Alibaba rape case victim, sexually assaulted by client then raped by manager

Alibaba's Rape Allegation Exposes China's Sexiest Side

The industry has long been plagued by sexually provocative office games, alcoholic dinners, and a culture of ignoring problems. Changing it will remain difficult.

For years, as Alibaba grew from a small Chinese start-up to an e-commerce powerhouse, several of its business units welcomed new employees with an ice-breaking ceremony that terrified many of those who witnessed it.

According to former employees, new hires were expected to answer profoundly personal questions in front of their colleagues: about their first loves, their first kiss, and their first sexual interactions. They stated that the queries were phrased in ways that were unprintable in this newspaper.

Such assertions have been refuted by the Chinese technological behemoth. However, last weekend, a female employee disclosed on the company's internal website that she had been sexually abused by a client and then raped by her manager — sparking a flood of stories concerning ice-breaker activities. Former employees stated on social media that they had also gone through them.

Alibaba rape case victim, sexually assaulted by client then raped by manager
Over 6,000 employees of Alibaba, one of the largest internet businesses in the world, signed a statement demanding management to prohibit sexual jokes and games during team building and business meetings.

Additionally, in a letter to management signed over the weekend by over 6,000 Alibaba employees, employees requested the company to prohibit sexual jokes and games during ice-breaker sessions and other workplace gatherings. (Alibaba has stated that company has terminated the employee accused of rape and would take additional measures to prevent sexual misbehavior. It declined to comment on requests for remark.)

The allegations against Alibaba may have taken the Chinese technology sector and public by surprise, but they should not have.

For centuries, the male-dominated sector objectified women, vilified victims, and normalized sexual abuse. Women who speak out against sexual harassment and abuse are derisively referred to as troublemakers or worse.

Three years ago, a University of Minnesota student accused Richard Liu, the wealthy founder of one of China's top corporations, JD.com, of raped her following an alcoholic business meal. After Mr. Liu disputed the allegations and the police declined to prosecute charges, the Chinese internet and technology industry rallied to his defense, referring to her as a gold digger and other misogynistic terms.

Frequently, public allegations go unanswered. Didi, the ride-hailing operator, sacked an employee last year for poor performance after she complained to the company's operations in Jiangsu Province about being physically and sexually attacked after being forced to binge drink during a business meal. She later shared images of her severely injured face and a doctor's prognosis on social media. Didi did not reply to inquiries about whether it had examined her complaints, either at the time or when contacted again this week for comment.

Incidents similar to the one at Alibaba occur throughout the sector, according to one female tech investor. She requested anonymity out of concern that entrepreneurs, some of whom make lewd jokes in large chat groups, would perceive her as overly judgemental and hence lose trust in her.

Cheng Wei, founder of Didi and a former Alibaba executive. Several Didi employees have spoken out against harassment and the company's sexualized atmosphere.
Cheng Wei, founder of Didi and a former Alibaba executive. Several Didi employees have spoken out against harassment and the company's sexualized atmosphere.

The industry has moderated some of its more egregious and explicit conduct. For instance, newly hired Alibaba employees informed me that they were not required to respond to personal inquiries during their ice-breaking ceremony.

And if society does not coerce them into changing, they will be coerced by the Communist Party. Amid a government crackdown on Large Tech's power, the party's official publication, People's Daily, warned on social media that nothing "can be too big to fail."

However, the Chinese technology industry's toxic culture is so entrenched that it will be difficult to eradicate.

Not long ago, Chinese technology companies engaged prominent Japanese porn actors to promote their events. In 2014, Qihoo 360, a cybersecurity business, invited a Japanese pornstar to dance with its coders, while some female employees wore skimpy clothes.

Of a 2017 event, a business unit at China's other internet behemoth, Tencent, required female employees to kneel and use their lips to open water bottles grasped in the crotches of male colleagues. Tencent eventually issued an apology.

