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ByteDance founder donates $77 million to education fund

ByteDance Ltd. founder Zhang Yiming donated 500 million yuan ($77.3 million) of his personal wealth to an education fund in his hometown, joining other Chinese internet moguls in giving back to social causes as Beijing cracks down on big tech.

The 38-year-old billionaire entrepreneur transferred the money to the Fangmei Educational Development Fund to be set up in the southeastern Longyan city, the local education bureau said in a statement Tuesday. The fund — named after Zhang’s grandmothers — will be used for teacher training, edutech infrastructure and dormitory construction, among other purposes, according to the statement.

Currently China’s fourth-richest person with a net worth of about $44.5 billion, the creator of viral hits like TikTok and news app Toutiao is joining fellow tech leaders including Meituan founder Wang Xing and Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s Pony Ma in stepping up philanthropic efforts, just as Xi Jinping’s government tightens its control over the tech sector. Zhang’s ByteDance — the world’s largest startup valued at north of $250 billion in recent private trades — is among 34 internet firms that pledged in April to conduct internal inspections as part of Beijing’s antitrust crackdown.

Last month, Zhang made a surprise announcement that he’ll step down as ByteDance’s chief executive officer by the year-end and instead focus on longer-term strategy. He said at the time he’ll also spend time on educational charity. The $77 million marks the biggest single donation yet by the billionaire, who last year gave 10 million yuan to his alma mater.

Education is proving to be a popular cause for China’s tech giants. Arch-rival Ma’s Tencent in April pledged $7.7 billion toward a “sustainable social values program that will tackle issues including scientific education. Meituan this month said founder Wang was donating a $2.3 billion stake in the food delivery giant to his own foundation, which will go toward education and science.

ByteDance, which has in recent years ventured into online tutoring as a growth driver, recorded a $2.1 billion operating loss last year on revenue of $34 billion, the company told employees earlier this month. The online education sector has come under intensifying scrutiny as Beijing seeks to alleviate the pressure faced by China’s kids. A slew of edutech upstarts have mothballed their US listing plans, Bloomberg News reported, while giants like New Oriental and TAL Education saw their shares tank.

Speculation over a potential ByteDance initial public offering has been growing, though the company has said it currently has no plans to float.

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