Alibaba announced today that it has removed Jiang Fan, president of the company’s marketplaces Taobao and Tmall, from its list of partners after an investigation into Jiang’s alleged affair with a social media influencer who is a co-founder of Alibaba-backed KOL agency Ruhnn.

Read more: INSIGHTS | Founders behaving badly

Why it matters: Jiang Fan was widely seen as a potential successor to Zhang Yong, the current CEO of the Alibaba Group. This tough career setback for the 35-year-old Jiang, who is also the youngest member of Alibaba’s partners’ committee, might mean a change to the e-commerce giant’s succession plans.

  • Chinese tech tycoons are increasingly facing public scrutiny over their private lives. The drama surrounding Jiang Fan comes after a rape accusation against JD’s Richard Liu and a divorce drama for Dangdang co-founder Li Guoqing.
  • JD founder Richard Liu is gradually taking a back seat in the operation of the e-commerce giant after the scandal hit company shares by nearly 70% in late 2018.

Details: Alibaba removed Jiang Fan from its partners committee and demoted him from senior vice president to vice president, local media reported.

  • Jiang’s alleged lover, Zhang Dayi, is a key influencer at KOL agency Ruhnn, who brought in half of its total sales for nearly three years.
  • However, Alibaba says the internal investigation shows that Jiang was not involved in the company’s decision to invest in Ruhnn in 2016.
  • Neither preferential policies towards Ruhnn nor Zhang Dayi’s Taobao and Tmall stores were discovered during the investigation, Alibaba said.
  • The company clawed back Jiang’s 2019 annual bonus for the misconduct.

Context: On April 17, a Weibo user described by Chinese media as Jiang Fan’s wife posted a statement that warned social media influencer Zhang Dayi, not to “mess around” with her husband. Jiang has asked the company to launch an investigation into his own behavior.

  • Alibaba-backed Taobao has an 8.56% stake in Ruhnn, according to the company’s prospectus.
  • The Hangzhou-based influencer firm went public in April 2019, raising $125 million in its NASDAQ IPO. Ruhnn shares dropped 5.53% on Friday trading.

Emma Lee (Li Xin) was TechNode's e-commerce and new retail reporter until June 2022, when she moved to Sixth Tone to cover technology and consumption. Get in touch with her via or Twitter.