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Series of Shocking Hit-and-Run Incidents: Ruining the Reputation of BMW in China?

The negative news coverage surrounding BMW in China starkly contradicts its marketing image.

Manya Koetse



Although it is one of China’s strongest luxury car brands, BMW often makes headlines in China in the context of horrific hit-and-run incidents. Lately, a series of incidents involving BMW drivers ramming into people received a lot of attention on social media. Are the negative headlines impacting BMW’s brand image in China?

Multiple incidents involving BMW drivers driving into crowds of people have attracted online attention in China recently. It is not the first time. BMW hit-and-run cases have made headlines in China since at least two decades ago.

With BMW as a car brand coming up so often in headlines concerning shocking cases, from drunk drivers ramming into people to BMW owners misbehaving in traffic, are attitudes towards the BMW car brand shifting in China?

Here, we will discuss some of the cases that have received a lot of attention on Chinese social media recently, and the role BMW as a brand plays in these discussions.


Three Hit-and-Run Cases Sparking Outrage


Drunk female driver drags victim along for over 1 kilometer in Loudi

On Tuesday, April 11, a court case related to a hit-and-run incident that involved a woman driving a BMW sparked online discussions. The incident happened in September of 2022 in Loudi City, Hunan Province. A female named Xiao (肖) drove into a person on an electrical bike who was then dragged along under the car for a kilometer before the car was finally stopped by traffic police.

Shocking footage of the scene spread online and sparked anger. As the driver was stopped – the victim was still underneath the BMW, – she seemed reluctant to cooperate and was busy staring at her phone. The 28-year-old driver turned out to be driving under influence and was arrested. After being rushed to the hospital, the victim’s condition stabilized.

According to her family, the victim had to stay at the intensive care unit until January of this year. Now, six months later, she is still unable to speak and cannot walk (#宝马女司机撞人拖行案受害者家属发声#).

Once the trial started at the Loudi People’s Court, the incident again went trending, especially because the court decided to postpone its verdict due to the “complexity of the case” (“称因案件疑难复杂将择期宣判”). The woman is accused of causing serious damage or injury while driving (交通肇事罪).

As the victim’s family spoke to reporters in the days leading up to the trial, it also became known that the driver’s family had tried to convince the victim’s husband on three different occasions to sign an apology letter, seeking to mitigate her sentence. They allegedly also told the victim’s family that the driver and her family were also “victims” in this case. This did not exactly help in gaining more sympathy from the public.

Liu Dong drove into Dalian pedestrians to take “revenge on society”

On May 22, 2021, a Saturday morning, a black BMW drove into a crowd of pedestrians in the northeastern Chinese city of Dalian, leaving five people dead and five injured. The driver, who was soon arrested, was a man by the name of Liu Dong (刘东), who reportedly purposely drove into the crowd to take “revenge on society” after an investment failure.

The case recently became trending again because, following his October 2021 trial and death penatly sentencing, Liu Dong was executed on April 7th, 2023.

On social media, the execution attracted a lot of attention. One related hashtag, “Dalian BMW Driver Who Drove Into People Executed by Death Penalty” (#大连宝马撞人案司机被执行死刑#), received over 230 million clicks.

22-year-old man ploughed his car through a busy Guangzhou intersection

Five people were killed and 13 others were injured in a traffic incident involving a BMW driving into pedestrians at Tianhe Road in Guangzhou on January 11, 2023. The incident recently received online attention again due to its similarity with the Dalian hit-and-run.

The incident happened around 17:25 local time. Videos circulating on Douyin and Weibo showed how the black SUV just ploughed his car through the busy street at Tianhe Road/Tiyu East Road, where dozens of people were walking and crossing the intersection. Shortly after the incident, some people could be seen lying motionless on the road.

The driver, who was later filmed driving into other people and throwing money out of his car window, was a 22-year-old man from Jieyang in Guangdong. He was arrested shortly after and there has not been an update in his case since.


The “BMWs Driving Into People” Phenomenon


The three aforementioned incidents are prominent cases in which drivers drove into people. In all of these cases, the BMW car brand was explicitly mentioned in related hashtags and headlines. But these are not the only shocking incidents in which the BMW brand was explicitly mentioned, as there have been so many more “BMW drives into people” cases (宝马撞人案件) throughout the years.

One of the earlier cases happened in October 2003 in Harbin, where a BMW car rammed into a crowd. The incident resulted in the death of one person and injured 12 others. The driver, Su Xiuwen (苏秀文), was later sentenced to two years in prison.

