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Didi Announces Relaunch of Hitch Carpooling, Igniting Controversy with Curfew for Women

This week, Didi announced it would allow users to ‘hitch’ a ride again, but the proposed curfew for female passengers stirred controversy.

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20-year-old Xiao Zhao was murdered by her Hitch driver in August of 2018.

Over a year after China’s most popular car-hailing company Didi Chuxing took down its carpooling service, news of its relaunch – including a curfew for female passengers – became a huge topic of debate on Chinese social media this week.

Earlier this week, Didi Chuxing (滴滴出行) announced that it would be relaunching its carpooling service Hitch (滴滴顺风车 Didi Shunfengche) on November 20 in seven trial cities.

The announcement comes after more than a year of safety overhauls and periods of public discussion following the murder of two female passengers committed by Hitch drivers in 2018.

But the new safety guidelines, which included an 8 pm curfew for female riders, drew major outrage from online commenters.

Hitch is a carpooling app where riders and drivers heading in the same direction can team up and split the cost. The two murder cases in May and August of 2018, coupled with multiple reported cases of sexual assault, led to widespread criticism that Didi does not sufficiently vet drivers and ensure the safety of its (female) riders.

In response, Didi suspended the Hitch service indefinitely in the summer of 2018 and revamped its safety protocols across the entire platform.

Hi, long time no see,” began a statement from Didi Hitch’s Weibo account announcing the relaunch on November 6: “After 435 days of hard work, we developed 18 iterations, optimized 330 functions, and received 300,000 user suggestions. Finally, we decided to move forward, hoping that Hitch can shoulder our responsibilities and create value for the public.”

Didi’s announcement on Weibo.

The trial operations are set to begin in Harbin, Taiyuan, Shijiazhuang, and Changzhou on November 20 of this year, and expand to Shenyang, Beijing, and Nantong on November 29.

Didi further specified its trial operations, writing that services would be active from 5.00 in the morning until 23.00 at night, adding in between brackets that the services for women would end at 20.00 at night.

Many Weibo users were ecstatic at the news of the Hitch service starting again, but discussions were soon dominated by the question of whether or not Didi’s curfew for women was a sexist measure.

“What kind of protection is limiting the movement of women?! How about please restrict the damn criminals instead, okay?” one Weibo user commented on a popular news post about the story.

“After an entire year of discussion, this is your plan??” others asked: “Sure, I agree to the rule that women cannot ride after 8 pm, as long as men are also not allowed to leave home after 8 pm.”

One lawyer commented: “Stupid. Is this just a disclaimer from Didi? Self-protection? Or is it blatant discrimination against customers? In the face of a frequent and dangerous problem, rather than be concerned with prevention, protection, and response, they simply come up with strategies that refuse service to passengers.”

Didi responded that both the curfew and a 50km limit placed on rides were temporary safety measures during the trial relaunch period while the company continues to improve its services, but it did not help cool down discussions. Hashtags such as “Didi Hitch’s New Plan is Sex Discrimination” (#滴滴顺风车新方案被指性别歧视#) soon made their way across social media.

Besides the curfew, the relaunch announcement of Hitch also included an extensive range of other new safety features and regulations, including an entire program devoted to the safety of women. We have translated it below:

 

“PROTECTION PLAN FOR WOMEN”

1. Anti-single-picking mode: hide personal information and adopt a two-way confirmation mechanism to avoid the danger of drivers targeting single women.

2. Utilizing travel behavior records and other data, an algorithm will be integrated to find the most suitable fellow travelers for female users.

3. A customized “female safety assistant” includes the following features:

1 Rider can view relevant information such as the age of the car, the driver’s age, and the time of the most recent facial recognition verification of the driver

2 Reminder to share your route while traveling, availability of emergency contact services, real-time location protection, and other security functions.

3 Can check trip safety information and discover whether any abnormal behavior has taken place. In the case of abnormal behavior such as route deviation and long-term stopping, the emergency contact person will be informed immediately.

4. Special protections for women’s travel: long-distance trips require riders to undergo facial recognition, female users must set up emergency contacts, the driver will automatically audio record the trip (encrypted and uploaded to the platform).

