Entrepreneurs face backlash after voicing support for Didi president Jean Liu

Society & Culture

The ongoing battle between Didi Chuxing and pretty much the entire Chinese internet has escalated, thanks to some unexpected drama-seeking players. Last Thursday, a group of successful entrepreneurs rallied around Didi’s president, Jean Liu, one of the most powerful people in the Chinese tech industry. They accused the media and internet users of being too harsh on Liu, and for misconstruing their own public sympathy for her.

The feud started off with a screenshot shared on Weibo on August 30, which shows a series of messages in a WeChat group called “The fourth class of graduates from Hupan University.” Some of Liu’s old classmates, who went to the same entrepreneurship program created by Alibaba’s Jack Ma in Hangzhou, voiced their support for Didi’s head while the company, which is entangled in a number of scandals.

One of them reads: “Just read Didi’s apology letter. I feel empathy for Jean Liu. Please hang in there and everything will get better. Didi still remains my first choice for transportation.” Echoing the supportive vibe, another group member writes, “Hang in there, Jean Liu. The growth of your mental power will definitely bring out the growth of your company.”

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Liu is tagged in most of these messages, but didn’t participate in the conversation, judging from the screenshot.

It still remains a mystery who leaked this screenshot of private exchanges between Jean Liu’s acquaintances. And, to be fair, how close they are to Liu — who is arguably the most accomplished student from the class — is what people should take into consideration before dragging her into this. But at a time when Didi has become the nation’s collective enemy because of its dodgy practices and mistreatment of customers, the internet is reacting to the screenshot with more impulsive anger than coolheaded reasoning.

Wang Zhian 王志安, a veteran journalist and CCTV commenter, wrote on Weibo:

What’s wrong with this society? No one apologized for the dead. Few spoke for the victim. The entrepreneurs, due to a flaw in their product, have caused the rape and murder of a customer. But just a few days later, an apology letter leads a large number of people to express empathy. “Hang in there”? What the f**k are you talking about?

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In addition, furious netizens discovered the list of entrepreneurs studying with Liu, who are mostly executives and founders of tech startups, including Geng Le 耿乐, founder of Blued, the most popular gay dating app in China, and Liao Jieyuan 廖杰远, CEO of Tencent-backed health firm WeDoctor :

hupan list

To defend their remarks, one of the WeChat group members released an anonymous statement (in Chinese) on behalf of the class:

First of all, we don’t teach Chinese. Your mom telling you not to defecate in public places definitely sounds different than your sister telling you the same. Second, we are not responsible for teaching you logic. Expressing our sympathy for Jean Liu doesn’t mean we approve of her doing bad things. Third, we studied together with Jean Liu. And she’s not feeling well lately. If we are as cold as you guys, how can we ever feel strongly about a complete stranger? Incitement can bring attention, but it will never lead to any progress in society.

Somewhere within Didi’s corporate buildings, the communications team must be slamming their heads against the wall. A bunch of entrepreneurs jumping to defend Didi’s mistakes is a bad look for the company, as it just started an “apology tour” in an attempt to amend its relationship with customers.