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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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About Lipstick King’s Comeback and His ‘Mysterious’ Disappearance

After Li Jiaqi’s return to livestreaming, the ‘tank cake incident’ has become the elephant in the room on social media.

Manya Koetse

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Earlier this week, the return of China’s famous livestreamer Li Jiaqi, also known as the ‘Lipstick King’, became a hot topic on Chinese social media where his three-month ‘disappearance’ from the social commerce scene triggered online discussions.

He is known as Austin Li, Lipstick King, or Lipstick Brother, but most of all he is known as one of China’s most successful e-commerce livestreaming hosts.

After being offline for over 100 days, Li Jiaqi (李佳琦) finally came back and did a livestreaming session on September 20th, attracting over 60 million viewers and selling over $17 million in products.

The 30-year-old beauty influencer, a former L’Oreal beauty consultant, rose to fame in 2017 after he became a successful livestreamer focusing on lipstick and other beauty products.

Li broke several records during his live streaming career. In 2018, he broke the Guinness World Record for “the most lipstick applications in 30 seconds.” He once sold 15000 lipsticks in 5 minutes, and also managed to apply 380 different lipsticks in another seven-hour live stream session. Li made international headlines in 2021 when he sold $1.9 billion in goods during a 12-hour-long promotion livestream for Alibaba’s shopping festival.

But during a Taobao livestream on June 3rd of this year, something peculiar happened. After Li Jiaqi and his co-host introduced an interestingly shaped chocolate cake – which seemed to resemble a tank, – a male assistant in the back mentioned something about the sound of shooting coming from a tank (“坦克突突”).

Although Li Jiaqi and the others laughed about the comment, Li also seemed a bit unsure and the woman next to him then said: “Stay tuned for 23:00 to see if Li Jiaqi and I will still be in this position.”

The session then suddenly stopped, and at 23:38 that night Li wrote on Weibo that the channel was experiencing some “technical problems.”

But those “technical problems” lasted, and Li did not come back. His June 3rd post about the technical problems would be the last one on his Weibo account for the months to come.

The ‘cake tank incident’ (坦克蛋糕事件) occurred on the night before June 4, the 33rd anniversary of the violent crackdown of the Tiananmen student demonstrations. The iconic image of the so-called ‘tank man‘ blocking the tanks at Tiananmen has become world famous and is censored on China’s internet. The control of information flows is especially strict before and on June 4, making Li’s ‘tank cake incident’ all the more controversial.

But no official media nor the official Li Jiaqi accounts acknowledged the tank cake incident, and his absence remained unexplained. Meanwhile, there was a silent acknowledgment among netizens that the reason Li was not coming online anymore was related to the ‘tank cake incident.’

During Li’s long hiatus, fans flocked to his Weibo page where they left thousands of messages.

“I’m afraid people have been plotting against you,” many commenters wrote, suggesting that the cake was deliberately introduced by someone else during the livestream as a way to commemorate June 4.

Many fans also expressed their appreciation of Li, saying how watching his streams helped them cope with depression or cheered them up during hard times. “What would we do without you?” some wrote. Even after 80 days without Li Jiaqi’s livestreams, people still commented: “I am waiting for you every day.”

On September 21st, Li Jiaqi finally – and somewhat quietly – returned and some people said they were moved to see their lipstick hero return to the livestream scene.

Although many were overjoyed with Li’s return, it also triggered more conversations on why he had disappeared and what happened to him during the 3+ months of absence. “He talked about a sensitive topic,” one commenter said when a Weibo user asked about Li’s disappearance.

One self-media accountpublished a video titled “Li Jiaqi has returned.” The voiceover repeatedly asks why Li would have disappeared and even speculates about what might have caused it, without once mentioning the tank cake.

“This cracks me up,” one commenter wrote: “On the outside we all know what’s going on, on the inside there’s no information whatsoever.”

“It’s tacit mutual understanding,” some wrote. “It’s the elephant in the room,” others said.

Some people, however, did not care about discussing Li’s disappearance at all anymore and just expressed joy about seeing him again: “It’s like seeing a good friend after being apart for a long time.”

By Manya Koetse 

Elements in the featured image by @karishea and @kaffeebart.

 

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“I Decided Not To Learn English Anymore” Video Goes Viral on Chinese Social Media

“The ‘not learning English anymore’ part actually means she is no longer pursuing the cultural identity behind the language.”

Manya Koetse

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A video in which a Chinese Harvard student shares how she wants to “stop trying to learn English” has gone viral on Chinese social media. While some blame the student for flaunting her privilege, others said the video actually inspires them to study more English.

“Today is September 1st, 2022. The 20th anniversary of me learning English. And I finally decided not to learn it anymore.” This is the beginning of a 7-minute video posted on social media by the Chinese vlogger ‘Tatala’ (@他塔拉).

The video, which Tatala says was submitted as an assignment for a Harvard course on Language & Equality, received over 122,000 likes and the hashtag “When You Decide Not to Learn English Anymore” (#当你决定以后不学英语#) garnered over 110 million views on Weibo over the past few days.

Although the 24-year-old vlogger is critical of how she is perceived as a Chinese non-native English speaker – claiming she will ‘stop trying’ to learn the language, – she is receiving a lot of backlash from netizens who say she is unaware of her own privilege.

In the video, Tatala says she has always been a good student of English, but that she has never been satisfied throughout her language-learning journey. In the video, she gives multiple examples of how her confidence was affected during the process of studying English.

