The more disruptive force to be reckoned with these days is epitomised by the three large internet groups: Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent, collectively known as BAT, which have turned much of China upside down in just a few short years. Take the example of Ant Financial. Last week, it completed fundraising that values the company at $45bn to $50bn. It operates Alipay, an online payments system that claims to handle nearly $800bn in e-transactions a year, three times more than PayPal, its US equivalent.
That system, an essential part of China's financial and retail architecture, and one familiar to almost every Chinese urbanite. It was the creation of Jack Ma, the former English teacher who founded Alibaba. Mr Ma established the system a decade ago as the backbone for Taobao, his consumer-to-consumer business. The name literally means “digging for treasure”, something that Mr Ma, one of China’s richest people, has clearly found.
Alibaba handles 80 per cent of China’s ecommerce, according to iResearch, a Beijing-based consultancy. China’s internet companies hold ever greater sway on how people shop, invest, travel, entertain themselves and interact socially.
The BAT companies, which dominate search, ecommerce and gaming/social media, together with other upstarts, such as Xiaomi, a five-year-old company that has pioneered the $50 smartphone, are upending how people live.
The internet is a liberating force that is unleashing entrepreneurial energy, bringing market forces to bear in diverse corners of the economy and expanding the role of the private sector at the expense of entrenched state enterprises. In China’s nominally controlled economy, the private sector long ago outstripped the state as the engine of growth. According to Edward Tse, a management consultant and author of China’s Disruptors , this has resulted in the “emergence of a new group of entrepreneurial business leaders……most operating with little direct government influence or support, and all transforming their industries”. Privately run businesses, he estimates, account for three-quarters of national output. By 2013, China had about 12m privately held and 42m family run businesses against 2.3m state-owned companies.
At the forefront are technology companies in general and internet companies in particular. As elsewhere, in China the online and offline worlds are colliding.普遍来讲，科技企业处于市场的前沿，尤其是网络企业。像其它地方一样，中国的线上和线下企业正在进行激烈的碰撞。
Taxi apps such as Didi Dache, backed by Alibaba and Tencent, have brought market forces to bear where prices were previously set by the state.
In finance, where deposit rates are state regulated, the BAT companies and others are offering savings and investment products with much better rates. Yue Bao (“leftover treasure”), a money-market fund distributed by Alibaba over Alipay, has accumulated assets of nearly Rmb600bn in less than two years. Beijing, which wants gradually to liberalise banking, is allowing this crop of private companies to catalyse change.