Ma relinquished the role of chief executive in 2013.
Before moving into the business world with Alibaba's founding nearly 20 years ago, Ma was an English teacher. Zhang, 46, has been in the job since 2015 after serving as the company's chief operating officer. "India is a very important market for us to look at", Zhang had said.
"He put a human face on technology, and took China onto the global stage, not as a state-owned enterprise, crucially", said Duncan Clark, managing director at Beijing tech advisory BDA and author of "Alibaba: The House that Jack Built".
Last year, he made his acting debut with his first kung fu short film Gong Shou Dao, in which he sparred with martial arts master Jet Li.
What Ma's exit means for India?
"The world is big, and I am still young, so I want to try new things", Mr Ma said, adding he plans to continue in his role as founding partner.
Novak Djokovic Wins the U.S. Open
The sixth seed survived three break points in the following game, an epic that lasted more than 20 minutes, in a pivotal moment. Djokovic and del Potro hugged each other for a number of seconds, with Djokovic whispering some words of consolation in his ear.
In the announcement, which coincided with his 54th birthday, the Chinese business magnate noted that his 46yo successor Zhang has been with the company for 11 years and has demonstrated "superb talent, business acumen and determined leadership".
The co-founder of the company, Ma, will however, remain as a board member of the Alibaba Group until the annual shareholder meet in 2020.
Last year Ma invested 300 million yuan ($45 million) in a rural education project in China. It was then backed by $60,000 from 18 co-founders. He has also established a scholarship program in Newcastle, Australia.
At the time, Mr Trump hailed Jack Ma as a "great, great entrepreneur, one of the best in the world", who loves both the U.S. and China.
Alibaba saw sales at its e-commerce business swell 61 percent in the latest reported quarter, but its profit margins have been squeezed by big-ticket investments as it battles to maintain its dominant position in e-commerce and payments. "Those who know me know that I do not like to sit idle", he said.
Alibaba is also increasing its footprint in the government sector.