2020-01-08 08:44:12

The founder of a Chinese online education platform has come under fire after a viral article Monday accused him and his company of glorifying sexism and overwork.

The article, titled “Why Luo Zhenyu Is Terrible,” was published Monday on social app WeChat. It accuses the education platform’s founder, Luo, of calling women whores and defending the much-maligned “996” work schedule (9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week) common at China’s startups and tech companies. In the past, Luo had described such grueling and illegal hours as “our generation’s destiny.” The article has been viewed 100,000 times — the maximum number WeChat displays.

Luo’s company, a pay-for-knowledge platform called Dedao — meaning “get” or “obtain” in Chinese — was launched in May 2016. Similar to the MasterClass series of instructional videos, Dedao invites experts from a wide range of professions to give online tutorials for people looking to hone a particular skill or quality.

The topics of the videos, which are priced from 19.9 yuan to 365 yuan ($3 to $53), range from the academic — psychology, politics, law, and science — to the relatively niche — improving sleep quality or cultivating a sense of humor. According to Monday’s article, Dedao’s bestseller, taught by a former Peking University economist, has been purchased nearly half a million times.

As of May 2019, Dedao had nearly 30 million users, according to Luo.

Xiaohun, the online commentator who wrote the viral article, took exception to Luo’s behavior on the popular online debate-off series “I Can I BB,” on which he is a regular participant. Xiaohun described Luo as “someone who would try anything to achieve his own goals” because of the way he supposedly promoted his business at every opportunity during the show — and because he appeared to show preferential treatment to his cash cow economist by saving one of his teammates from elimination.

The article also lambasts Luo’s misogynistic personal motto: “If you want to rob someone, rob the emperor. If you want to go whoring, find the emperor’s wives.” The saying, which Luo says he picked up from his hometown in the eastern Anhui province, means one should strive for the very best in whatever one does. Luo apparently feels so strongly about it that he once said during an interview he had christened his office the “imperial concubine headquarters,” with the corresponding Chinese characters affixed to a wall.

When asked about the article, a public relations representative for Luo said there was “a lot of the author’s personal emotions” in it. “We can only hope that people who like Luo will grow to like him more, and that those who hate him will maybe like him someday,” she told Sixth Tone.

Luo ruffled feathers again in a November episode of “I Can I BB” that debated whether an employee at a company enforcing a 996 work schedule should stay or go. During his argument for the “stay” team, he referred to overwork as “our generation’s destiny.”

Luo is not the first head of a major company to command loyalty from his employees in the form of extra hours. Former Alibaba boss Jack Ma said during a wedding toast in May that his company embraced “the spirit of 996,” and the public relations director of JD.com, China’s other e-commerce giant, issued a statement in March denying that the company was enforcing 12-hour shifts. However, Luo’s advocacy for a demanding workplace culture seems to be especially irritating to his haters because he runs a knowledge-sharing platform rather than a startup in the more cutthroat tech industry.

“Underneath his emphasis on knowledge, Luo is actually exploiting his employees like a capitalist,” wrote one Weibo user.

Luo’s PR representative told Sixth Tone that Luo plans to respond to his critics on a future episode of “I Can I BB.”

Editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: Luo Zhenyu, the founder of online education platform Dedao, gives a speech on New Year’s Eve in Shanghai, Dec. 31, 2019. @罗振宇 on Weibo)