5. Temporary restrictions: no cross-city trips or trips longer than 50 km will be allowed, and women will not be allowed as passengers from 8 pm to 5 am.

 

Although some of the new proposed policies above were met with online support*, as they were clearly designed to address the specific circumstances that led to the two murders in 2018, the curfew for women predominantly caused online anger.

Many commenters pointed out that one of the Didi murders was committed in broad daylight, not at night, which makes the curfew rule all the more confounding.

When big Weibo accounts such as the All-China’s Women Federation also started commenting on the issue, Didi Hitch apparently chose to avert further controversy; on November 7, Didi announced that during the trial period of its continued operations, services for all passengers, male and female, will now be limited to 8 pm.

“That’s right, we’re all equal as passengers,” some commented on the sudden policy change. Others, however, saw the change as a confirmation that Didi Hitch’s policies were indeed sexist.

Some commenters suggested something else to supposedly ensure Didi passengers’ safety: “Perhaps Didi should no longer allow male drivers to work after 8.00 pm instead.”

With 2018 being Didi’s toughest business year yet, this week’s controversy shows that the company still has to work hard this year and in the year to come to win back its customers’ trust, especially when it comes to its female passengers.

By Jessica Colwell

*(One of the more popular safety suggestions submitted to Didi during its period of public comment was the plan for all Hitch drivers’ information to be checked through a third-party credit data provider, although it is not sure when or if this proposed measure will be realized in the future.)

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Jessica Colwell is a freelance writer currently living in Hong Kong. She is a former editor of Shanghaiist and has lived and worked in China since 2009. She has a love for everything Chinese internet and a soft spot for televised galas and Chinese pageantry.

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China Digital

From Teacher to Livestreamer: Ecommerce Move is Game Changer for China’s New Oriental Education

New Oriental is going from classroom to e-commerce. Online shopping has never been more educational.

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After laying off 60,000 staff last year, Chinese private education company New Oriental is now offering unexpected new employment opportunities for teachers in the livestream market. Changing e-commerce channels into virtual classrooms, New Oriental has hit the sweet spot with Chinese netizens.

Last year, an unprecedented crackdown on China’s private education sector left many teachers unemployed and worried about their future.

China’s so-called ‘double reduction’ (双减) policy was announced in August of 2021 and targeted “excessive homework” and off-campus tutoring for students in the mandatory nine-year education system. The new regulations imposed strict sanctions on existing private education institutions, forcing them to register as non-profit organizations. Foreign investment in the private tutoring sector was also banned.

One of the companies that was hit particularly hard by this policy is New Oriental (新东方), the largest provider of private educational services in China. Following the crackdown, the company suffered huge losses and dismissed 60,000 employees.

Facing the new regulations, including the ban on for-profit tutoring in subjects on the school curriculum, New Oriental tried to keep its head above water by exploring new markets and ideas within the private education sector. For example, the company launched a special program to train parents on how to tutor their K-12 children themselves. New Oriental called it their “excellent parenting” (优质父母) training class.

Now, nearly a year later, another initiative by New Oriental has become an online hit. Inspired by the success of livestream e-commerce in China, the tutoring company started its own livestream channels. Although New Oriental already introduced its e-commerce business in late 2021, with founder Yu Minhong (俞敏洪) sometimes hosting the sessions himself, it had not been as much of an online success until it recently introduced bilingual livestream e-commerce sessions.

Now, tutors-turned-sellers are teaching viewers English – or sometimes other subjects – while selling (agricultural) products via the Douyin app. Whether they are selling fruit, rice, or even shrimp, New Oriental’s livestream hosts are grabbing every opportunity to teach their viewers a new word or concept, often using a whiteboard to introduce new vocabulary.

Whatever they’re selling, New Oriental’s livestream hosts make sure it’s educational.

One reason for New Oriental becoming a viral hit is because of Dong Yuhui (董宇辉), who is one of the experienced teachers now selling products online. Dong’s bilingual livestreams are particularly successful among viewers because of his enthusiasm, fluency in English, witty jokes, personal stories, and talent for singing.

Teacher Dong recently had a breakthrough moment with his June 10th livestream, during which he sold bags of rice using English. He has since attracted over nine million viewers. While thanking all viewers for their support in a recent Weibo post, Dong described himself as a “ordinary peasant boy.”

