Meituan's billionaire founder hides social media posts from public view

Drivers of food delivery service Meituan are seen in Shanghai, China, on June 25, 2018.
PHOTO: Reuters

Wang Xing, the 42-year-old billionaire founder and chief executive of Meituan, has apparently locked down nearly 18,000 of his social media posts from public view, weeks before the food delivery and on-demand local services giant was slapped with a 3.44 billion yuan (S$723 million) fine by the government to end the firm's antitrust investigation.

Online checks made by the South China Morning Post found that Wang has hidden from the public all of his 661 posts on popular Chinese microblogging service Weibo and 17,105 posts on Fanfou, a now-obscure microblogging platform that he launched in 2007 during his early days as an entrepreneur.

Fanfou has served as Wang's de facto online fan club, where he has posted about three times a day on average for 14 years. His bio on the platform reads: "If I haven't seen, thought of, or done anything worth mentioning on Fanfou today, then this day was wasted."

Wang, whose net worth was estimated by Forbes to be US$21.6 billion as of Monday, had stopped posting on Fanfou in May after he published a millennium-old Chinese poem seen as an unsubtle jab at the government. It sparked a social media frenzy and a sell-off of Meituan stock that wiped out US$16 billion of its market value. That post has since been taken off the Fanfou platform.

A Meituan representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Hong Kong-listed company's share price closed up 8.36 per cent to HK$277.40 (S$48) on Monday.

Wang's move to have a lower profile on Chinese social media reflects how the country's tech moguls remain wary of Beijing's crackdown on major internet platform operators.

Wang Xing, the founder and chief executive of Meituan, established his company in Beijing in 2010. It has since become China’s largest e-commerce platform for on-demand local services, including food delivery. 
PHOTO: South China Morning Post

Other Big Tech founders in China have already decided to retreat from the front lines of running their companies.

In September, JD.com founder Richard Liu Qiangdong gave up day-to-day management responsibilities at his company. That followed similar announcements made earlier this year by Zhang Yiming, founder of TikTok owner ByteDance, and Pinduoduo founder Colin Huang Zheng.

Jack Ma, founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding, owner of the South China Morning Post, has been rarely seen in public since he delivered a controversial speech at a Shanghai forum in October last year.

Pony Ma Huateng, the founder, chairman and chief executive of Tencent Holdings, has not made a public appearance since March, when he attended the National People's Congress, the country's annual parliamentary gathering, as a delegate member.

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Still, some of the biggest names in China's tech industry made an appearance at the World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, a historic town in eastern Zhejiang province, in September to pledge support for the country's "common prosperity" goal and small- and medium-sized enterprises.

Some Chinese social media users expressed their regret for losing access to Wang's archived posts on Fanfou.

"It was rare for such a successful businessman like Wang Xing to sincerely share his thoughts on social media," a Weibo user named Gongzierha said in a post.

Others, however, understood the meaning behind Wang's decision to keep his published thoughts private. "It's wise [to hide the posts] because the chances of being convicted for what one has said [in public] is greater at this moment," said a Weibo user named Dakerling.

Wang, meanwhile, has lent his public support for the country's national strategy. During his company's second-quarter earnings call in September, Wang said common prosperity is "built into the genes of Meituan". In July, he took part in the Chinese Communist Party's 100th anniversary celebration at Tiananmen Square.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.