As the future of the world’s most valuable startup—TikTok’s Chinese owner, ByteDance—remains uncertain, its founder Zhang Yiming, one of the richest people in the world, is staying out of the limelight.
Zhang, 39, has been spending much of this year overseas, using Singapore as a primary base, according to people with knowledge of the matter. His prolonged absence from China, which hasn’t been previously reported, follows his departure as CEO and chair last year amid China’s tech crackdown, when other high-profile tech founders were also stepping back from their companies.
People familiar with Zhang’s situation said his decision to stay overseas mostly reflects China’s tough Covid-19 restrictions. But his move, and the changes in his role within the company over the past 18 months, also follow the biggest clampdown on the tech sector in China’s history. Tech giants like ByteDance were once the darlings of China, the champions who would extend China’s influence overseas. In recent years, though, the Chinese government has cracked down on everything from anti-competitive practices to data and algorithms to where companies could list their shares publicly.