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Questions Surrounding Tragic Suicide of WePhone Founder Su Xiangmao

The tragic suicide of WePhone app founder Su Xiangmao has been dominating debates on Chinese social media.

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The tragic suicide of WePhone app founder Su Xiangmao has been dominating debates on Chinese social media over the past few days. It is the first time in China that a popular app closes down because its founder committed suicide. Netizens now demand to know the truth behind the story.

“This is the first case in the history of the internet that an app closes down because its founder committed suicide, and that the reason for the suicide is a malicious wife who basically killed him,” ‘Brother News’ (新闻哥), a popular WeChat account, wrote on September 11.

The death of Beijing IT entrepreneur Su Xiangmao (苏享茂), aged 37, indeed has gotten everybody talking on Chinese social media over the past days, making headlines in hundreds of newspapers in mainland China and Taiwan.

It is the dramatic narrative behind the tragedy that has captured Chinese netizens – especially because a large part of this story takes place online.

Su’s suicide note, in which he says his 29-year-old ex-wife blackmailed him into paying her 10 million RMB (±1.5 million US$), was placed on Chinese social media right before his death with her personal details, along with an app notification which also sent users his ex-wife’s phone number.

A suicide note and online revenge

Su Xiangmao is known as the founder of the well-known WePhone software, a Skype-like app that allows users to make phone calls and send text messages to other WePhone users for free. Su Xiangmao jumped to his death from the balcony of his apartment in the early morning of September 7.

Well-known app WePhone.

Shortly before his death, Su published his suicide note on social media which revealed his grievance about the nasty divorce between him and his ex-wife Zhai Xinxin (翟欣欣).

Suicide note placed WePhone founder Su Xiangmao on social media.

See full translation of suicide note here

In his online suicide note, Su says that he had met Zhai through dating site Jiayuan.com and was only briefly married to her when she suddenly changed in behavior. The pair agreed to divorce, which is when the situation turned bitter, the note says.

Zhai allegedly blackmailed Su into paying her over a million dollars and leaving his home in Sanya to her. She intimidated and harassed him, and threatened to take his app offline through her uncle, an influential government official. The situation eventually left Su so exhausted that he decided to sign the divorce papers, losing all of his capital.

In the suicide note, Su says it is “vicious woman” Zhai who actually killed him. He ends the public note with her home address, phone number, and office address.

A notification sent to users of WePhone.

An app notification sent to all users of WePhone said: “The owner of this company is killed by his evil wife Zhai Xinxin [phone number]. WePhone is suspending its services!”

In search of the truth

In the aftermath of the suicide, online discussions continue to play an important role in the search for the truth about what happened to Su, and whether or not Zhai is legally guilty of extortion, with various friends or witnesses coming forward through online media.

Reports by netizens about the case are flooding social media under hashtags such as “Suicide of WePhone Founder”(#wephone创始人自杀). Generally, ex-wife Zhai is seen as the culprit who terrorized Su to such an extent that he eventually saw suicide as his only way out. Some say Zhai even is a professional scammer who received large sums of money from two previous marriages.

Family members of Su have confirmed to Chinese media that in the hours preceding Su’s suicide, he received numerous text messages from Zhai with insults and threats, saying he needed to give her money or else she would report his “illegal income” or “grey business” to the police and make sure he would end up in jail. Screenshots of these messages have been leaked online.

They also say that during the time they were married, Su spent no less than 13 million yuan (nearly 2M$) on Zhai in buying her a house and a Tesla car.

Su Xiangmao and ex-wife Zhai Xixi.

But there are also others, including former classmates of Zhai, who say Zhai was a top student at a prestigious Beijing university and that she is now an ambitious career woman who has no reason to scam others for money.

On September 12, Zhai’s uncle Liu Kejian also stated that he had no part in any situation involving Mr. Su, and that he had never even met him.

And to what extent can the dating site where Su and Zhai met, Jiayuan.com, be held accountable for this tragedy, some wonder. Jiayuan is an online dating platform meant for people who are looking to get married. If Zhai had indeed married twice before and is a professional scammer, then the site should have known this and should have deleted her from their database, according to some netizens’ views.

Jiayuan issued a statement regarding the case, saying the couple were its VIP members. The dating site also said it will assist in any police investigation into Su’s death.

“A second Ma Rong”

To some extent, the WePhone founder case resembles the 2016 divorce case of Wang Baoqiang and Ma Rong. Uncoincidentally, many netizens on Weibo refer to Su’s ex-wife as “a second Ma Rong.”

Ma Rong became the most-hated woman on Chinese social media in 2016 when she cheated on her husband Wang Baoqiang, a popular film star, and later sued him for defamation of character. Many called the young Ma Rong a ‘golddigger’ who only married Wang for his money.

Wang Baoqiang and Ma Rong.

Similar to the current WePhone case, Chinese social media played an important role as the marriage crisis between Wang and his wife unfolded within a matter of days after Wang placed a public message on Weibo accusing his wife of cheating with his agent and announcing the divorce.

