Harry Potter from accounting calls with a question about Gollum’s expense report. Spiderman works late through the night putting the final touches to a slide deck he’ll present to Gandalf the next day. Imagine if employees at Western tech firms went by names of fictional characters from the world of fantasy. Awkward!

But at Chinese internet giant Alibaba, this is common practice.  Workers frequently trade their real names in favor of ones from the realm of fiction and use them in their daily interactions with executives, colleagues, and even suppliers. But instead of superheroes or medieval wizards, they look to the kung fu canon and other aspects of traditional Chinese culture for inspiration.

The practice—which has now become a tradition—has its origins in founder Jack Ma’s whimsical style and his love of martial arts. The use of such monikers has become so ingrained, that some employees struggle to remember their colleagues’ real names.

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Emma Lee

Emma Lee is Shanghai-based tech writer, covering startups and tech happenings in China and Asia in general. We are looking for stories related to tech and China. Reach her at lixin@technode.com.