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Ofo’s Bike Sharing Services Spark Outrage on Chinese Social Media for “Giving Privileges to Foreigners”

Apparently, all it takes is to be an American to get your deposit back from Ofo?

Gabi Verberg

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When one man dreaded waiting forever on the phone with Ofo’s customer service to get a deposit back, he decided the “foreigner reporting strategy,” and it allegedly worked. It is a story that is now going viral on Chinese social media, where netizens are outraged about the company’s “unfair treatment” of customers.

When one Chinese Ofo customer decided he did not feel like waiting forever on the phone to get his deposit of 199 yuan back, he decided to go “foreign.” Changing his account details, he pretended to be a man from California living in China for the past three years and sent an email to Ofo in English, Tencent News and other Chinese media report. Not only did he immediately get his deposit back, the company even sent him an apology letter.

For over a year now, the Ofo bike sharing service company is facing financial troubles which have forced the company to lay off workers and have made it extra difficult for Ofo users to get a refund of their 199 yuan ($29) deposit.

As reported by Technode earlier this month, amidst recent reports on Ofo’s alleged nearing bankruptcy and rumors of an acquisition by ride-hailing giant Didi, users have rushed to get their deposits back.

In the CCTV2 Economic News (经济信息联播) programme on December 3rd, Ofo users told reporters that the company’s app now only has a “top up” credit button in its settings, and that the button for “getting a refund of deposit” had been removed. When people tried calling the service center of the company, many got no response, despite numerous attempts.

Ofo was founded in 2014 and first launched its services in Beijing in 2015. Ofo bikes can now be found in many cities across China, where users first pay a deposit and can then unlock and track bikes, which can be rented for one yuan by the hour, using the smartphone app.

Now, the news has gone viral of the Chinese man who not only got his deposit refunded, but even received an apology letter from Ofo. All it allegedly took for him to succeed is pretending to be a foreigner.

When the Chinese man, who goes by the username “@ztj93,” had heard that he had to go through much trouble to get his deposit back, he pretended to be an American and used Gmail to write an email to Ofo in English, of which he took a screenshot and reposted it on his Weibo account. Within a day, the money was sent back to his Alipay-account, and a letter of apology was sent to his email.

The email from “ztj93” sent to Ofo on the 13th of December, at 3:51 pm, as shared on social media:

Ofo’s reply on the 14th of December, at 10:03 am:

When the man shared his success online, news went viral immediately.

At the time of writing, the hashtag “Pretend to be foreign and Ofo refunds immediately” (#假装外国人ofo秒退押金#) has received over 140 million views on Weibo.

Many netizens praise the man for his clever approach and congratulate him with his success, while also condemning the Ofo company for their “unfair treatment” of customers, with some even expressing their hopes for the company to go bankrupt as soon as possible.

By now, the original poster has placed a letter on his Weibo account in which he expresses his surprise with the fact that Ofo actually responded to him and that he got his money back, but also with the fact that the news has blown up on Weibo as it has. The man also explains that he is a long-time user of Weibo and that he since long has used the international Weibo version (it not clear at time of writing where the man exactly adjusted his profile details and if it was on Ofo or on Weibo).

He writes that although initially, it was just funny to him, he now has mixed feelings about the entire incident; on the one hand, he is happy that he has his money back, he writes, but on the other hand, he says that it makes him “uncomfortable” knowing that Ofo might give a preferential treatment to foreigners.

While he understands people’s anger about this, he writes, he also says that this anger should stay within “reasonable realms,” which it, apparently, has not. The poster has since deleted his Ofo posts, saying he knew the power of Weibo, but that he did not expect his post to be so influential.

On Saturday night (China time), Chinese media outlet Pear Video published a video on the issue in which two spokespersons for Ofo state they do not know about the incident and will look into it. Later, the phone for Ofo’s PR services was allegedly not able to be reached again.

By Gabi Verberg and Manya Koetse, with contributions from Miranda Barnes

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

Gabi Verberg is a Business graduate from the University of Amsterdam who has worked and studied in Shanghai and Beijing. She now lives in Amsterdam and works as a part-time translator, with a particular interest in Chinese modern culture and politics.

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China Marketing & Advertising

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.

Jessica Colwell

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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.

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China Food & Drinks

China’s Best Fast-Food Restaurants: These Are the 11 Most Popular Chains in the PRC

These are China’s most popular fast-food chains and the most important trends in the industry.

Manya Koetse

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The China Cuisine Association (CCA) released a list ranking the strongest fast-food companies in China this month. The list is a top 70 (!), but here, What’s on Weibo provides an overview of the top 11 in this ranking list of fast-food restaurants in China.

