Alibaba Fires Male Employee Over Rape Allegation

Netizens are furious about the alleged incident and the slow reaction by the company. Some are also questioning China’s workplace drinking culture

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2:07 AM HKT, Tue August 10, 2021 3 mins read

Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba announced today that the male employee accused of rape has been fired and will never be rehired. The tech company also announced steps that it is taking to address sexual harassment in the workplace, including specific policies and a dedicated communication channel.

The now-former employee is under criminal investigation.

According to an internal letter that Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang released in the early morning of August 9, the male employee admitted that he had inappropriate “close contact” with a female employee after he got drunk.

The memo also states that the company’s head of the local retail division, Li Yonghe, and the group’s human resource generalist (HRG), Xu Kun, have both resigned for failing to respond to the allegation appropriately. The head of HR, Tong Wenhong, has been given a warning.

The statement came two days after the female employee posted a detailed account on the company’s intranet accusing her boss of sexual assault and rape. The 11-page PDF later went viral on the Chinese microblogging platform Weibo and led to calls for harassment policy changes at Alibaba.

A Muted Response

The woman stated in her account that her supervisor brought her on a business trip to Jinan, a city in East China’s Shandong province, on July 27 and asked her to drink and entertain clients at dinner.

According to her account, the client sexually assaulted her during the meal while her supervisor stayed silent. After becoming intoxicated and falling unconscious, her boss entered her hotel room four times, as evidenced by CCTV footage.

She said she woke up naked the next morning with vague memories of the night. She called the police immediately and reported the case to the company as soon as she returned on August 2. She said she tried to kill herself after the incident.

On August 8, after a week of procrastination and no follow-up from company management, she decided to print out fliers detailing her experience and protest in the company canteen. However, security guards quickly took her fliers away and threatened to call the police.

Outrage Mounts Online

Video footage of the woman’s protest in the Alibaba canteen quickly climbed to one of the top positions on Weibo’s trending list. The hashtag for the video has garnered 470 million views, while related hashtags have also been trending on social media. The hashtag for Alibaba had 2.33 billion views at the time of writing.

Netizens are furious about the allegations and lack of action from the company. Some are also questioning the drinking culture in Chinese companies.

“Why didn’t you do this earlier?” says a commenter who is angry about the company’s late response to the accusations. “It happened on July 27, but you ignored the victim’s appeal, and now you’re trying to whitewash the situation when the news explodes.”

“Why do we have to drink to make business deals? I don’t understand it,” reads another upvoted comment referring to China’s drinking culture, which often combines business talk with alcohol-fueled meals. “So, you have to build a solid relationship by getting drunk together before you can negotiate business?”


Netizens are calling for justice in the case. According to an internal post, more than 6,000 Alibaba employees formed a support group on the company’s intranet on August 8, calling for a thorough investigation into the rape allegation and the creation of an anti-sexual harassment system for employees.

CEO Daniel Zhang said in the August 9 memo that the company will conduct training and an investigation to protect employee rights in the workplace and combat sexual harassment and assault.

The company will also create a dedicated channel for employees to report incidents of misconduct, Zhang wrote, and expedite the formation of an anti-sexual harassment policy.

The incident happened a month after Chinese-Canadian pop idol Kris Wu was accused of predatory behavior. Though Wu and his team denied the allegations, he was detained by Beijing police earlier this month on suspicion of rape.

Brands began dropping Wu as a spokesperson, and Chinese social media and streaming sites deleted content from him. His case is still under investigation.

This article has been updated at 6:32 PM on August 9, 2021, to clarify the number of social media views on Weibo.

Cover photo via Wikimedia

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