China’s Internet Obsesses Over Arrest of Founder Richard Liu

Others speculated over Mr. Liu’s marriage to Zhang Zetian, who rose to fame as a student when a photo of her holding a cup of milk tea was widely shared on social media. Nicknamed “Sister Milk Tea,” Ms. Zhang met Mr. Liu while she was studying in the United States, and they married in 2015. The couple have been both praised and criticized in China for cataloging online the intimate details of their lives, including their wedding and Ms. Zhang’s pregnancy.

Mr. Liu’s arrest also prompted derision. In a previous video interview, he had insisted he had not married Ms. Zhang for her looks. “I am face blind,” he said. “I can’t tell who is pretty and who is not.”

Referring to those remarks, one online user joked, “Maybe he mistook the other woman as Sister Milk Tea. He is face blind, after all.”

Beyond online comments, the case also put a spotlight on’s fierce rivalry with the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, and in particular the clash of personalities between the companies’ founders.

If the most intense reality show in the United States is national politics, business feuds take top billing in China. The workings of the government are carried out in a black box, off limits to media scrutiny and public discussion, but antagonism in the business world is carried out in the open. Among the business tycoons, the heads of China’s internet companies are the hottest stars, the leaders of and Alibaba chief among them.

Where Mr. Liu is like an aggressive boxer — a straight talker and a formidable disciplinarian — Alibaba’s executive chairman, Jack Ma, is more of a tai chi master, skillful at gentle maneuvering. Even before his arrest in Minnesota, Mr. Liu was in the news a lot with a colorful private life and blunt speaking style.

Born in a poor part of the eastern province of Jiangsu, Mr. Liu has made much of his Everyman credentials. Able to afford meat only once or twice a year, his family typically ate sweet potatoes and corn as dinner staples. Until recently, he would put on a helmet and’s red uniform to make deliveries on a three-wheeled electric bike. He calls the 100,000-odd deliverymen who work for his “brothers,” and often trumpets how much better they are paid than those employed by competitors.

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