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    Netizens Unite Behind Influencers Running Up Against ‘The Man’

    Even the most accomplished workers have to deal with overbearing bosses and unfair treatment, Chinese netizens are realizing.
    Dec 18, 2023#e-commerce#labor

    High-profile spats between two online celebrities and their respective employers have taken Chinese social media by storm in recent weeks, leading to a CEO’s firing, a company’s stock losing more than a fifth of its value, and widespread discussion of “the plight of workers.”

    The controversy surrounding New Oriental, the tutoring giant-turned-livestreaming company, began on Dec. 6 when a social media manager at the company seemingly took a swipe at star livestreamer Dong Yuhui with a comment on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, saying that promotional materials are prepared by a team of people behind the scenes rather than by Dong alone.

    The comment, widely seen as a response to fans’ adoration of Dong, sparked a backlash among netizens. The stock price of New Oriental’s livestreaming arm has fallen nearly 22% since Dec. 8, while its Douyin account has lost more than 2.2 million followers.

    In contrast, Dong has gained around 7.86 million followers since Thursday.

    Much of the ire of netizens has been directed at Sun Dongxu, CEO of New Oriental’s livestreaming arm, who defended the company against criticisms of treating Dong unfairly. In a livestream on Dec. 12, Sun said that Dong had behaved “improperly” after missing a livestream amid the controversy and that Dong was paid well, in response to fans’ accusations that he was underpaid.

    Following backlash against his remarks, Sun apologized for his “aggressive” tone and for mentioning Dong’s salary. However, he has since been removed as CEO, while Dong has been promoted to “cultural assistant” to the New Oriental chairman and vice president of the New Oriental Culture and Tourism Group, the company announced Monday.

    New Oriental began transitioning to livestream sales after the government introduced the “double reduction” policy in 2021. It has become known for its “knowledge-based” livestreamers such as former English teachers like Dong, who incorporates English lessons and scholarly expressions into his livestreams.

    Many are comparing Dong’s treatment with the case of Meng Yutong, a 24-year-old star student who joined Chinese home appliance giant Gree Electric as a secretary to chairman Dong Mingzhu after participating in a Chinese reality show about entering the workforce in 2021.

    When Meng left the company in May 2023, after being tipped to be Dong’s successor, the company distanced itself from her. Recently, Dong was filmed at an induction ceremony for new graduate workers criticizing Meng for not doing her job well and taking advantage of the company to become an influencer.

    However, the video has sparked backlash among netizens, with many accusing Dong of being out of touch after she told the graduate employees not to work for money. 

    “Dong and Meng are in a sense at the top of the workers’ pyramid, but they are still very vulnerable in the face of companies and executives,” one of the top comments on microblogging platform Weibo said.

    There are signs that company leaders are aware of the anger they have caused. On Saturday, New Oriental chairman Yu Minhong said at a forum that executives must be willing to work for employees as much as employees work for them.

    Editor: Vincent Chow.

    (Header image: IC)