What Chinese Weibo users think when JD CEO weds Milk Tea Girl

Jing Gao

Liu Qiangdong or Richard Liu, founder and CEO of Chinese e-commerce site JD.com, held a lavish wedding ceremony with his wife Zhang Zetian on Thursday near the Great Barrier Reef, one of Australia’s most popular tourist attractions.

Despite that the newlyweds ‘apparently’ only invited close friends and family to the private ceremony, the Chinese press have managed to obtain a few photos from the event.

liu qiangdong

liu qiangdong2

Photos from Sina Weibo

22-year-old Zhang Zetian, better known in the Chinese media as the “Milk Tea Girl”, is an Internet celebrity and pop icon. She first came to fame at the age of 16 when a photo of her holding a bottle of milk tea became viral in 2009. She has since attracted the Chinese paparazzi, who stalked her most notably during her stay in New York City, where Zhang was an exchange student at Barnard College from the fall of 2013 to summer 2014.  

On March 10, 2014, rumors started circulating on Sina Weibo, China’s answer to Twitter, that Liu Qiangdong had been dating Zhang, citing anonymous sources close to the couple. It is alleged that Liu and Zhang began seeing each other after meeting only once at a dinner party.

Most Chinese web users were astonished due in part to the 19-year age difference between the two.

Liu at first fumed over the gossip, accusing Alibaba’s Jack Ma of maliciously disseminating nasty gossip. Liu claimed Ma was attempting to distract him from steering the ship at Liu’s e-commerce company JD.com, which is seen as slowly chipping away at Alibaba’s dominance in China. “They have no choice but to resort to a dirty trick like this. Aren’t they afraid of karma when doing such evil things?” Liu wrote on his WeChat Moments, the newsfeed feature of popular instant messaging app, Wechat.

Nevertheless Liu about-faced a month later and officially announced his relationship with Zhang, taking criticism for his wrongful characterizations of Ma. Some have claimed it was all a part of a botched smear campaign and attempted character assassination.

Chinese media have coined the term “nai dun,” or “Milk Exit,” to describe Liu’s apparent strategy of using the “milk tea girl” to divert negative publicity. A common example cited is the decision of Liu and Zhang to get their marriage officiated on August 8, only one day after JD.com posted a second quarter 2015 net loss of 510 million RMB, or 82.3 million USD.

Liu’s recent “private” wedding in Australia is speculated by some media to be Liu’s answer to Alibaba’s latest alliance with home appliances retailer Suning, the Chinese equivalent of Best Buy, which some analysts claim will likely thwart JD’s expansion ambitions.

“Well played, Brother Dong. Whenever he loses in the financial news, he wins it back in the entertainment news,” a Baidu Baijia commentary reads.

Jing Gao

Jing founded her own blog Ministry of Tofu and worked with Los Angeles Times, Greenpeace and LinkAsia. She graduated with a master's degree in Journalism from the University of Illinois.

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