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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 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. 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 and Covid19

Video Shows Real-Time “Departure” Information Board at Chinese Crematorium

From “cremation in process” to “cooling down,” the digital display shows the progress of the cremation to provide information to those waiting in the lobby. The crematorium ‘departure’ board strikes a chord with many.

Manya Koetse

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A video showing a live display screen announcing the names and status of the deceased at a Yunnan crematorium has been making its rounds on Chinese social media, from WeChat to Weibo, where one version of the video received over 1,7 million views.

Somewhat similar to a real-time platform departure display on train stations, the screen shows the waiting number of the deceased person, their name, gender, the name of the lounge/room (if any) for families, the name of the crematorium chamber, and the status of the cremation process. Below in the screen, it says “the final journey of a warm life” (温暖人生的最后旅程).

For example, the screen displays the names of a Mr. Chen and a Mr. Li; their bodies were in the process of being cremated (火化中), while other cremations were marked as “completed” (完成) or “cooling down” (降温中).

Through such a screen, located in the crematorium lobby, family members and loved ones can learn about the progress of the cremation of the deceased.

The video, recorded by a local on Jan. 7, received many comments. Among them, some people commented on the information board itself, while others simply expressed grief over those who died and the fragility of life. Many felt the display was confronting and it made them emotional.

“It makes me really sad that this how people’s lives end,” one commenter said, with another person replying that the display also shows you still need to wait in line even when you’re dead.

“I didn’t expect the screens [in the crematorium] to be like those in hospitals, where patients are waiting for their turn,” another Weibo user wrote. “It would be better if the names were hidden, like in the hospitals, to protect the privacy of the deceased,” another person replied.

Others shared their own experiences at funeral parlors also using such information screens.

Another ‘departure display’ at a Chinese crematorium, image shared by Weibo user.

“My grandfather passed away last September, and when we were at the undertaker’s, the display was also jumping from one name to the other and we could only comfort ourselves knowing that he was among those who lived a relatively long life.”

“Such a screen, it really makes me sad,” another commenter from Guangxi wrote, with others writing: “It’s distressing technology.”

Although the information screen at the crematorium is a novelty for many commenters, the phenomenon itself is not necessarily related to the Covid outbreak and the number of Covid-related deaths; some people share how they have seen them in crematoriums before, and funeral parlor businesses have used them to provide information to families since at least 2018.

According to an article published by Sohu News, more people – especially younger ones – have visited a funeral home for the first time in their lives recently due to the current Covid wave, also making it the first time for them to come across such a digital display.

The online video of such an information board has made an impact at a time when crematoriums are crowded and families report waiting for days to bury or cremate their loved ones, with especially a large number of elderly people dying due to Covid.

On Jan. 4, one social media user from Liaoning wrote:

I really suggest that the experts go to the crematoriums to take a look. There is no place to put the deceased, they’re parked outside in temporary containers, there’s no time left to hold a farewell ceremony and you can only directly cremate, and for those who were able to have a ceremony, they need to finish within ten minutes (..) At the funeral parlor’s big screen, there were eight names on every page, and there were ten pages for all the people in line that day, I stood there for half an hour and didn’t see the name of the person I was waiting for pop up anymore.”

As the video of the display in the crematorium travels around the internet, many commenters suggest that it is not necessarily the real-time ‘departure’ board itself that bothers them, but how it shows the harsh reality of death by listing the names of the deceased and their cremation status behind it. Perhaps it is the contrast between the technology of the digital display boards and the reality of the human vulnerability that it represents that strikes a chord with people.

One blogger who reposted the video on Jan. 13 wrote: “Life is short, cherish the present, let’s cherish what we have and love yourself, love your family, and love this world.” Among dozens of replies, some indicate that the video makes them feel uncomfortable.

Another commenter also wrote:

I just saw a video that showed an electronic display at a crematorium, rolling out the names of the deceased and the stage of the cremation. One name represents the ending of a life. And it just hit me, and my tears started flowing. I’m afraid of parting, I’m afraid of loss, I just want the people I love and who love me to stay by my side forever. I don’t want to leave. I’m afraid I’ll be alone one day, and that nobody will ever make me feel warm again.”

One person captured why the information board perhaps causes such unease: “The final moments that people still spent on this earth take place on the electronic screen in the memorial hall of the funeral home. Then, they are gone without a sound.”

 

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By Manya Koetse 
with contributions by Zilan Qian

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©2023 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Digital

Sheep a Sheep: The Game that Mysteriously Took China by Storm in 2022

One poll on ‘Sheep a Sheep’ found that over 90% of participants either “could not understand” the game’s popularity or played it because they were just “following the trend.”

Zilan Qian

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Sheep a Sheep was the game hit of the year in China. But looking back, people struggle to understand how the simple game actually became such a success in the first place.

It was the game that everybody suddenly was talking about in 2022: Sheep a Sheep (Yang le ge Yang 羊了个羊), a mobile game that was mainly played through Chinese social apps such as WeChat, Tik Tok, QQ, and Kuaishou.

Sheep a Sheep is a tile-matching puzzle game produced by the Beijing Jianyou Technology company (北京简游科技公司) and it was officially released in June 2022.