Baidu, Xiaomi, and JD.com have all hosted Victoria Secret-style lingerie fashion presentations at their annual celebrations in the past. Occasionally, the models were female employees.

At the time, few, if any, individuals denounced their actions. Some programmers responded by inquiring as to if those businesses were hiring.

Women worldwide suffer some of the same difficulties. However, in China's technological business, similar mindsets have been passed down from internet giants like Alibaba to graduates leading large and small start-ups.

Cheng Wei, Didi's creator and a former Alibaba executive, derived a large portion of his managerial style from the e-commerce behemoth, which he referred to as his genuine alma mater. According to a 2016 glowing profile, one of Didi's early hires told a magazine that a few new employees were surprised by how far the company's ice-breaking ritual could go. The employee stated that she felt more connected to her coworkers after knowing about their personal information.

In 2017, Tencent required female employees to perform during the annual celebration.
In 2017, Tencent required female employees to perform during the annual celebration.

An anonymous former employee stated that she was too afraid to answer those questions for fear of antagonizing her coworkers and manager.

Even at IT organizations, punishments can be sexual in nature. Mr. Cheng has stated that he disciplined one male executive by telling him to "run naked." According to a former Didi official, others were similarly instructed to run about the company's early years, albeit men were permitted to wear their underpants and women were permitted to put paper clothes over their undergarments.

According to the executive and several employees, the practice has ceased in recent years.

Additionally, the Alibaba incident sparked debates over two misogynistic practices prevalent at Chinese business meals: forced drinking and women's companionship.

At business meals, young women can be considered accessories. “A dinner without girls is not a meal,” said the headline of a 2017 essay in GQ China, alongside an illustration of naked women in soup bowls.

The female employee said on the internal Alibaba website that her manager had said to their clients during dinner, "Look how kind I am to you, I brought you a beauty."

The Alibaba client who she claimed sexually attacked her denied any wrong behavior. The client stated to a Beijing publication, "It was a routine supper." “All I did was embrace and cuddle her. There is nothing else.” (His employer stated that he was terminated due to wrongdoing and was participating with a police inquiry.)

According to the Alibaba employee, her nightmare began when she was forced to consume an excessive amount of alcohol.

Forcible drinking is a significant and harmful aspect of China's business culture. It can be used as a power move, disfavor women and junior personnel. It is considered impolite to refuse to drink with a superior.

Alibaba's founder, Jack Ma, made a sex joke during a 2019 employee event.
Alibaba's founder, Jack Ma, made a sex joke during a 2019 employee event.

A bank boss punched a new employee last year during a business meal after he repeatedly refused to replace his soft drinks with booze. The manager was eventually reprimanded by the bank.

Alibaba employees appealed for action over the weekend, urging the corporation to prohibit forced drinking and to disassociate alcohol from business. The corporation refrained from outright prohibition, stating that it supports its employees' liberty to decline drinking demands.

Alibaba stated that it has terminated the manager accused of rape and demoted two senior executives for ignoring the woman's pleas. Nonetheless, its response has enraged a large number of individuals.

Wang Shuai, Alibaba's public relations chief, retweeted a piece he claimed was written by a colleague. The post lamented the fact that some people believed rumors and presumed the worst about Alibaba. Individuals who are excessively critical of the organization, the message stated frankly, may be forced to leave.

Members of the public responded by citing instances that they claimed revealed difficulties at the top.

A widely circulated video revealed that Jack Ma, Alibaba's billionaire founder, made a sex joke while hosting a group wedding ceremony for his staff in 2019 - an annual event for the company that regularly garners headlines. “We want the 996 spirit in the workplace,” he explained, alluding to the rigorous work schedule of 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. six days a week. “We desire 669 in life,” he stated. “Six consecutive days, six times. The key is to make it permanent.”

He experimented with the pronunciation of the word "nine," which sounds similar to the word for "durable." His audience applauded and cheered.