As #MeToo grows, a Chinese tech giant is accused of being an “imperial harem”

In the spotlight.
In the spotlight.
Image: Reuters/Fabrizio Bensch/
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It took a while, but China’s #MeToo movement finally gained momentum this summer as women came forward to accuse prominent men—including journalists, charity organization leaders, and even a Buddhist monk—of sexual harassment. And now, it’s hitting the country’s tech industry.

An anonymous letter that began circulating on China’s internet yesterday (Aug. 9) has catapulted Mobike, one of the main players in China’s bike-sharing sector, into the limelight for its allegedly uncomfortable working conditions for some female employees. The letter’s author, purportedly a female engineer who joined Mobike last July, detailed harassment that she and two colleagues endured from their manager.

Mobike has temporarily suspended the manager in question, Zhang Yaochun, and has launched an investigation after receiving a report of misconduct, it said in a statement. It’s unclear if the firm had received complaints about Zhang prior to the letter, or if the female engineer is still with the company.

In the letter, the author said Zhang abused his position of power to recruit female workers he hoped to date and bully those unwilling to comply with his requests. ”He treated the workplace as his imperial harem, and often suggested his position could provide help and convenience to others,” read the letter (link in Chinese). The writer also noted that Hu Weiwei, the female founder of Mobike, “must understand our feelings.”

The engineer included in her letter screenshots of conversations with Zhang, who had asked her to send selfies to him and bring him meals during the weekends. But she said a colleague, who she identified as “Qiulian,” had it worse.

Zhang had allegedly seduced Qiulian with the promise of helping her career. According to the letter, he often asked her to drive him home late at night and to cook for him at his home in the hopes of developing a relationship with her. In one conversation, he suggested that he could provide for her better than her husband, according to the letter. After that exchange, Zhang later allegedly removed Qiulian as a WeChat contact and didn’t give her any assignments. “Qiulian suffered the most in our team, and she had to quit because her work was deeply affected.”

The Mobike episode comes as the #MeToo movement resurfaced in China despite heavy censorship. The movement first started in university campuses at the beginning of the year, and authorities had tried to silence those speaking up by quickly deleting their posts. But #MeToo made a comeback in early July as it spread beyond academia amid growing support for women’s rights. “I hope all female fellows can speak up when they encounter such things. Justice will never be absent,” wrote a user in response to the Mobike controversy on the social network Weibo (link in Chinese).