985, 996, 251, 404. Just random numbers? Not quite. They’re what internet users posted — before they were deleted — in the comment section of an open letter penned by Huawei CFO Mèng Wǎnzhōu 孟晚舟.
The New York Times’s Li Yuan explains:
On the first anniversary of her arrest in Canada, Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of the Chinese telecom giant Huawei, issued an open letter describing how she experienced fear, pain, disappointment, helplessness, torment and acceptance of the unknown.
She wrote at length about the support she received from her colleagues, about friendly people at a courthouse in Vancouver and about “numerous” Chinese online users who expressed their trust.
Her letter, posted on Monday, was not well received on the Chinese internet, where Ms. Meng is known — in a term meant to be endearing — as “princess” because she is a daughter of Huawei’s founder, Ren Zhengfei.
On the Twitter-like social media platform Weibo, many users posted the numbers 985, 996, 251 and 404 in the comment section below her letter. They were slyly referring to a former Huawei employee who graduated from one of the country’s top universities in a program code-named 985, worked from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. six days a week and was jailed for 251 days after he demanded severance pay when his contract wasn’t renewed.
That employee is Lǐ Hóngyuán 李洪元, a 13-year Huawei veteran who was detained for eight months, from January to August, under charges of extortion after he requested termination compensation from Huawei.
The company had apparently pressed charges. Li was eventually released due to “unclear criminal facts and insufficient evidence.”
The episode sparked outrage among Chinese internet users, who were quick to point out the hypocrisy of detaining a long-term employee while issuing ongoing calls for the release of its CFO (and founder’s daughter), who remains under house arrest in Canada. The Guardian notes that such criticism is rare for Huawei given its status as “one of the most popular brands within the country and a symbol of national pride.”
Hong Kong was part of the online discussion. Some popular comments about the scandal, translated by Tony Lin on Twitter:
Random popular comments under Huawei’s scandal (putting ex-employees in jail for 251 days):
“This is why HK ppl are against extradition bill”.
“Now I understand them.”
“Thanks to HK foreign judges.”
Another potentially profound long-term effect of HK protest: it’s the mirror… pic.twitter.com/r1meYkapbN
— Toni (but what’s your *real* name?) (@tony_zy) December 3, 2019