Brainy and ambitious, Jack Ma built one of China’s largest business empires from scratch, creating billions of dollars in wealth and introducing digital innovations to hundreds of millions of people. He wasn’t China’s Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk or Bill Gates. He was their peer.

Now he has disappeared almost entirely from public view, in part because of the same go-for-broke drive he shared with the other 21st century tech titans.

Technological disruption, once seen as a useful prod for China to catch up with the West, has been recast as a threat to the ruling Communist Party. As a result, Xi Jinping, China’s most powerful leader in decades, is rewriting the rules of business for the world’s second-largest economy.

Mr. Ma failed to keep pace with Beijing’s shifting views and lost an appreciation for the risks of falling out of step, according to people who know him. He tuned out warnings…

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