In another well-known incident, a 3-year-old boy in Xinyi, Jiangsu, died under the wheels of a BMW after being run over four times in less than 30 seconds. Although the incident was an accident, the driver drove off and did not even attempt to get help for the child.

In 2016, a BMW driver drove into a crowd in Shenyang, killing two people and injuring six. Other incidents happened in Nanjing (2011/2015), Dongguan (2012), Chengdu (2012), and in many others cities across China where drivers fled the scene after a collision, often causing injuries or killing people.

One other case that became one of the biggest trending topics on Chinese social media in 2018 was that of a Kunshan man driving a BMW who got out of his car in an act of shocking road rage, pulling a long knife to attack a cyclist. (In the end, the cyclist was able to grab the knife and he stabbed his attacker, who died from his injuries. The case was later determined to be an act of self-defense, resulting in the cyclists’s acquittal. This decision brought great joy to netizens who had supported the cyclist all along.)

One of the cartoons that was published in the aftermath of the Kunshan BMW incident.

Back in 2010, author Meng Ke already wrote about the phenomenon of “BMWs driving into people” (“宝马撞人”) in China on the Chinese-language BBC website, suggesting the phrase had come to represent “being rich but immoral” (为富不仁). According to the article, the BMW brand was not just gaining a reputation as the car rich people like to drive, but also as the car they were using as a murder weapon.


“I Would Rather Cry in a BMW”


The idea that people driving a BMW are not just rich but also materialistic has been widespread in China for years, also reflected in the phrase “I would rather cry in a BMW” (宁愿宝马里哭) – a famous Chinese catchphrase and meme. The phrase became an online sensation in 2010 after it came up in the popular dating show Fei Cheng Wu Rao (非诚勿扰 If You Are the One).

Ma Nuo (马诺), a 20-year-old female contestant on the show, was asked if she would ride a bicycle with one of the male contestants. In response, she said she would “rather cry in a BMW than smile on a bicycle” (“我宁愿坐在宝马里哭,也不愿坐在自行车里笑”). Soon after, Ma was roasted by Chinese netizens, who attacked her for being a “gold digger” and criticized her for prioritizing material possessions above love. Ma suffered cyber bullying for years.

One reply on a dating show became a part of Chinese meme culture.

While BMW stands for Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, it is sometimes also jokingly said to stand for “Be My Wife,” which actually went viral due to a short Valentine Day film co-created by BMW which was released in 2021 (婚礼, link). It is also said to stand for “Bié Mō Wǒ” (别摸我), meaning “don’t touch me.” This literally conveys the idea of BMW owners being untouchable, and it comes from the popular 2006 film Crazy Stone (疯狂的石头).

From the Crazy Stone movie, when a BMW car owner angrily scolds the person he got into an accident with, saying: “Didn’t you see [the BMW brand,] it stands for Don’t Touch Me (Bie Mo Wo)!”

The popularity of the “rather cry in a BMW,” “Bie Mo Wo,” and “Be My Wife” phrases shows the power of the BMW brand. In the eyes of many, it symbolizes money, capital, and status.

In fact, the success of BMW in the Chinese market – which it entered in 1994 – greatly relies on its brand image of not just producing high-quality, reliable, and superior cars, but also on its brand association with an active, luxurious, and stylish lifestyle (Wang 2013, 107-108).

The negative news coverage surrounding BMW thus starkly contradicts its marketing image, creating a jarring clash between the positive perception of the brand and the unfavorable publicity it has received.


It’s Not the Car, It’s the Rich People Who Drive It


In online discussions surrounding the recent hit-and-run incidents, it is not so much the BMW cars but the rich persons driving them who have a widespread negative reputation. This was also suggested by one popular car blogger on Zhihu (Youshi Qiche @优视汽车), who wrote that BMW owners in China have gotten a notoriously bad name throughout the years.

One study by the Hurun Research Institute on Chinese luxury brands (“中国豪华车品牌特性研究白皮书”) writes that Chinese BMW owners are perceived as being “high-profile and ostentatious, materialistic, showing-off, and lacking a sense of responsibility.” They are also seen as “enjoying new things, good at making friends, seeking social recognition, individualistic and flaunting their wealth.”

Another characteristic attributed to Chinese BMW owners is that they are “profiting without effort” or “reaping what they have not sown,” as they are often associated with China’s nouveau rich (暴发户 bào fā hù) or fù’ér dài (富二代), the ‘second generation rich’ who owe their wealth and lavish lifestyles to their parents’ success under China’s economic reforms.