The divorce papers that allegedly drove Su to commit suicide.

With every piece of news coming out on the Wang divorce drama, netizens jumped right on it to vent their opinion or to scold Ma Rong. As now, netizens turned into private detectives on the matter, inspecting old photos for clues that Ma Rong was indeed having an affair before or finding out her address and number and publishing them online, along with dozens of other official papers or screenshots serving as evidence in the case.

On September 12, a new website was set up by Chinese netizens (zhaixinxin.com), fully dedicated to the WePhone case and exposing the alleged lies by Zhai.

As with the Ma Rong story, it is probable that this case is not a “today’s newspaper is tomorrow’s fish and chip paper” case; with new facts popping up, the case will inescapably become the trending topic of the day again until netizens are satisfied with the answers they have found.

As one netizen (@猎头老王V) says: “I want to know how the country will deal with the Zhai Xixi case. We need answers so Su Xiangmao can rest in peace.”

By Manya Koetse

Thanks to contributors Sidney Wu & Miranda Barnes


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

©2017 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Kenny

    September 15, 2017 at 1:00 am

    http://tech.ifeng.com/a/20170911/44679039_0.shtml
    the above news site (chinese) provide a few photos allegedly the receipt records (in chinese yuan) of his wife, pretty insane if you ask me, according to some other photos allegedly known as their chat history posted by Su Xiangmao on his own weibo/google+, he’s a pretty honest guy who lend her enormous financial support while the wife is just the definition of being venomous without a bottom line. According to the chat history, he notably killed himself because his stock has fallen 20% and wife still demands about $2million USD (compensation for spiritual damages of divorce and all the properties she bought in Sanya,Hainan Island) in a voice threatening to get him imprisoned if not complied. I heard the guy also had history of being fined by the government for operating WePhone under the gray zone of Chinese Law, and this is still the case before his suicide so that’s another allegation his wife can use to gain advantage against him. Meanwhile his entire self-declared net worth was just about $1,006,849 USD, Di Xinxin(wife) also forces him to comply with her long-term payment contract of 2 million with the threat of using her strong family relationship in the local police station (her uncle known as the head of public security court) to get him imprisoned…
    So much pressure to take for an honest guy, a guy who was willing to let his wife spend millions of USD without a single concern, finally couldn’t take it all… depressing story.

  2. eru

    September 28, 2017 at 5:09 pm

    He deserved that, that app is a fking defraud platform(been reported by many countries). I sympathize this woman cuz she’s being under cyber abused (which is Su had planned and incited) in China, a fking gross man chauvinist country.

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China Digital

Uh Oh, IP: Chinese Social Media Platforms Now Display Users’ Geolocation

From Weibo to Zhihu, Chinese social media platforms now display netizens’ geolocation to ensure a ‘healthy online environment.’

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Over the past few days, Chinese social media platforms have started to introduce a new function that displays the IP location of online commenters.

Weibo was the first platform to introduce the function on Thursday – the topic also became top trending on April 28 – and social media platforms Douyin, Toutiao, Xiaohongshu and others followed later. Zhihu announced the measure on April 30 (#知乎宣布全面上线显示用户IP属地#).

Weibo has experimented with the function since March 22 of this year before completely rolling it out on April 28. Whenever users post a reply or comment to a thread, their Internet Protocol (IP) address location will be displayed underneath their comment, right next to the post date and time information. The location will also be displayed on the personal account page of Weibo users.

According to Sina Weibo, the function was introduced to ensure a “healthy and orderly discussion atmosphere” on the platform and to reduce the spread of fake news and invidious rumors by people pretending to be part of an issue or city that they are actually not part of. To keep online discussions “authentic and transparent,” social media users’ specific region, city, province, or country will show up below their names. The function can not be turned off by users.

‘Refuting rumors’ is a priority for Weibo management and has only become more relevant during the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak in China and the recent Shanghai outbreak.

On Saturday, the hashtag “What Does It Mean That Platforms Are Unrolling the IP Function?” (#平台开放IP属地功能意味着什么#) was trending on Weibo, attracting over 170 million views.

The new measure has attracted mixed reactions on Chinese social media, where some users think it is useful that you can now discern users located abroad from those who are based in China, making it easier to draw conclusions on what is really going on in society (you can now spot trends that are particularly taking place within one region) and what is merely taking place in cyberspace.

But there are many users who think the new function is just another layer of control and does not really help to combat fake news or malicious rumors, since the IP location could actually still be changed.

Although the entire idea of displaying the IP location is to minimize the gap between cyberspace and reality based on one’s location, the location is merely the geographic location of the internet from the connected device and does not always correspond with the actual location of the social media user.

Once a person is connected to a Virtual Private Network (VPN), for example, internet traffic is sent through a server in another location, and the IP address will be replaced by the IP address of the VPN server in a different location from people’s actual address.

