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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.

Manya Koetse

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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 editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    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. Avatar

    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

WeChat’s New Emoji Are Here (Including a Watermelon-Eating and Doge One)

WeChat’s new emoji are based on popular memes.

Manya Koetse

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On January 14, Tencent’s Wechat introduced new emoji to its existing emoji set. The new emoji include, among others, a watermelon-eating emoji and a smiling Shiba Inu.

On Weibo, the new emoji have become a topic of discussion under the hashtags “WeChat’s New Emoji” (#微信上线新表情#), “WeChat’s Watermelon Eating Emoji” (#微信上线吃瓜表情#), and “WeChat’s Dog Emoji” (#微信上线狗头表情#).

Different from the Unicode emoji (see Emojipedia), WeChat and Weibo have their own sets of emoji, although there is overlap.

The reason why especially the watermelon-eating and dog emoji are being discussed on social media, is because these emoji are based on popular internet memes.

“Eating watermelon” (吃瓜 chī guā) is an online expression that comes from “watermelon-eating masses” (吃瓜群众 chī guā qúnzhòng), which describes a common mentality of Internet users who have no idea what is actually going on but are still commenting or following online stories for their enjoyment – perhaps comparable to the “popcorn memes” that are ubiquitous on Western social media platforms.

The smiling dog has been around since 2013 and is known as the doge meme, based on a photo of a Shiba inu. The meme was originally spread on social media platforms such as Reddit, but then also became hugely popular in China, where it became a symbol of sarcasm (also read this Abacus article on this topic).

Other new emoji are the “wow” emoji, and others to express “ok,” “add oil,” “emm,” “oh!”

There’s also a “shehui shehui” (社会社会, lit. “society society”) emoji, which also comes from online culture and is a way among friends to (self-mockingly) talk about being ‘gangsters,’ ‘brothers.’ or ‘scoundrels.’

As the new emoji are still in their testing phase, not all WeChat users can use the new emoji yet, so you might have to wait a bit before being able to try them out.

By Manya Koetse, with thanks to @caaatchina
Follow @whatsonweibo

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©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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Backgrounder

‘Good Doctor’, Digital Hospitals: How Mobile Apps Are Alleviating China’s Healthcare Problems

With the rapid digitalization of China’s healthcare, Chinese patients now have more ways than one to receive medical assistance.

Manya Koetse

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China’s healthcare industry is facing some serious challenges. As Chinese society is rapidly digitalizing, mobile apps now provide innovative solutions to alleviate pressing problems in the country’s health services sector.

 
This is the “WE…WEI…WHAT?” column by Manya Koetse, originally published in German by Goethe Institut China on Goethe.de: “Good-Doctor Apps und Digitale Krankenhäuser.” 
 

Social Credit System, artificial intelligence, surveillance cameras; these are some of the hottest topics making headlines in mainstream Western media when discussing China-related developments recently.

With the rapid digitalization of Chinese society, these topics certainly have come to play a more important role in social media discussions within the People’s Republic of China (PRC). But if there is one issue that seems to concern Chinese social media users the most, it is not facial recognition nor their ‘Sesame score’: it is the topic of healthcare.

In December of 2017, a photo showing a crying mother kneeling down beside a toddler on the sidewalk in front of a Shanghai hospital went viral overnight. The moment was captured on camera by a reporter who was visiting Shanghai’s Children’s Hospital.

The photo of Guo Yinzhen and her son that went viral in China (image via NetEase, source: https://3g.163.com).

The mother, Guo Yinzhen, is a single parent who had traveled from a remote village to seek medical help for her 3-old-son, who was suffering from congenital hydrocephalus or ‘water on the brain.’ Already having traveled to the city multiple times and spending all her money on medical bills, Guo could not afford the additional 100.000 yuan (€ 12.600) for medical procedures needed to save her son’s life.

Guo’s story struck a chord with Chinese netizens, who continue to share the heartbreaking photo on social media to this day. It has become emblematic of China’s healthcare problems.

 

Crowded Hospitals and ‘Healthcare Disturbance’

 

The key to an adequate healthcare system, no matter where in the world, is that there is a right balancing in the “iron triangle” of efficiency/cost containment, high quality care, and patient access.[1] China, however, struggles with all three sides of this triangle.

Guo’s case is an extreme example, but many people in China dealing with less serious health issues and needing basic medical services also struggle to afford and access the healthcare they need.

Over 95% of people in China have health insurance, but people from different regions do not enjoy the same benefits and their out-of-pocket expenses can vary greatly. Uncovered medical costs can sometimes be catastrophic and simply unaffordable for patients and their families.

As more money flows are going to healthcare facilities in China’s cities, there is also the issue of varying levels of providers’ medical education and the overall healthcare quality, with the substantial majority of modern hospitals still existing in urban areas.

Easy access to the right kind of healthcare can be especially problematic for China’s rural population, as people often need to travel long distances and have to go through the lengthy process of registering and waiting for their doctor’s appointment, which sometimes requires them to stay in the city overnight.

For all of these reasons, China’s bigger public hospitals can get super crowded, sometimes resembling shopping malls on an end-of-season sales day. On social media, both patients and medical workers often complain about the stress brought about by the huge crowds and the shortage of doctors in hospitals across the country.

