Alibaba Rape Allegation Reveals China Tech’s Seamy Side

For many years, as Alibaba turned from a scrappy Chinese begin-up into an e-commerce behemoth, some of its business units welcomed new staff members with an ice-breaking ceremony that alarmed numerous of all those who endured it.

Fresh hires were essential to solution deeply own queries in entrance of their colleagues, according to former personnel: about their first loves, their first kiss and their initially sexual encounters. The thoughts had been phrased in approaches that are not printable in this newspaper, they said.

The Chinese engineering large has denied these kinds of claims. But very last weekend, a female personnel alleged on the company’s inner website that she experienced been sexually assaulted by a corporation consumer then raped by her manager — and the disclosure unleashed a slew of tales about ice-breaking things to do. Former staff members stated on-line that they, way too, experienced gone via them.

And in a letter to management signed about the weekend by extra than 6,000 Alibaba personnel, workers urged the firm to forbid sexual remarks and online games in ice-breaking and other small business situations. (Alibaba has stated it fired the worker accused of rape and will get other steps to stop sexual misconduct. It did not answer to requests for remark.)

The allegations in opposition to Alibaba might have stunned the Chinese engineering industry and the public, but it shouldn’t have stunned them.

The male-dominated sector has very long objectified gals, blamed the victims and normalized sexual violence. Girls who dare to discuss out about sexual harassment and violence are identified as troublemakers or worse.

Three yrs in the past, a student at the College of Minnesota alleged that Richard Liu, the billionaire founder of a single of China’s major firms, JD.com, had raped her immediately after an liquor-soaked business enterprise meal. After Mr. Liu denied the allegations and the law enforcement declined to push costs, the Chinese web and the tech market took his side and named her a gold digger, among other misogynistic slurs.

Normally, general public allegations merely go unaddressed. An staff for Didi, the trip-hailing enterprise, was fired for inadequate functionality previous yr following she complained to the company’s operations in Jiangsu Province that she was bodily and sexually assaulted immediately after she was forced to binge consume at a small business meal. She later on posted on social media photos of her badly bruised face and a doctor’s diagnosis. Didi did not react to issues about irrespective of whether it experienced investigated her allegations, back then or when asked again for comment this 7 days.

Incidents like the one at Alibaba come about during the business, just one woman tech investor explained. She requested for anonymity for the reason that she apprehensive that entrepreneurs, some of whom make dirty jokes in huge chat groups, will believe she is as well judgmental and will halt trusting her.

The sector has toned down some of its most blatant and express actions. For case in point, much more just lately employed Alibaba workforce explained to me that they did not have to respond to personalized thoughts at their ice-breaking ceremonies.

And if modern society does not force them to alter, the Communist Get together will. Amid a government crackdown on the powers of Significant Tech, People’s Daily, the party’s official newspaper, warned on social media that absolutely nothing “can be as well significant to fail.”

But the Chinese technological know-how industry’s toxic culture is so ingrained that it won’t be effortless to stamp out.

Not so prolonged ago, Chinese tech businesses invited common Japanese porn stars to their situations to drum up publicity. Qihoo 360, a cybersecurity company, invited a Japanese porn star to dance with its programmers in 2014, though some of its woman staff wore revealing outfits.

A organization unit at China’s other internet giant, Tencent, produced its female staff at a 2017 function kneel and use their mouths to open up drinking water bottles that male colleagues clutched in their crotches. Tencent later apologized.

Above the several years, the search giant Baidu, the smartphone maker Xiaomi and JD.com have had Victoria’s Secret-design and style lingerie fashion reveals at their annual celebrations. In some cases the styles had been their woman employees.

At the time, several folks, if anyone, condemned their actions. Some programmers reacted by asking whether individuals corporations had been selecting.

Women of all ages everywhere you go face some of the identical worries. But in China’s technologies sector, these attitudes have been handed down from internet giants like Alibaba to alumni who now lead begin-ups large and compact.

Cheng Wei, founder of Didi and a former Alibaba govt, borrowed significantly of his management fashion from the e-commerce large, which he referred to as his true alma mater. One particular of Didi’s earliest hires told a journal that a handful of new workforce ended up stunned by how much its ice-breaking ceremony could go, in accordance to a flattering profile in 2016. The staff explained she felt nearer to her colleagues just after discovering about their individual information.

A former employee who questioned for anonymity explained she was far too afraid not to solution individuals issues for panic of antagonizing her co-workers and her supervisor.

Even punishments at tech companies can be sexual in mother nature. Mr. Cheng has stated he punished one particular male executive by buying the govt to “run naked.” A previous Didi govt stated that some others, far too, were likewise instructed to run all-around the company campus in its early decades, however gentlemen had been allowed to have on their underwear and females could use paper outfits in excess of their undergarments.

The government and other staff said the apply went away in new decades.

The Alibaba disaster also activated discussions about two misogynistic rituals at Chinese business enterprise meals: forced consuming and women’s corporation.

Youthful girls can be regarded as extras at organization meals. “A food with out girls is not a meal,” go through the headline of a 2017 column in the Chinese edition of GQ, accompanied by an illustration of naked ladies in soup bowls.

In the allegations she posted on the inner Alibaba website, the feminine employee reported her manager had instructed their purchasers at evening meal: “Look how superior I am to you, I introduced you a beauty.”

The Alibaba shopper who she alleged experienced sexually assaulted her denied that he had accomplished nearly anything inappropriate. “It was a standard food,” the shopper told a Beijing newspaper. “I only hugged and cuddled her. Very little else.” (His business mentioned he experienced been fired for misconduct and that he was cooperating with a law enforcement investigation.)

The Alibaba personnel wrote that her nightmare started after she was pressured to drink as well significantly.

Compelled ingesting plays an crucial and a problematic function in China’s organization tradition. It can provide as a ability play that places girls and the junior workers at a downside. Refusing to consume with a outstanding is regarded as offensive.

At a organization evening meal last 12 months, a bank manager slapped a new worker immediately after he rejected the manager’s repeated orders to substitute his gentle drinks with alcohol. The lender later on disciplined the manager.

In their attraction for motion over the weekend, Alibaba workforce urged the enterprise to forbid forced drinking and to prevent linking alcohol with company. The company stopped brief of forbidding it, indicating it supports the correct of its staff members to reject consuming requests.

Alibaba reported it had fired the manager accused of rape and pushed out two senior professionals who disregarded the woman’s pleas. Nonetheless, its response has left a lot of persons not happy.

Wang Shuai, Alibaba’s community relations main, reposted a publish he explained a colleague had composed. The article complained that some men and women just considered in rumors and assumed the worst of Alibaba. Folks who are far too critical of the organization, the write-up claimed bluntly, could go away.

In reaction, users of the public pointed to episodes that they stated indicated challenges at the top rated.

A broadly circulated video clip showed that Jack Ma, Alibaba’s billionaire founder, created a sex joke when he was hosting a team wedding ceremony ceremony — an annual occasion for the organization that generally draws headlines — for his workforce in 2019. “In work, we want the 996 spirit,” he reported, referring to the punishing do the job program of 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six times a 7 days. “In lifestyle, we want 669,” he stated. “Six times, six situations. The crucial is lengthy-long lasting.”

He played with the pronunciation of the term “nine,” which sounds like the phrase for “long-lasting.” His audience cheered and applauded.