Lǐ Guóqìng 李国庆 and Yú Yú 俞渝 co-founded Chinese ecommerce platform Dangdang.com as a couple in 1999. They announced their separation last year, amid a divorce saga that has gripped the Chinese internet.
Dangdang is currently under Yu’s control, and the company has alleged that Li seized its official seals by force over the weekend in an attempt to regain the throne after the high-profile breakup. In China, official seals, sometimes called chops, are the equivalent of the CEO’s signature: Whoever has the seals is in control of the company’s legal affairs.
According to a statement (in Chinese) issued by Dangdang on April 26, Li and five other people broke into the company’s Beijing headquarters on Sunday morning and took away nearly 50 company stamps and financial seals through “violent” means, although the statement did not specify the nature of the violence. It also declared void all the seals taken by Li, adding that it had reported the case to the police.
But judging from some videos shared on Chinese social media, Li received little pushback from the employees in the office building during his visit. After grabbing the seals, Li distributed a letter (in Chinese) to witnesses of the incident, in which he alleged that he had been elected Dangdang’s chairman by the company’s board of shareholders following a meeting on April 24, which took place at short notice and didn’t involve Yu’s participation.
In addition to the announcement of his new position, Li claimed in the letter that his ex-wife had employed a number of means to “suppress, isolate, and eventually oust” him from the company. He also took issue with Yu’s management style, saying that her business decisions had created huge losses for the company, and that her mistreatment of employees — such as ordering them to work in the office during the COVID-19 outbreak — had betrayed Dangdang’s principles.
This saga has a history: In February 2019, Li announced his departure from Dangdang in an open letter. “I believe that after I leave Dangdang and end the husband-and-wife business structure, Yu Yu will lead the company to future success and continue providing high-quality service to our 300 million customers,” he wrote (in Chinese).
While the letter indicated a peaceful handover of power, the relationship between Li and Yu deteriorated significantly last October, when Li said in an interview that he was forced to leave the company by Yu due to a spat over their shares during their divorce settlement. During the on-camera interview, Li visibly lost his temper and threw a glass of water on the floor. “I will never forgive her because she’s my wife,” Li told the interviewer.
In response to Li’s claims, Yu retaliated with a lengthy social media post in which she accused Li of domestic abuse, extramarital affairs with men, and stealing a staggering 130 million yuan ($18 million) from their joint bank account.
Back to the present: In the wake of Li’s aggressive move on Sunday, Dangdang’s vice president, Kàn Mǐn 阚敏, said in an interview (in Chinese) with the Beijing News that in spite of what Li said, Yu was still in charge of the company, with a 52.23% stake. Kan also noted that Li and Yu were in talks for a short period of time earlier this year, but Li ended the discussions after Yu refused to lend money to Li for his own business. When asked what message he wanted to send to Li, Kan said that he wanted Li to “stay away from Dangdang as far as possible.”
However, backing down from his accusations didn’t seem to be an option for Li at this point. In a post (in Chinese) shared on Weibo on April 27, Li denied that he used force to take away the seals, saying that he wouldn’t give up his grip on them until a settlement is reached. “Before new rules regarding the use of these seals are put in place, I will take good care of these seals. I put them in my pants during the day and keep them under my blankets during the night,” he wrote.
While there has been no official statement from Yu herself regarding the matter, Dangdang users discovered today that the website highlighted a section named “From throwing a cup to stealing seals” on its front page, in which it recommended a list of books about relationships and corporate laws. Many people believed that this was Yu’s way to throw subtle shade on her ex-husband as the saga continued. “Now it’s evident who’s actually in control of Dangdang,” one Weibo user said (in Chinese).