 

“I have my name, in my language, that you didn’t even try to enunciate.”

 

In primary school, Tatala says, her American teacher randomly gave her the name ‘Wency’, which she found hard to pronounce due to the northern Chinese dialect she grew up speaking. She ended up pronouncing ‘Wency’ as ‘Vency’, after which her teacher corrected her again and again: “You are not Vency. You are Wency!” Tatala says: “But he never realized that I was not even Wency. I have my name, in my language, that you didn’t even try to enunciate.”

In middle school, Tatala continued to get high grades in English and she traveled to Britain where she was invited for brunch by a friend, who asked if she preferred ham or turkey. When Tatala asked her friend “what’s the difference?”, she was laughed at by her friend and their mum, who then proceeded to explain the difference between a pig saying ‘oink oink’ and a turkey saying ‘clunk clunk.’ Tatala explains: “I just didn’t know the vocabulary. It’s not that I’m too stupid to recognize animals.”

Although Tatala says her confidence in speaking English peaked during high school, it vanished once she became an international student in Australia, where she had great difficulties understanding what local people were talking about. When she struggled to comprehend English-language works by authors such as Bourdieu or Butler, she worked harder and got high grades, but she was still not satisfied and started dreading her studies.

Tatala then explains: “I realized something went wrong when I took a course called ‘Women in Chinese Literature’ where all the readings were translated from Chinese to English. I read the Chinese version – three chapters per hour – and my Australian classmates read the English version – one chapter a day. Some of them reported the course being too hard and some dropped out, because they did not understand the context behind the words. But that’s what I felt for every single class here.”

 

“Even if I am just not perfect at English, so what? This is my second language.”

 

Tatala’s ‘light bulb’ moment was when she realized that it was not necessarily her level of English that determined how difficult or easy her life was, but so many other factors relating to language: “Native speakers found their lives easier not because their English is better than mine, it is because they had the ‘good fortune’ to be raised in environments where their native language acquisition coincides with the dominant linguistic group,” Tatala says, explaining that she blamed everything on language alone while the barriers she faced also had to do with her own confidence level, communication skills, and the prejudices of others.

Tatala suggests that when someone feels attacked on how they use language, they might feel attacked as a person since their language is also a part of their identity. At the same time, people also judge others and draw conclusions about their background, personality, or intentions solely based on language knowledge, dialect, or how they use a single word.

Tatala’s conclusion is that her use of English is not a result of her not speaking “perfect English” but just a “plurality of [her] identity.” Although she mentions she got into Harvard, she says she is determined to “stop learning English” and to just use language as a “tool” instead.

She says: “Even if I am just not perfect at English, so what? This is my second language. This is the lingua franca I was pushed to learn. No matter how well or how bad I speak English, I will have my voice. Ethic minority, Chinese, Asian, I will have my serpent’s tongue, my woman’s voice, my international student’s voice, my influencer’s voice – I will overcome the tradition of silence.”

Tatala’s video triggered online discussions on Weibo on learning English, but perhaps in a different way than Tatala might have expected it to.

Since Tatala’s English level is so high, and she is an Ivy League student, many people do not relate to the struggles she encountered when speaking English at her level. On the contrary, many just hope to reach such a level of English that they would be able to face these kinds of struggles at all.

 

“Since you decided not to study English in the future, why don’t you drop out of Harvard and come back?”

 

“After watching this video, I decided I want to try my best to study English, improve my vocabulary and speaking skills, and I will try to get 8.5 in the IELTS, so that one day I can help foreigners by giving directions, eat turkey sandwiches in the UK, listen to the small talk of students in Australia, confidently do international work, and use my proficient English to reflect on culture and language hegemony. But I realize it is very unlikely for me to attain that goal in my lifetime.”

“I watched her video and gosh, what can I say, it’s like those experts suggesting it’s better to buy a house than to rent one,” another blogger says, suggesting Tatala is too privileged to see that many people do not have the luxury to stop studying English because of linguistic hegemony.

“Since you decided not to study English in the future, why don’t you drop out of Harvard and come back?” another Weibo user wrote.

There were also people defending Tatala, suggesting that her point was not to discourage others from studying English: “What she expresses in the video is to use English as ‘a tool’ and not to reject a person because you reject their language,” one commenter wrote, with one netizen adding: “The ‘not learning English anymore’ part actually means she is no longer pursuing the cultural identity behind the language.”

Another person posted: “Some of the people here either have problems understanding or they just have bad intentions. ‘Not learning English anymore’ was just an opening line, what the vlogger is conveying here is the prejudice and discrimination in linguistics, which is a common phenomenon in the context of American culture. Ofcourse, we can’t deny the ‘privilege’ of the vlogger, but this doesn’t change the fact that she has come up with though-provoking content.”

“She is saying you should have pride in your mother tongue, she is not really saying you should not learn English. She’s at Harvard – ofcourse that’s not what she’s gonna say.”

Other Weibo users said that they felt that Tatala should not have used a ‘clickbait’ title for a video that discusses cultural confidence. “It’s just awkward that this has even become a trending topic,” one person wrote.

“Not learning English or another foreign language is just unacceptable, especially for students who are still in school. But since our requirements are different, the levels we reach in speaking a foreign language will be different. Because of different cultures and upbringings, we will inescapably have communication barriers between us and native speakers. But we must try hard, because it is always good to have a greater understanding of other cultures and customs. Just don’t be too demanding.”

You can watch Tatala’s video here.

By Manya Koetse 

 

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