Fast food has been trending on Chinese social media this week after the China Cuisine Association (综合自中国烹饪协会, CCA) issued a new ‘best brands’ report during its 23rd China Fast Fast-Food Convention.

The report by the CCA found two major trends within China’s fast-food industry.

Firstly, fast-food brands, in general, are becoming more and more popular within mainland China. The industry has seen rapid growth over the past decade, with the first half of this year already seeing a 9.4% increase compared to last year.

In the period from January to August of 2019 alone, China’s restaurant industry had a total sales revenue of 2.8 trillion yuan (355 billion US dollars) – making it one of the country’s fastest-growing industries according to Sina Finance.

Second, Chinese-style fast food brands are rising in popularity. Although KFC, McDonald’s, and Burger King still dominate the top three chart, Chinese players such as Laoxiangji (老乡鸡), Dicos (德克士), and Real Kungfu (真功夫) are becoming favorite fast-food restaurants among Chinese consumers.

On Weibo, some commenters suggest that it is inevitable for foreign players to still rule the top lists since they were the first fast-food chains to arrive in China. China’s own homegrown brands followed later and needed more time to grow, but, they predict, will only become more popular in the years to come.

Fast-food first arrived in China in the 1980s, with Kentucky Fried Chicken launching in the PRC in 1987 and McDonald’s following in 1990. The very first fast-food restaurant in China was actually not KFC, but ‘Yili’s Fast Food Shop’ (义利快餐厅), a brand established in 1906 by Scottish businessman James Neil and taken over by Chinese managers in the 1940s.

So what currently are China’s most popular fast-food chains? The list as issued by the CCA actually contains the 70 strongest fast-food companies of China.

For the scope of this article, we highlight the top-ranking 11 fast-food companies of China for you, starting with number one.

 

#1: Kentucky Fried Chicken (肯德基)

Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) is the major brand by Yum China (百胜中国), China’s leading restaurant company that spun off from the American Yum! Brands in 2016. Yum China has the exclusive right to operate KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell in China, and also owns the Little Sleep hotpot concept. The KFC official Weibo account almost has 2.5 million fans.

People outside of China are sometimes surprised to find that KFC is so hugely popular in the mainland. Its success story goes back to 1987, when the restaurant opened its first doors near Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Within a decade, KFC already had 100 different restaurants in China.

The question of how an American fast-food chain succeeded in becoming the number one in China, outnumbering McDonald’s, is at the center of the book KFC in China: Secret Recipe for Success. Some reasons that contribute to KFC’s success in China is the popularity of chicken in China, the chain’s management system, and the restaurant’s adaptation to local taste.

 

#2: McDonald’s (麦当劳)

Twenty-nine years ago, McDonald’s opened China’s first restaurant in Shenzhen under the name ‘Màidāngláo’ (麦当劳), a Chinese rendering of the name.

Since 2017, the restaurant’s official name change to ‘Jīn Gǒngmén’ (金拱门), literally meaning ‘Golden Arches’, made headlines both in- and outside China. The name as displayed on the restaurants, however, has always remained the same; ‘Golden Arches’ is just the formal Chinese name of the mother company.

Despite its rocky journey in China – McDonald’s has always faced strong competition within the Chinese fast food market and had to deal with a 2014 food scandal – the American fast-food chain is still popular among Chinese, with many sharing fond memories of their first McDonald’s experience.

The Weibo account now has 1,1 million fans.

The chain still has more room for growth in the PRC, and is looking at new ways to franchise on the mainland. McDonald’s is also always adapting to local tastes. The Chinese menu offers products such as Cola Chicken wings or big chicken cutlet rice bowls.

 

#3: Burger King (汉堡王)

Compared to KFC or McDonald’s, Burger King is somewhat of a newcomer to the Chinese market, but its growth is also rapid: the first restaurant in China opened in 2005, and its 1000th already opened in 2018.

China’s fast-growing middle class has helped the American brand to flourish on the mainland, as did McDonald’s former president of greater China, Peter Tan, who became Burger King’s senior vice president.

Burger King has a wide and strong social media presence in China, with various official Weibo accounts actively promoting Burger King in various cities. The accounts have a personal approach and often post jokes and funny videos.

 

#4: Home Original Chicken / Laoxiangji (老乡鸡)

Home Original Chicken currently is the most popular Chinese-style fast-food chain in the PRC. To celebrate this fact, various restaurants around the country held some promotional events this week, even giving out lunch for free in some of its 800+ locations across the country. The promotion went trending on Weibo, with the hashtag ‘Laoxiangji invited the whole country for dinner’ (#老乡鸡宴请全国#) getting 280 million views.

