In the first half of 2020, a senior executive of a Chinese Internet company was demoted. Earlier, the employee’s wife took to Chinese social media to accuse the employee of cheating on her with a popular cam girl.
This is not the first Chinese employee to be demoted because of a personal emotional dispute. In fact, losing jobs due to family reasons has become a new norm in recent years. Search on Chinese search engines with the keyword “company name + scum man（Company name + 人渣） “and you will find that almost every Chinese company has dozens of search results.
Overseas, this phenomenon also exists, because in almost all cultures, disloyalty to marriage is shameful. But in China, the phenomenon has become particularly common because of traditional moral values and the growth of social networks.
Almost every few months, Chinese social networks hype with an incident of infidelity. It’s worth noting that, unlike former McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook’s relationship with a subordinate, these cases often have no ethical implications, but end up leading to dismissal.
In a typical case, the victim of an infidelity (usually a woman) will first gather relevant evidence, such as WeChat chat logs, phone records, and money transfers between her partner and the other woman.
They then combine the evidence with their reasoning in a long article, which they post in screenshots on China’s social media platform Weibo. The article usually has more than 5,000 Chinese characters( about 3500 words) and contains dozens of images, some even containing a table of contents.
Different people would write the article in different literary styles, some of which read like academic papers, some like police investigation reports, some like erotic novels.
The Chinese call this influence to a certain level of gossip “Snack Watermelon,” and the continual focus on an event is called “Eating Snack Watermelon.” This originated in the pre-Internet era, when the main scene for Chinese people to get gossip was eating snacks, like watermelons, and chatting with neighbors in nearby communities.
Watermelon releases tend to be timed to coincide with events, such as weekday afternoons. This is when people are more likely to be surreptitiously browsing social networks and sharing information with colleagues.
In a typical case, the cheater is often not a senior employee of a large company, which makes it impossible for him to control public opinion quickly.
While the description may have nothing to do with the company or the workplace, as the scandal spreads, cheaters will be fired from the company-because big companies don’t want their reputations to be affected.
Therefore, to some extent, this is a kind of vigilante justice: China does not have any law that requires companies to be responsible for the private lives of their employees, and there is no relevant law that stipulates that people who cheat can not continue to work. But the reality is that if a person is exposed on social networks for infidelity, it is almost impossible for that person to continue to work in the same company.
If the company does not fire the employee in the first place, it will be regarded by the public as shielding people with moral defects, which will have a very negative impact on the company’s long-term reputation. Employees who are fired for this reason are often unable to receive compensation from the company, because this is not legally regarded as an “unwarranted dismissal”-it does damage the public image of the company.
This actually solves part of the problem of emotional disputes not being supported by law, so it’s different from overseas in two ways:
- Not in all cases that involved in emotional dispute are husband and wife, some of these cases are just boyfriends and girlfriends.
China has a complete Marriage Law, and there are corresponding punishment measures for marital infidelity. This means that infidelity in a legal marriage will result in the loss of a large amount of property and custody of the unfaithful.
But for unmarried couples, there is no legal protection. At the same time, it also means that cheaters will not be significantly punished.
In the past, the punishment for such cheaters came mainly from social pressure. Because of the close interpersonal relationship in China in the past, this kind of punishment may be effective. But as China becomes more urbanized, the social pressure based on mutual friends and relatives no longer exists.
So when Internet social networks emerge, victims seek public social punishment.
- Almost all the victims of the articles are well aware that this has nothing to do with the company the cheater works for.
With a few exceptions, most disputes are not actually related to the company where the victim works.
The unfaithful do not have relationships with colleagues or clients within the company, and even the victims know that. Some of the victims even wrote in the article, “It doesn’t matter if the company doesn’t fire him. I just want the people in this company to know they have a scummy co-worker.”
But, as mentioned above, if companies don’t act, it will be a public relations nightmare.
Adding the name of a big company to a post can significantly increase exposure. This stems from the public’s distrust of big companies. Some retweeters are actually not interested in relation disputes, but just keen to forward negative news about big companies.
As a result, this will quickly heat up public opinion and make relation disputes between two (or more) non-public figures as hot as star infidelity.
Taking this criticism to the corporate level, it eventually led to the direct punishment of the cheater – dismissal.
In most of these cases, the party who initiated the social network exposure is female which shows the awakening of women’s rights in China.
But like all vigilante justice, it also brings some problems.
First of all, the interests of enterprises are damaged. While it is true that cheaters should be punished, “firing an employee” is actually a punishment for companies, especially if such realation disputes have nothing to do with professional ethics.
In fact, it is almost impossible for companies to predict whether their employees are morally qualified, and once the incident breaks out, in addition to reputation damage, companies have to pay additional administrative and labor costs to fire employees and recruit new employees. If the employee is in a key position, it will also affect the progress of the work.
On the other hand, because the essence of this kind of behavior is a public trial without legal basis, injustice occurs from time to time.
In hindsight, not all the people who were demoted or fired proved to be cheaters in relationship disputes, and some of them were even victims.
In October 2019, a homosexual assault case was exposed on Weibo. In the initial release material, the victim showed a surveillance video in the elevator. In the video, the victim is apparently in a state of “delirium” and is hugged and kissed by another man who then pulls him out of the elevator.
According to the description of “victim”, the man was a flight attendant of China Southern Airlines. After getting drunk, the flight attendant forcibly dragged the victim to his home and sexually assaulted him.
The “watermelon” was quickly retweeted tens of thousands of times, and the flight attendant was abused and fired by China Southern Airlines.
But then, the plot was reversed, and the flight attendant sued the “victim” for infringing his reputation and won the trial.
According to the complete video and other relevant materials provided by the flight attendant, the “victim” actively seduced the flight attendant after a quarrel with his own boyfriend and had sex with him voluntarily in a conscious state.
Videos that previously caused a lot of sympathy on Weibo have been proved to have been deliberately edited to mislead the public.
But in the end, the flight attendant was not reinstated. To this day, there are still many people who do not know the outcome of the verbal attacks on him.