Allegations of graft at bike-sharing darling Ofo – China society and culture news from May 10, 2017

Society & Culture

A summary of today’s top news in Chinese society and culture. Part of the daily SupChina news roundup "Strong in furniture, very weak in outdoor gear."

Couple in love holding hands together on table in restaurant, close up

On May 3, a former employee of Ofo, one of China’s biggest bike-sharing startups, wrote up an exposé of alleged internal corruption (in Chinese) on the social networking app Momo 陌陌. According to the whistleblower, there are two major areas of unscrupulous behavior:

  • Regional managers falsely report the number of staff in their areas: By adding five or six nonexistent bike repairmen in their reports, managers can earn an extra 20,000 to 30,000 yuan ($2,900–$4,345) every month.
  • Kickbacks from bike-manufacturing companies: Some staff in procurement have purchased old tires that were produced 10 years ago from suppliers who are their friends.

In February, Ofo closed a $450 million funding round, which elevated its total valuation to more than a billion dollars. Two months later, Ofo announced that Ant Financial, an Alibaba affiliate, had become an investor and would work with the bike-sharing startup on credit card payments and international expansion strategy. Another big investor in Ofo is Didi Chuxing, China’s dominant ride-hailing service, which added Ofo to its main app in April.

On the social media platform Weibo, many commenters hold negative views about Ofo’s future, especially when comparing the startup with its major rival Mobike. One commenter complained (in Chinese), “Eight out of 10 Ofo bikes are broken. I’m turning to Mobike now.” Others accused Ofo of being too busy with attracting investment, rather than “improving internal management and listening to users’ feedback.”

  • Debate rages over China’s captive tigers / Caixin
    A CPPCC member and “artist who built his career painting and sculpting tigers” has “argued that tiger parks obstruct tiger conservation efforts and damage China’s international image.” He hopes to use his influence to improve the treatment of captive big cats.
  • Translation: I Am Fan Yusu (我是范雨素) / What’s on Weibo
    “In late April of 2017, Fan Yusu became an overnight literary sensation in China when her essay ‘I Am Fan Yusu’ was published on online platform and soon went viral.”
  • American universities are welcoming China’s Trojan Horse / Foreign Policy
    An argument against Confucius Institutes on U.S. campuses.
  • China’s prosperity eludes a generation of aging workers / WSJ (paywall)
    “Laborers who helped build modern China face toiling into twilight years; ‘No one will feed me if I don’t work.’”
  • China is building a Disney World for wine / Bloomberg
    At Chateau Changyu Reina, “honey-colored brick towers enclose wide cobbled courtyards, and vast, wood-beamed halls look as if they are prepared to host an imminent medieval banquet.” The construction is “but one part of an ambitious 600 million yuan ($86.9 million) complex completed four years ago just outside the city of Xi’an.”
  • Baby Louie, the dinosaur orphan, finds its species at last / NYT (paywall)
    Baby Louie is a “90-million-year-old fossilized dinosaur embryo” that “was found among a clutch of eggs in Henan Province,” yet the remains of the parents of Baby Louie and the eggs were never found. “But now, after nearly 25 years, Dr. Zelenitsky and her colleagues have linked the orphaned dinosaurs with their prehistoric lineage…a group of large, birdlike dinosaurs known as giant oviraptorosaurs.”