The short history of the restaurant goes back to 2003 when chicken breeder Shu Congxuan opened the first location in Hefei, Anhui province. The chain’s menu items look completely different from the top 3 in this list; ‘Laoxiangji’ serves some classic pork meatballs, meatballs wrapped in fried gluten, hot and sour fish, or steamed eggplant with chili and sour sauce.

A combi meal as promoted by Laoxiangji.

The ‘Laoxiangji’ Weibo account now has over 360,300 followers.

 

#5: Dicos (德克士)

Dicos, founded in 1994, is one of the biggest Chinese-style fast-food chains in the PRC. It was founded in Chengdu and serves fried chicken and different fried chicken rice bowls, among other things. It already opened its 2000th store in 2013.

Tianjin Ding Qiao Food Service owns Dicos. In a way, you could say Dicos is one of KFC’s biggest competitors in the PRC as it is also famous for its fried chicken buckets.

The restaurant’s Weibo account has over 727,000 fans. Besides promoting fried chicken dishes, the account also regularly promotes the Dicos brands’ various sweet desserts.

 

#6: Real Kungfu (真功夫)

Real Kungfu is probably the fast-food restaurant with the coolest logo – which looks like an image of Bruce Lee- and brand name here.

The restaurant is headquartered in Guangzhou and opened its first restaurant in 1990. The restaurant serves various meal sets at very reasonable prices, usually including a rice bowl, soup, boiled lettuce, and a meat main dish.

Photo of Zhen Kungfu order by Weibo user.

Weibo account @Zhengongfu has more than 188,000 followers. The account often posts about movies or series, with the chain associating itself with Chinese popular culture.

 

#7: Country Style Cooking (乡村基)

Country Style Cooking (Xiāngcūnjī, 乡村基) is originally a Chongqing restaurant that opened its first restaurant in 1996 under the name ‘Country Style Chicken’ (乡村鸡). It now has over 600 restaurants throughout China.

The restaurant’s name is literally also its theme: providing real ‘home-style’ cooking from the country to its customers. It serves some classic stir-fry dishes such as the Kung Pao Chicken (宫保鸡丁).

The brand is still relatively small on Chinese social media, having some 39000 fans on its Weibo account.

 

#8: Ajisen Ramen (味干拉面)

Ajisen Ramen is the first Japanese chain in this list, which focuses on Japanese ramen noodle soup dishes. It operates more than 700 noodle restaurants in Hong Kong and mainland China, but also has restaurants in other countries across the world.

Its history goes all the way back to 1968, but its franchise endeavors started later.

The chain has no presence on Weibo.

 

#9: Yonghe King (永和大王)

Yonghe King is another Chinese-style fast-food chain that, like Ajisen, also focuses on noodles. Its first restaurant was opened in 1995 in Shanghai.

The brand is not fully Chinese anymore, as it merged with Jollibee Foods Corporation (JFC), the biggest fast-food company in the Philippines, in 2004. Since 2016, Jollibee is 100% owner of Yonghe King.

Yonghe King’s menu is diverse, as it offers various breakfast items, meal sets with noodles or rice, and desserts. It promotes its breakfast as the perfect start of the day for busy people who have to get to work early and have no time to prepare a meal.

With almost 409,000 fans on Weibo, Yonghe King is pretty popular on Chinese social media.

 

#10: Yoshinoya (吉野家)

Yoshinoya is the second Japanese chain in this list and it is the oldest brand, going back all the way to 1899.

Although Yoshinoya is a ‘fast food’ chain because, some of the items on its menu are not as fast to eat. The restaurant is known for its beef bowls, but how about a one-person hotpot set?

Hop Hing Group, based in Hong Kong, is the licensed operator of Yoshinoya in Hong Kong and Mainland China. The restaurant has recently become a target of violence during the Hong Kong Protests, as it was labeled as being a Beijing supporter.

 

#11: Mr. Lee California Beef Noodle King (李先生加州牛肉面大王)

The Beijing brand Mr. Lee is a popular fast-food chain in mainland China that specializes in beef noodle soup. Its first store was opened in 1988.

The ‘California’ part in its time comes from the Californian Chinese-American businessman Li Beiqi (李北祺) who started the company – hence the restaurant’s name (Mr. ‘Li’ in pinyin).

Besides the beef noodle soup, the restaurant also offers rice meals, dumplings, sweets, evening snacks and more. The Mr. Lee’s Weibo account has over 55000 fans.

By Manya Koetse

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.

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