Speaking about her house arrest in Canada, an executive there was an uproar on social media about the prosecution of a former employee.
In the first year of her detention in Canada, Chinese telecom giant Huawei’s Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou released an open letter explaining how she endured the unknown’s terror, discomfort, frustration, helplessness, torture, and acceptance.
She wrote extensively about the support she got from her colleagues, friendly people at a Vancouver tribunal, and “numerous” Chinese online users who shared their faith.
Her message, released on Monday, was not well received on the Chinese Internet, where Ms. Meng is regarded as a “princess” because she is a daughter of Huawei’s chairman, Ren Zhengfei.
Most users posted the numbers 985, 996, 251, and 404 in the comment section below their letter on the Twitter-like social media platform Weibo. They pointed slyly to a former Huawei employee who graduated in a program code-named 985 from One of the country’s best universities, starting at 9 a.m. Around 9 p.m. Six days a week, he was imprisoned for 251 days because he demanded payment because his term had not been extended.
His tale in China went viral, attracting furious online comments. While reports and comments Were removed, this culminated in 404 error messages, a symbol of China’s censors at work.
Li Hongyuan, the former employee, was eventually released from prison without charges and last week received $15,000 in government compensation. Last week, he shared his story online, and that was when the hit to the reputation of Huawei started.
“One enjoyed a warm Canadian mansion while the other enjoyed a dark and damp Shenzhen prison center,” posted psychologist Jiang Feng on Zhihu’s quora-like question-and-answer page. Ms. Meng was under house arrest in a six-bedroom home, facing possible extradition to the United States on charges she conspired to defraud banks on the relationship between Huawei and an Iranian company.
Ms. Meng’s frustration represented an uncomfortable moment for both Huawei and middle-class professionals in China. Huawei has been fending off allegations by the U.S. government over the past year that it is opaque and inefficient and that it hacks for China, an accusation repeatedly denied by the firm.
However, in China, Huawei was considered the tech industry’s crown jewel and enjoyed tremendous goodwill. Most Chinese are proud to give up their Mobile phones on their iPhones. But the reaction to a long-term employee’s incarceration after a labor dispute made it clear that people in China were starting to turn on the company.
Social media anger was also indicative of new insecurity among Chinese middle-class members who have never experienced an economic downturn and have always believed that they have more protections than low-paid migrant workers. People said Mr. Li was able to see themselves.
“Many middle-class Chinese used to believe that they would be able to realize their Chinese dreams. When they went to good schools, they worked hard and took no care of the current affairs.” a blogger wrote on Weibo. “Their visions are now in ashes.”
Huawei declined to comment on the response from the public.
He gave Chinese media outlets interviews, Mr. Li, a 12-year Huawei worker, received a $48,000 severance package in March 2018. Yet he didn’t get a bonus at the end of the year that he said he was told. He sued Huawei last year in November.
He was arrested in Shenzhen a month later and charged with stealing trade secrets. He was reportedly indicted on an extortion charge in January. But he was released without charges in August. He has not responded to requests for interviews.
In a release, Huawei insisted that nothing wrong had been done and asked Mr. Li to prove he had been maltreated.
“Huawei has the right, and indeed the responsibility, to inform the authorities of the details of any suspected illegal activity. We support the authorities ‘ decisions,” the statement said. “If Li Hongyuan feels that he has sustained injuries or that his rights have been infringed, we support his right to obtain relief through legal means, like Huawei’s litigation.”
The remark was called “arrogant” by online critics and “cold-blooded.” “You got the elephant, but you can step back on it,” said one popular WeChat post. “What a justice response!”
Jiang Jingjing, a journalist, criticized Huawei with his strict performance evaluation system and legal force for trampling on the rights of his staff. “Once a company is converted into a rough, dehumanized grinding machine, what’s the point?” he said.
In some respects, Huawei’s recent critique harks back to the company’s early days. Huawei has developed an intense “fox mentality,” which has motivated its employees to work very hard.
Once they arrived, new employees would get a bed as everyone was expected to work late and often sleep in the office. A series of employee deaths drew the firm’s harsh scrutiny over a decade ago. Six accidental deaths in two years, including four murders, are reported in an investigative report by a piece of weekly news.
Since then, particularly after the United States initiated an international campaign to try and discourage its partners from using Huawei’s next-generation wireless technology, known as 5 G, Huawei has become a symbol of China’s technological superiority and American attempts to keep China down.
Huawei has earned an outpouring of support after the arrest of Ms. Meng. Huawei’s smartphone sales in China have grown 66 percent from a year earlier in the latest quarter. According to research firm Canalys, sales for Apple and most domestic competitors in Huawei declined.
Many people are now talking about Huawei products being boycotted. As a new, smart-fitness wristband, images of a pair of Huawei-branded handcuffs are circulating online. One of the “units,” relating to prison life, is called the “free meal and lodging variant.”
Tung Ting, a public relations executive, posted that the outrage could cause long-lasting damage to Huawei’s brand on his WeChat social media timeline. Chinese firms assume that customers only respond to freebies and discounts, he wrote, “but a very high percentage of the young generation is also concerned with values.”
In an indication that there are many middle-class professionals worried that what happened to Mr. Li could happen to them, online users circulated articles about prison life, especially at the Longgang Detention Center in Shenzhen, where Mr. Li spent more than eight months. Huawei is headquartered in the Longgang neighborhood of Shenzhen.
A programmer who has been in a detention center for more than a year working on gaming and betting technology circulates a three-part blog post to some online users. Gambling in China is illegal. The writer wrote in-depth what it was like to live with 55 men in tropical weather in a 355-square-foot cell— what they drank, wear, and did every day.
Several Chinese were especially angered at the level of censorship of news coverage and online comments. They say they feel powerless because the government can not be questioned. They now think they can’t challenge a giant corporation as well.
One of Ms. Meng’s letter’s Weibo posts got 1,400 posts. Others said that Mr. Li had been held for 251, the number of days. The audience can still see less than ten comments, positive ones.
“A company that’s too big to attack is even more frightening than a business that’s too big to fail,” Nie Huihua, a professor of economics at Renmin University in Beijing, told Jiemian news site on Tuesday.