China’s internet obsesses over arrest of JD.com founder Richard Liu

China's internet obsesses over arrest of JD.com founder Richard Liu

Richard Liu, the Chinese language expertise government arrested in the US on suspicion of legal sexual conduct, has returned to China — the place he’s the No. 1 matter of dialog.

Chinese language information shops and social media customers had been consumed on Monday by particulars of Mr. Liu’s arrest. His mug shot, taken by legislation enforcement officers in Minnesota, was in every single place. Chinese language netizens speculated about how his spouse — a celeb in her personal proper, referred to as Sister Milk Tea — would possibly reply, and parsed unfamiliar authorized phrases.

The extraordinary reactions to Mr. Liu’s authorized troubles mirror the general public’s fascination with China’s self-made tech tycoons, who’ve develop into symbols of the nation’s rise as a world energy and its upward social mobility in latest many years. Their books are greatest sellers. Their non-public lives are tabloid fodder. Their speeches on success and entrepreneurship are perpetually working on TV screens at airports.

In impact, they’re the rock stars of China’s Gilded Age, and Mr. Liu is likely one of the brightest. His firm, JD.com, courts the nation’s rising center class with high quality model merchandise as a substitute of the shoddy copycats which are frequent on the Chinese language web. Right this moment, its shares commerce on the Nasdaq at a valuation of about $50 billion.

On Friday, Mr. Liu — whose Chinese language title is Liu Qiangdong however who goes by Richard within the English-speaking world — was arrested over alleged sexual misconduct. Police officers in Minneapolis stated they had been treating the case as an lively investigation. In Minnesota, the time period “legal sexual conduct” covers a variety of nonconsensual sexual contact.

JD.com has maintained that Mr. Liu was falsely accused, and on Monday stated he had been launched with out being charged and with out having to publish bail. The chief has employed attorneys however has returned to work in China, the corporate stated, with out saying when he arrived within the nation.

All through, Chinese language web customers have obsessed over the trivia of the case, lots of them getting a crash course within the American authorized system within the course of.

“This picture of Liu Qiangdong known as a mug shot,” a blogger and journalist who goes by the title Anti wrote on WeChat, the ever present Chinese language messaging and social media platform. Anti went on to elucidate that mug pictures had been thought of public data in the US, and might be launched to the media.

Descriptions of “possible trigger” and “launched pending grievance” had been additionally widespread. There have been even images and audio recordings of John Elder, a spokesman for the Minneapolis Police Division.

Others speculated over Mr. Liu’s marriage to Zhang Zetian, who rose to fame as a scholar when a photograph of her holding a cup of milk tea was broadly shared on social media. Nicknamed “Sister Milk Tea,” Ms. Zhang met Mr. Liu whereas she was finding out in the US, and so they married in 2015. The couple have been each praised and criticized in China for cataloging on-line the intimate particulars of their lives, together with their marriage ceremony and Ms. Zhang’s being pregnant.

Mr. Liu’s arrest additionally prompted derision. In a earlier video interview, he had insisted he had not married Ms. Zhang for her appears. “I’m face blind,” he stated. “I can not inform who’s fairly and who just isn’t.”

Referring to these remarks, one on-line person joked, “Possibly he mistook the opposite girl as Sister Milk Tea. He’s face blind, in any case.”

Past on-line feedback, the case additionally put a highlight on JD.com’s fierce rivalry with the Chinese language e-commerce large Alibaba, and specifically the conflict of personalities between the businesses’ founders.

If essentially the most intense actuality present in the US is nationwide politics, enterprise feuds take prime billing in China. The workings of the federal government are carried out in a black field, off limits to media scrutiny and public dialogue, however antagonism within the enterprise world is carried out within the open. Among the many enterprise tycoons, the heads of China’s web firms are the most popular stars, the leaders of JD.com and Alibaba chief amongst them.

The place Mr. Liu is like an aggressive boxer — a straight talker and a formidable disciplinarian — Alibaba’s government chairman, Jack Ma, is extra of a tai chi grasp, skillful at mild maneuvering. Even earlier than his arrest in Minnesota, Mr. Liu was within the information lots with a colourful non-public life and blunt talking fashion.

Born in a poor a part of the japanese province of Jiangsu, Mr. Liu has made a lot of his Everyman credentials. In a position to afford meat solely a few times a 12 months, his household sometimes ate candy potatoes and corn as dinner staples. Till just lately, he would placed on a helmet and JD.com’s crimson uniform to make deliveries on a three-wheeled electrical bike. He calls the 100,000-odd deliverymen who work for JD.com his “brothers,” and sometimes trumpets how significantly better they’re paid than these employed by rivals.

Because it has grown, JD.com has develop into a critical competitor to Alibaba and, more and more lately, the 2 are going face to face, vying for the attentions of rising numbers of prosperous web shoppers in China.

Each firms have tried to lure well-liked manufacturers to open digital shops on their gross sales platform, a battle enjoying out most aggressively in style, historically Alibaba’s stronghold. Mr. Ma’s firm scored a serious victory in 2015 when Uniqlo, the Japanese informal put on firm, give up JD.com to promote its wares on Alibaba’s platform. Final 12 months, a gaggle of attire retailers additionally made the bounce, a transfer that JD.com’s chief monetary officer stated on a latest earnings name that the corporate was nonetheless recovering from. (Alibaba has denied it pressured any manufacturers into unique preparations.)

There is no such thing as a love misplaced between the 2 males, both. Mr. Ma famously as soon as stated that JD.com would finally finish as a “tragedy,” as a result of its enterprise mannequin was excessively labor and capital intensive. Mr. Liu, for his half, has accused Alibaba of not doing sufficient to struggle fakes on its platform, a cost Mr. Ma has denied.

It’s little marvel, then, that many Chinese language web customers responded to the information of Mr. Liu’s arrest by posting images of Mr. Ma laughing.

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