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NetEase CEO William Ding relinquishes corporate roles at subsidiary, as China's internet chieftains scale back their duties

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NetEase founder and chief executive William Ding Lei, one of the pioneers of China's internet industry, has relinquished his roles at the company's media subsidiary, joining other Big Tech leaders who have scaled back their corporate duties amid a tightened regulatory regime.

Ding, 50, recently stepped down as the legal representative, general manager and director of Beijing NetEase Media Co, according to corporate registry tracking firm Tianyancha. He was replaced by Li Li, chief executive of Cayman Islands-incorporated NetEase Media.

That change was described by NetEase as part of "normal" business operations, according to a statement on Tuesday from the Nasdaq-listed video gaming giant.

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Established in 2015, Beijing NetEase Media manages news aggregator site NetEase News and other online content businesses, according to its website. Ding - ranked No 49 in Forbes' global billionaires list, with a net worth of US$27.7 billion as of Wednesday - controls 99 per cent of the media subsidiary's shares.

William Ding Lei, founder and chief executive of NetEase, delivers his keynote speech during the World Internet Conference, held in the town of Wuzhen in eastern Zhejiang province, on October 20, 2019. Photo: Reuters alt=William Ding Lei, founder and chief executive of NetEase, delivers his keynote speech during the World Internet Conference, held in the town of Wuzhen in eastern Zhejiang province, on October 20, 2019. Photo: Reuters>

Ding's action continues a trend among China's Big Tech leaders to cut back on corporate duties, reflecting the tech industry's change of mood after a decade of exceptional growth that was blessed by lax regulation and easy funding.

Under pressure from Beijing's crackdowns which have hurt sales, the country's major technology companies are now aligning their strategies to new government priorities, including so-called hard technologies like semiconductors and "common prosperity", while reforming their business models.

Earlier this week, Alibaba Group Holding chairman and chief executive Daniel Zhang Yong stepped down as legal representative of the corporate entities behind Taobao Marketplace and Tmall. Alibaba owns the South China Morning Post.

Other Big Tech billionaires, meanwhile, have left the day-to-day management of the companies they founded. These include Richard Liu Qiangdong, who handed over JD.com's chief executive role to company president Xu Lei earlier this month; Zhang Yiming, who stepped down as ByteDance chief at the end of December; Su Hua, who resigned last November as chief of Kuaishou Technology; and Colin Huang Zheng, who announced his exit at Pinduoduo in March 2021.

Jack Ma, who retired in 2019 from his position as Alibaba's executive chairman, announced his exit from the e-commerce giant in 2018, before regulatory authorities clamped down on various activities in China's internet industry.

In April last year, China's antitrust regulator slapped Alibaba with a record fine of 18.2 billion yuan (US$2.8 billion) for abusing its dominant position in the country's online retail market. Alibaba reported its slowest sales growth in the quarter ended December 31 since the firm went public in 2014.

Regulators ended their eight-month freeze on new game licences earlier this month, bringing some hope to market leaders Tencent Holdings and NetEase, as well as smaller gaming studios, that growth in the world's biggest video gaming market can be revived.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2022 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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