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Ma's announcement was somewhat unorthodox; the Times is blocked in China by Communist Party censors, while there was no official statement from Alibaba.

Ma, who co-founded Alibaba in 1999, stepped down as chief executive in 2013.

In 2014, he created the Jack Ma Foundation, which has worked to improve education in rural China.

After being knocked back by U.S. venture capitalists in 1999, cash-strapped Chinese entrepreneur Ma persuaded friends to give him $60,000 to start an e-commerce firm called Alibaba. When Bloomberg asked whether it could happen this year, Ma shrugged and said: "You'll know very soon".

"He's a symbol of the health of China's private sector and how high they can fly whether he likes it or not", Duncan Clark, author of the book "Alibaba: The House Jack Ma Built", said of Ma. Ma turns 54 on Monday, which is also a holiday in China known as Teacher's Day.

"This is something I think I can do much better than being CEO of Alibaba", he told Bloomberg TV recently.

Seeing an opportunity for small businesses to buy and sell their goods online, he started Alibaba, initially running the company out of his apartment in the eastern city of Hangzhou, where the company's headquarters remains.

Ma, who turns 54 on Monday, now oversees a number of charitable projects in education and environmental fields.

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At events, he is often met with screaming fans.

Ma, 53, is also China's wealthiest individual. A year ago he met with US President Donald Trump, who described him as "smart" and "open minded". It grew into one of the world's largest online retailers, earning it comparisons to US -based Amazon.

When the stock market closed on Friday, it was worth $420.8bn (£325bn).

Ma is stepping back at a tricky time for Chinese tech firms. Authorities have increasingly sought to regulate the industry where Alibaba and main rival Tencent Holdings Ltd (0700.HK) are battling for consumers.

He is one of the most colourful of China's growing crop of billionaires, performing a Michael Jackson-inspired dance routine at the company's 18th anniversary celebration past year, and starring in his own kung fu short film.

Ma's Bloomberg interview came as shares of China's second-largest e-commerce company, JD.com, plummeted as its CEO Li Qiangdong was arrested in the U.S. over an accusation of rape.

Liu was arrested and released without charge in the US city of Minneapolis last week.