The BMW driver has gotten a bad reputation, image via Zhihu @优视汽车.

According to Youshi Qiche on Zhihu, some BMW owners only have themselves to blame for the negative stereotypes surrounding them. But what arguably plays a bigger role in their bad image is the social prejudice against those who are perceived as having excessive wealth or privileges, combined with the role media plays in the way they report on BMW owners causing trouble. When an accident involves a BMW or Porsche, it is more likely to be mentioned in the headlines and hashtags.

In many of the aforementioned incidents, but also in others that did not involve a BMW, rich and privileged people causing accidents – deliberately or not, – often try to shift responsibility and use their money, position, or network to avoid punishment.

The most well-known example of this, which has become a part of China’s internet culture, is the “My Dad is Li Gang” incident from 2010. The 22-year-old Li Qiming was drunk driving when he ran down two college students on the campus of Hebei University, killing one of them. When he was arrested after fleeing the scene of the accident, he yelled: “Sue me if you dare! My Dad is Li Gang!” (“我爸是李刚”). Li Gang was the deputy director of the local public security bureau.

“My Dad is Li Gang” instantly became a popular meme in China. Four years later, the sentence “Do you know who my dad is?” (“你知道我爸是谁阿”) became similarly famous after a young man who drove his BMW to school was caught cheating on an exam by a teacher and then intimidated them by suggesting his family was rich and powerful.

Although these incidents happened years ago, the sentiments have largely remained the same, and people are fed up with the careless, agressive and conceited behaviour displayed by nouveau riche who think they are invincible because of their status. These kinds of attitudes are associated with fraud and corruption – a sensitive social problem – and the recent incidents involving BMW drivers further reinforce preconceived beliefs about priviliged and ‘immoral’ BMW owners.

Despite all the negative news coverage in which BMW is mentioned, it is clear that the brand itself is not to blame for these horrific incidents. Nevertheless, the German multinational has shifted its marketing strategies in China over the past years and instead of purely focusing on pleasure, joy, and luxury, it is also placing more emphasis on social values and responsibility. As mentioned by Youshi Qiche, BMW China started sponsoring art and cultural projects, and is playing a role in creating awareness on traffic safety for Chinese children.

BMW China’s changing marketing strategies, images via Youshi Qishe (2021).

BMW’s current Chinese brand ambassador is the wildly popular singer and actor Jackson Yee (易烊千玺), who has a huge fanbase on social media. These kind of marketing strategies resonate with China’s younger generations, for whom the brand image of BMW will probably be different than the associations their parents have with the car.

After all, BMW is generally still seen as a prestigious and high-quality car brand, and it maintains its position as a leading luxury car brand in the Chinese market. Still, not all people prefer a BMW nowadays. “Remember that phrase ‘I’d rather cry in a BMW than smile on a bicycle?’ I’d now say it’s the other way around,” one Weibo user writes.

“I’d rather smile regardless,” another commenter said: “And if I could smile in my own BMW, then I’d go with that one.”

By Manya Koetse 

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Meng Ke (蒙克). 2010. “评论:宝马撞人成了为富不仁的同义词 [Commentary: ‘BMWs Driving Into People’ Has Become Synonymous with ‘the Immoral Rich People’].” BBC, September 14 [April 12, 2023].

Wang, Kangmao. 2013. Capital War : How Foreign Companies Fight Their War in China. China MBA Series, Paths International Limited.

Youshi Qiche (优视汽车). 2021. “20年过去了 宝马在国人心目中的品牌形象有改变吗 [After 20 Years, Has BMW’s Brand Image Changed in the Minds of the Chinese?”]. Zhihu, June 9 [April 12, 2023].

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Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of 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 Contact at, or follow on Twitter.

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    April 17, 2023 at 1:18 am

    BMW also stands for ‘Big Money Wasted’, or ‘Break My Windows’. Lol.

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China Brands, Marketing & Consumers

Tick, Tock, Time to Pay Up? Douyin Is Testing Out Paywalled Short Videos

Is content payment a new beginning for the popular short video app Douyin (China’s TikTok) or would it be the end?

Manya Koetse



The introduction of a Douyin novel feature, that would enable content creators to impose a fee for accessing their short video content, has sparked discussions across Chinese social media. Although the feature would benefit creators, many Douyin users are skeptical.