Perhaps it is no wonder that China even has a word to describe outbursts of violence between patients and doctors: ‘Yī nào’ (医闹, literally: “healthcare disturbance”).

Weibo user ‘Sunscreen’ complains about the crowds at Huashan Hospital.

One major problem within China’s healthcare conundrum is the lack of local family or primary-care doctors, which often makes bigger hospitals the first stop to any kind of medical treatment for Chinese patients.

The reasons for this issue are manifold. There is a general lack of trust in private and smaller local healthcare clinics, for example, and patients often choose to go directly to a bigger hospital to avoid making extra costs.

This makes it extra difficult for many community health care centers – that are already struggling – to make enough money and to retain qualified staff. In a society that is rapidly aging, the challenges facing China’s healthcare industry are only becoming more pressing.

 

A Doctor Today, Just an App Away

 

As China’s online environment is thriving, new innovative online apps are popping up on a daily basis. Some of these apps, that have found their ways into China’s most popular app rankings, are offering solutions to some of the country’s most pressing healthcare problems.

One of these apps is Ping’an Good Doctor (平安好医生), which was developed by health insurance provider Ping’an in 2015 and calls itself China’s “one-stop healthcare ecosystem.”

“Ping’an Good Doctor” promotional image by Ping’an.

Employing some 1000 medical staff in its in-house team, contracting over 5,200 external doctors, and collaborating with 3000 hospitals and thousands of pharmacy outlets across the country, the app is somewhat of an “online hospital.”

Through the app, users can look through an online database of medical professionals, order medicine at nearby pharmacies, get 24/7 online medical consultancy, search for information about both Western and Chinese Traditional Medicine, etc., but they can also use Ping’an Good Doctor as a fitness app to track their own health.

Screenshot of Ping’an app screen, by author.

When looking for a specific doctor for a one-on-one consult, the app first lets users select an area of expertise (e.g. dermatology or gynecology), and then offers a list of different specialists in various price categories.

Doctors from well-known hospitals, for example, or those with excellent ratings, have a one-time consultation fee of 100 yuan (€ 12,60). Other doctors can be consulted starting from 30 yuan (€3,70). All costs can be paid efficiently via online payment apps.

Doctors to pick from within the app’s various price categories.

Ping’an Good Doctor uses an AI-driven system to ask patients various questions about their symptoms and to automatically create a user’s medical record to save time. Based on the AI-generated record and the conversation with the patients – files such as photos can also be uploaded to the app -, the doctors can prescribe medicine or refer the patient to a hospital for an offline appointment if needed.

Ping’an recently announced that its number of registered users exceeded 300 million users, with 62 million monthly active users. Because the app keeps building on its AI-driven system, Ping’an Good Doctor can be expected to only become a ‘smarter’ smart health app the more popular it gets.

Although Ping’an is now leading within China’s medical app category, there are many other apps providing similar services, such as Chunyu Yisheng (春雨医生), Haodafu Online (好大夫在线), or DingXiang Doctor (丁香医生).

The emergence of these apps is just one of the many ways in which China’s digital developments, online media, and tech giants are impacting the healthcare industry, profoundly changing how patients receive healthcare information and access medical services now and in the future.

List of recommended medical apps in the Tencent app store.

In a way, China’s medical consultation apps fill the void in offline primary care. Patients who would otherwise turn to hospital care as their first stop can now  access medical consultations any time, any day, at a relatively low cost. Those who suffer from relatively harmless conditions could be diagnosed by a medical specialist via the app and get the medicine they need within a matter of minutes. With the growing popularity of these kinds of apps, many patients no longer need to visit a hospital at all.

Are smart health apps such as Ping’an Good Doctor the solution to China’s healthcare problems? No, they’re not. Struggling mums like Guo Yinzhen will not find the help they need there. But they do contribute to a more efficient healthcare environment where crowd flows in hospitals can be reduced, and patients do not need to spend a lot of time and money to stand in hour-long queues to get five minutes of their doctor’s time.

Although smart health apps could not help Guo Yinzhen and her son, social media apps could. As soon as their story went viral in late 2017, Shanghai Children’s Welfare Foundation Xiaoxingxin offered to cover medical treatments for the little boy, with a notable pediatric neurosurgeon operating the child. According to the latest updates, the boy’s situation was “looking good.”

Hopefully, the same holds true for the challenging sides of China’s healthcare industry.

By Manya Koetse
Follow @whatsonweibo

[1] Burns & Liu, 2017: 3-4.

References/Linked Sources

Burns, Lawton Robert, and Gordon G. Liu. 2017. “Introduction.” In China’s Healthcare Industry: A System Perspective, Lawton Robert Burns and Gordon G. Liu (eds), pp-1-116. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Economist, 2017. “China needs many more primary-care doctors.” The Economist, May 11 https://www.economist.com/china/2017/05/11/china-needs-many-more-primary-care-doctors [20.10.19].

Zhou, Viola. 2018. “Does China Have Universal Healthcare? A Long (And Better) Answer.” Inkstone, Oct 10 https://www.inkstonenews.com/health/china-translated-does-china-have-universal-health-care/article/2167579

This text was first published by Goethe-Institut China under a CC-BY-NC-ND-4.0-DE license (Creative Commons) as part of a monthly column in collaboration with What’s On Weibo.

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