mini Jack Ma and his brother in Hangzhou,” Zhang told BBC Trending. “When I first saw him I didn’t think he wasn’t bright, but he’s not had the nutrition he needs. There isn’t even a light or desk in his home. He needs a good place to study and I can help him.”
Xiaoqin’s father says he doesn’t know who to trust and is worried about sending his sons away. Over the past 10 days, he’s received more than 10,000 yuan ($1,500; £1,200) in cash donations, clothes, food and household items. What he wants now is for “the local government to help me and offer me some advice”.
Blog by Ruhua Xianyu