News that Chinese social media app Douyin is rolling out a new feature which allows creators to introduce a paywall for their short video content has triggered online discussions in China this week.

The feature, which made headlines on November 16, is presently in the testing phase. A number of influential content creators are now allowed to ‘paywall’ part of their video content.

Douyin is the hugely popular app by Chinese tech giant Bytedance. TikTok is the international version of the Chinese successful short video app, and although they’re often presented as being the same product, Douyin and Tiktok are actually two separate entities.

In addition to variations in content management and general usage, Douyin differs from TikTok in terms of features. Douyin previously experimented with functionalities such as charging users for accessing mini-dramas on the platform or the ability to tip content creators.

The pay-to-view feature on Douyin would require users to pay a certain fee in Douyin coins (抖币) in order to view paywalled content. One Douyin coin is equivalent to 0.1 yuan ($0,014). The platform itself takes 30% of the income as a service charge.

According to China Securities Times or STCN (证券时报网), Douyin insiders said that any short video content meeting Douyin’s requirements could be set as “pay-per-view.”

Creators, who can set their own paywall prices, should reportedly meet three criteria to qualify for the pay-to-view feature: their account cannot have any violation records for a period of 90 days, they should have at least 100,000 followers, and they have to have completed the real-name authentication process.

On Douyin and Weibo, Chinese netizens express various views on the feature. Many people do not think it would be a good idea to charge money for short videos. One video blogger (@小片片说大片) pointed out the existing challenge of persuading netizens to pay for longer videos, let alone expecting them to pay for shorter ones.

“The moment I’d need to pay money for it, I’ll delete the app,” some commenters write.

This statement appears to capture the prevailing sentiment among most internet users regarding a subscription-based Douyin environment. According to a survey conducted by the media platform Pear Video, more than 93% of respondents expressed they would not be willing to pay for short videos.

An online poll by Pear Video showed that the majority of respondents would not be willing to pay for short videos on Douyin.

“This could be a breaking point for Douyin,” one person predicts: “Other platforms could replace it.” There are more people who think it would be the end of Douyin and that other (free) short video platforms might take its place.

Some commenters, however, had their own reasons for supporting a pay-per-view function on the platform, suggesting it would help them solve their Douyin addiction. One commenter remarked, “Fantastic, this might finally help me break free from watching short videos!” Another individual responded, “Perhaps this could serve as a remedy for my procrastination.”

As discussions about the new feature trended, Douyin’s customer service responded, stating that it would eventually be up to content creators whether or not they want to activate the paid feature for their videos, and that it would be up to users whether or not they would be interested in such content – otherwise they can just swipe away.

Another social media user wrote: “There’s only one kind of video I’m willing to pay for, and it’s not on Douyin.”

By Manya Koetse

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China Brands, Marketing & Consumers

Tsingtao Brewery ‘Pee-Gate’: Factory Worker Caught Urinating in Raw Material Warehouse

The pee incident, that occurred at a subsidiary Tsingtao Beer factory, has caused concerns among consumers.

Manya Koetse



A video that has circulated on Chinese social media since October 19 shows how an alleged worker at a Tsingtao Beer factory climbs over a wall at the raw material production site and starts to urinate.

The incident reportedly occurred at the Tsingtao Beer Factory No. 3, a subsidiary of the Tsingtao Brewing Company, located in Qingdao, Shandong.

After the video went viral, the Tsingtao Brewery Company issued a statement that they took the incident very seriously and immediately report it to the authorities, who have started an investigation into the case. Meanwhile, the specific batch in production has been halted and shut off.

The incident has caused concern among consumers, and some commenters on social media wonder if this was the first time something like this has happened. “How do we know this hasn’t happened many times before?”

Others speculate about what might have motivated the man to urinate at the production site. There are those who believe that the man is part of an undercover operation orchestrated by a rivaling company, aimed at discrediting Tsingtao. It’s even suggested that there were two ‘moles’ leaking in this incident: one doing the urinating, and the other doing the video ‘leak.’

Meanwhile, there are voices who are critical of Tsingtao, suggesting that the renowned beer brand has not effectively addressed the ‘pee gate’ scandal. It remains uncertain how this incident will impact the brand, but some netizens are already expressing reservations about ordering a Tsingtao beer as a result.

But there are also those who joke about the “pissing incident,” wondering if Tsingtao Beer might soon launch a special “urine flavored beer.”

By Manya Koetse

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

Featured photo by Jay Ang (link).

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