In the game, players are supposed to move cards from the top of a pile to a box at the bottom. The box can hold up to seven cards, which can be deleted when three matching cards are collected.

Players can’t see the types of cards under the top cards, nor move them until they move them to the box. The goal is to remove all cards from the pile, but the game is lost if the box reaches its maximum capacity and no more cards can be removed. Players can earn additional chances to play the game by watching advertisements or sharing it on social media.

There are three tools to use for each round. The moving tool (移除道具) allows players to move three cards out of the box and place them aside, which they can later move in if the opportunity of deleting the cards comes; the revoking tool (撤回道具) revokes the most recent move; the shuffling tool (洗牌道具) shuffles all unmoved cards in the card pile so that some new cards appear on the top for players to move. These tools can be used to help players strategize and increase their chances of success in the game.

Although Sheep a Sheep appears to have no significant difference compared to other similar tile-matching puzzle games, it gained widespread popularity in China in the fall of 2022.

According to Weibo, until September 27, the hashtag ‘Sheep a Sheep’ (#羊了个羊#) had over 693,000 related messages and triggered nearly 180 million interactions. The Weibo article described how Sheep a Sheep had already managed to become the number one top trending topic six times before late September. At the time of writing, the game hashtag has attracted nearly 3,5 billion views on Weibo.

Why did such a simple game become a mega hit in China? It seems that Chinese gamers and social media users also find it hard to explain the Sheep a Sheep phenomenon themselves.

One poll conducted by China Youth Daily (中国青年报) in September found that over 90% of the 6,000 participants either “could not understand” the game’s popularity or played it because they were just “following the trend (跟风).”

Nevertheless, there is plenty of speculation about why Sheep a Sheep became such a smashing hit.

A first thought that might come up is that the game is related to China’s epidemic situation. After all, those who test positive for Covid are also referred to as ‘sheep’ since the word for ‘positive’ and ‘sheep’ sound the same in Chinese (羊/阳 yáng). Sixth Tone recently noted how the game came to be embedded with a new meaning in light of the rising number of positive cases in China.

There are also those who think the boredom of the lockdown in China’s zero Covid era, when so many people stayed indoors and were more active on social media, might have contributed to the craze.

Another possible explanation, according to a comment on Zhihu by user Crepuscle, is the economic stagnation in China due to the country’s zero Covid policy, which brought many companies to a a (temporary) standstill. This led to more employees having time to loaf on the job, watch TikTok videos, and play mobile games.

Others, however, point to how the game is designed. One unique aspect of the game is that it starts off easy and that the difficulty level suddenly increases in the second round to a point where only a very small percentage of players (less than 0.1%) are able to pass it. Some netizens commented that while the first round “teaches you 1+1=2,” the second round suddenly gives you “a hell-level graduate exam.”

One Zhihu user called it a “carrot approach.” They wrote: “The easiness of the first round entices you to play the game. When you begin the second round, the first part also seems easy. So when you fail in the second round, you think it is just a matter of luck, and that you just need a few more tries. You need to share the game on social media to get more tries, and the viral spread begins.”

Some also point out that the province-based competition aspect incorporated into the game makes Sheep a Sheep more attractive. When a player passes the second round, they will add an additional sheep to their province, and provinces are ranked based on how many sheep they have.

One video on Bilibili compiled the rankings of each province, with Shangdong province at the top, followed by Beijing, Guangdong, and Henan.

The top comment under the video explained how the province-based rankings initially become an incentive for players: “The first day [I played the game], I wanted to help my province to get to the top to show how good we are.”

However, sentiments soon changed. The Bilibili user then writes: “The second day, I only wanted to make my province disappear on the rankings. Otherwise, it shows that we [people from this province] are stupid.” The second sentence reveals that people started to associate Sheep a Sheep with a negative image, something which is also echoed by other comments under the same video, such as “which province has the laziest people,” “meaningless game,” and “it is a shame that Guangdong is in the top 3, people should spend more time on high-quality games.”

Provinces are ranked based on how many sheep they have (i.e., how many users in the province have passed the second round) (source).

The game’s simple design makes it approachable to the general public and facilitated its rapid spread across the country. However, as the previous comments show, the simplicity of Sheep a Sheep also backfired as players felt it made them look ‘stupid’ or lazy for playing it.

Moreover, many people started criticizing the game company for earning too much money, feeling that they themselves were actually the ‘sheep’ that were getting their wool pulled for the game company’s benefit (“薅羊毛” means ‘pulling the wool’ and refers to one party taking advantage over the other and gaining profits).

As one Bilibili user writes: “The game producer now bought two houses and already fully payed for them, while we’ve been getting our wool pulled for watching all those ads.” Others also accused the game of plagiarizing the design and background music.

Just before the end of the year, at a time when discussions around Sheep a Sheep seemed to die out, another discussion flared up on social media around the game’s creator Zhang Jiaxu (张佳旭), as he gave an interview in which he reflected on the game’s success and how he had never dared to dream of achieving such record-breaking numbers.

Nevertheless, many people have grown tired of the game. “We are dealing with our own sheep now,” some commented, making a word joke on how so many people are now testing positive for Covid. Another Weibo user joked: “It’s game over now.”

By Zilan Qian

 

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