Ma was born on October 29, 1971 in Chaoyang District, Shantou, Guangdong. Not much is known about his early life. In one rare insight into his own psyche, Ma claimed in an interview that as a child he dreamt of becoming an astronomer. When his father, Ma Chenshu, got a job as a port manager in Shenzhen, near Hong Kong, the young Ma accompanied him. His father was a member of the Chinese Communist Party.