The physical act of the kowtow – bowing so low the forehead touches the ground – was a sign of respect and reverence in ancient China. During the Qing Dynasty the ruling Manchu made prostration an elaborate yet everyday form of etiquette. The aim? To instill in Han Chinese and other tributary states a slavish mentality, which also explains why the British envoy Lord Macartney preferred to risk his diplomatic mission rather than kowtow before Emperor Qianlong in 1793.
So, it is not surprising that Lv Yi felt aggrieved when Gong Zhenbing, his boss at ride-hailing platform Yidao Yongche, made him knock his head on the floor seven times at a dinner gathering of 10 people, according to an internal letter by Lv to the company’s senior management. Worse still, the servile act was filmed and it has since been widely forwarded on the Chinese internet by not only Yidao staffs but many netizens.
The letter was sent a day before Lv officially left the company. In a bitter parting shot, Lv discussed at length Gong’s imperious attitude and behaviour. The kowtow footage seems to have added credibility to his accusations, and he claimed that he submitted to his CEO’s whim only because Gong threatened to fire the entire government relations department which was headed by Lv.
Yidao officials dismissed Lv’s account of the events and suggested that the filming was a premeditated act by Lv. It also claimed that Lv’s resignation was an act of repentance for injuring the company’s human resources vice president in an angry outburst (after the physical bust-up Lv’s scalp also required stitches). Yidao added that Lv had been a disruptive influence and had fanned discontent in the company.
Lv fired back that Gong, formerly the chairman of food delivery platform Baidu Waimai, had been replacing swathes of existing staff at Yidao with his own people since he joined in May.
Yidao was founded in 2010 as one of China’s earliest car-hailing apps. But its development has been disrupted by frequent changes in its main financial backers. Most recently it has suffered from the liquidity crunch at its previous owner LeEco (see WiC368). Even with the investment of a private equity firm last year, which replaced LeEco as Yidao’s controlling shareholder and requested the appointment of Gong, Yidao has never been free from complications that have effected its operation. Lawsuits linked to LeEco, for instance, led to Yidao’s bank accounts to be frozen, alienating a lot of drivers and customers, according to QQ News.
Local media generally thinks that the row reflects poorly on the Beijing-based company once again.
Lv is now demanding a public apology from Gong, claiming that the he owes him ‘seven kowtows’ in retribution. The Rashomon effect – a term derived from a Japanese movie of the same name about different people having different accounts of the same event – likely means a definitive judgement of who did what at the dinner will remain elusive. But making headlines because of a kowtow is definitively not the kind of attention that any company wants.
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