Dong Yuhui (董宇辉) is one of the livestreamers that have turned New Oriental’s e-commerce into a viral hit.

Besides Dong, there are also other popular hosts. English teachers Ming Ming, Yoyo, and Dun Dun are all loved by viewers for their charm and wit.

Although various kinds of social e-commerce categories are particularly popular in China, this new phenomenon of combining education + e-commerce + livestream is appreciated by many netizens who like to learn something while being entertained and perhaps also buying something. “I don’t know whether to place an order or to make notes,” has become a popular comment. Another commenter said: “As a kid I took your class, and now I buy your goods.”

Others say that they like the calm way in which the livestreams are presented, posing a stark contrast to other livestreams where the hosts are hyping up products and urging people to buy fast and buy more.

On June 15th, news came out that New Oriental’s stocks had surged by more than 25% following its livestreaming success.

Although some Weibo users predict that this is just a temporary trend, others think that the educational livestream model is here to stay: “New Oriental really started a new business venture, and I’m learning a lot through their livestream sessions.”

By Manya Koetse
With contributions by Miranda Barnes

Image via Weibo

Read related article: China’s Crackdown on Tutoring Schools: Concerned Parents and Teachers on Weibo

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China Books & Literature

Why Is Kindle Leaving China?

Many netizens are not happy over Kindle exiting the Chinese market: “We never know when the online services we use suddenly stop working.”

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Amazon announced on Thursday that it has stopped supplying retailers in China with its Kindle e-readers and that it will discontinue its Kindle e-bookstore in the Chinese market on June 30, 2023.

Amazon announced its Kindle exit in a statement on its official WeChat account, saying it was because of a shift in the strategic focus of its company’s operations.

For Chinese customers who have purchased e-books through Kindle, they will be able to continue downloading them until June 30 of 2024. Customers who would rather return the Kindle devices they bought in 2022 can get a refund.

On Weibo, the hashtags “Kindle Will Be Discontinued in China Next Year” (#Kindle中国明年停止电子书运营#) and “Why Wasn’t Kindle Able to Make It in China?” (#为什么Kindle在中国活不下去#) were hot topics on Thursday and Friday.

Some commenters said they were upset about Kindle being discontinued in China: “Why why why!! I really like Kindle and their e-bookstore, I check for interesting and new books on sale on a weekly basis. Which e-reader and e-bookstore are suitable substitutes?”

“Zhangyue, Hisense, Huawei, Onyx Boox, Tencent, Readmoo,.. there are actually a lot of brands,” one person responded, but some others said they still preferred Kindle.

“What do I do with my Kindle now? Just use it to cover my noodles?”

In 2021, Amazon’s Kindle was among the most popular e-book brands in China. Besides Amazon’s Kindle, China’s most popular e-reader brands include Onyx Boox, iFlytech, Zhangyue, Xiaomi, Hanvon, Tencent, Boyue, Obook, and Sony (see list).

Some commenters wrote that they understand that companies such as Amazon have to make some tough choices after facing pandemic-related setbacks in China, while there were also many netizens who blamed Kindle’s China exit on Chinese consumers illegally downloading pirated books instead of buying them at the Kindle store.

Others said that Kindle e-bookstore prices were often about the same as paper book prices, making the latter more appealing to people who like to read, especially if they also like to make notes in their books. In other words, they say the Kindle e-bookstore is simply too expensive for the Chinese market, where consumers can find many other options, both paper and digital ones.

“It’s not so complicated,” one Weibo user wrote: “It’s all because of market competition reasons. Kindle is facing the impact of Tencent’s influence on the e-reading market.”

Some people are really disappointed that the books they have bought through Kindle will become unavailable to them, and some wondered if this was legal with regards to consumer rights.

One popular economic blogger wrote: “Kindle has now withdrawn [from China]. Many years ago, when different kinds of online storage spaces starting closing down, I learned one thing: never fully trust internet storage services. Your study material, the things you wrote, your video records, you need to back them up. We never know when the online services we use suddenly stop working.”

By Manya Koetse

Image via Weibo

Featured images by Weibo blogger @钟文泽.

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