Some Weibo account are also not run by the persons themselves but by a social media or marketing company.

In this way, Bill Gates unexpectedly turned out to be located in Henan province, and Lionel Messi’s location showed up as Shanghai.

Others think that the new rule will only lead to more online polarization and self-censorship: “Who made this unsettling decision?! From now on, Chinese nationals who are studying or living abroad will be extra extra careful in what they write, otherwise, they’ll be labeled as ‘foreign forces.'”

Some people joked about the new function revealing their location, writing: “It made me so embarrassed. I’m pretending to be studying in the UK, while I’m actually in the mountains feeding the pigs.” Others were also surprised that their IP location was completely different from the place where they are actually living: “Weibo, what are you doing? I’ve never even been to Jilin,” one commenter wrote.

According to an online poll held by Fengmian News, 56% of the participants (nearly 300,000 at time of writing) said they supported the new function. 21% did not like the function, 17% said they did not care, and 6% were just curious to see their own IP location and if it matches their actual location.

“I’m gonna go and delete my more extreme comments,” one person wrote: “I don’t wanna give my hometown a bad reputation.”

Global Times commentator Hu Xijin (胡锡进) also gave his views on the new measure, saying that people’s viewpoints and values will always be more important than where they come from, and that all friends of China matter, no matter where they are based. However, he argued, it is also good to know where those who openly express anti-Chinese sentiments come from, exposing those ‘evil foreign force’ who are trying to disrupt social cohesion within the country.

Noteworthy enough, Hu Xijin’s own IP location was not displayed on his Weibo account, as some celebrities seem to have been excluded from this measure or can decide themselves whether or not they would like to display their IP location or not.

One Weibo user wrote: “Twitter can follow its own regulations in banning Trump, while Weibo can transcend its own regulations and not show Hu Xijin’s IP location.”

For recent articles Covid-19 topics on Chinese social media, check here.

By Manya Koetse

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©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China and Covid19

‘Voices of April’: The Day After

“The best way to make videos go viral is by censoring them.”

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On April 23, a day after the video ‘Voices of April’ briefly took over social media before it was censored, the trending topic of the day is a hashtag related to new Covid cases reported in Shanghai.

Shanghai reported higher Covid-19 cases and deaths on Friday than the five days prior, which showed a daily decline in new cases. Shanghai reported a total of 23,370 new cases (including 20,634 asymptomatic ones), the municipal health commission said Saturday. A related hashtag by Xinhua News received over 910 million views on Weibo on Saturday (#上海新增本土确诊2736例无症状20634例#).

Although the hashtag was initiated by state media to inform about the Shanghai Covid situation, netizens started using it to criticize Shanghai’s handling of the crisis, with more commenters questioning China’s zero-Covid strategy. Similarly, other state media-initiated hashtag places also became online spaces where Weibo users vented their frustrations earlier this month.

Besides the ongoing online criticism and vocal disagreement with China’s Covid handling and policies, there are also many who express shock at the recent crackdown of any form of protest or criticism regarding the situation in Shanghai.

“‘Voices of April’ has been shutdown all over the internet, I’m simply dumbfounded,” one person said about the popular video that contained real recordings of events that happened during the city’s lockdown.

“If you still can find the video anywhere, forward it,” another person writes.

Besides Voices of April (四月之声), there have also been other videos over the past week that are meant to expose the mishandling of the Covid situation in Shanghai.

One of them is titled Farewell, Language (再见语言), another one is Shanghai Late Spring (上海晚春).

Farewell, Language (再见语言) is a 42-second sound art video by artist Yang Xiao (杨潇), who used over 600 commonly used propaganda phrases from Chinese official channels and randomly broadcasted the audio in the community where he lives.

The anti-epidemic workers just continue their work and do not seem to notice anything out of the ordinary at all. The video shows how this kind of language has been so normalized that for most, it has just become background noise in their everyday life – without even noticing nor critically assessing its meaning or logic anymore.

The Shanghai Late Spring (上海晚春) video is a compilation of video footage from the Shanghai lockdown, showing people struggling to get food, violent altercations between anti-epidemic workers and residents, people living in deplorable conditions in quarantine centers, and more (link to video).

The video uses the song Cheer Up London by Slaves, its chorus being:

You’re dead, already, dead, dead, already-ready
Dead, already, dead, dead, already-ready
Dead, already, dead, dead, already-ready
Dead, already, dead
.”

One Weibo commenter responded to the video in English, using a text from Les Misérables: “Do you hear the people sing / Singing the song of angry men / It is the music of a people / Who will not be slaves again!” The phrase “do you hear the people sing” was also used by other social media users to address the situation in Shanghai and the censorship of related topics.

“The best way to make videos go viral is by censoring them,” one commenter replied.

Read our previous article about ‘Voices of April’ here.

For more articles on the Covid-19 topics on Chinese social media, check here.

By Manya Koetse, with contributions by Miranda Barnes

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our weekly newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

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.

©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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