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2020-07-07 08:55:50

Renowned Go player Ke Jie says he’s retiring from Weibo, one of China’s dominant social media platforms, where he has amassed over 5 million followers.

“From today, I will permanently quit Weibo. Thank you for your attention all this time. Goodbye,” the 22-year-old wrote in a microblog post Sunday. While Ke’s page remains accessible, all but a few dozen posts have been deleted.

Ke is one of the world’s top-ranked players of Go, a diabolically strategic combination of chess and checkers, played on a 19-by-19 board by two competitors — one using white stones, the other black stones — as they try to capture territory by surrounding their opponent’s pieces. It has been said that there are more permutations of a Go board than there are atoms in the known universe.

From 2015 to 2017, Ke was the No. 1 Go player in the world. He’s now ranked second, behind only Shin Jinseo of South Korea. Ke’s stardom soared after he competed against the Google DeepMind-developed program AlphaGo and China’s Golaxy AI, though he lost to both matches three games to zero.

Ke’s abrupt decision to quit Weibo has puzzled many fans. Two days earlier, however, domestic media had reported that a student at a vocational secondary school in the central Hubei province killed himself after being caught secretly filming his female classmates in a women’s toilet. According to the report, the student’s parents found a note their son had tossed in the trash just before his death. Scrawled on it were “scared,” “Ke Jie,” and the boy’s own name.

Sixth Tone’s phone calls to the boy’s father went unanswered Monday, as did calls to the China Go Association.

The cryptic note has sparked wide discussion online, with many questioning whether the elite Go player may have influenced the deceased student’s behavior at school. Ke is known for being vocal on Weibo about gender-related issues: He has repeatedly landed in hot water over comments that were perceived as misogynist.

Though all of these posts have now been deleted, some have been preserved elsewhere online as screenshots.

In one post, Ke had said that female Go players — who are vastly outnumbered in the male-dominated game — are more “emotional” and male players more “rational.” In 2016, he made a sexist comment online after South Korean player Choi Jeong, currently the only woman ranked in the top 100 internationally, defeated a male opponent.

“Yesterday, people told me Choi set a honey trap. I thought it was a joke until I saw this photo,” Ke commented below a picture of Choi in which she’s wearing a rather average-looking blouse.

More recently, Ke lambasted female bloggers who had been urging for fairer gender representation in media coverage during the COVID-19 outbreak in China, and described a female celebrity who had delivered a baby as having “laid an egg.” Neither post can now be found on Ke’s Weibo.

In May, several critics wrote to authorities in the southwestern Yunnan province after the provincial government nominated Ke for a model worker award for his contributions to the board game: They objected to a person who frequently espouses misogynistic views being considered for such an honor.

On Chinese social media, Ke’s retreat from Weibo has prompted mixed reactions.

“Congratulations, I hope we won’t see you anymore,” read one comment under a related post on social platform Douban.

Meanwhile, Ke’s decision has been met with disappointment among fans, particularly on Hupu, a sports forum popular with men, where the Go player’s anti-feminist rhetoric found a receptive audience.

“It’s so sad,” one Hupu user commented under a related post. “Now those Weibo feminists will be more lawless for sure.”

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: Chinese Go champion Ke Jie is surrounded by media at an event in Fuzhou, Fujian province, April 27, 2018. Zheng Shuai/IC)