China

Huawei founder’s daughter mocked for showbiz career announcement in a splashy 17-minute documentary

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Huawei Technologies Co. heiress Annabel Yao has launched herself into show business, releasing a video documentary announcing her signing as an entertainment artist with a Beijing-based company.

Styled by the company in a slick, all-black figure-hugging outfit and high heels perched on top of a crown, Yao is described in TH Entertainment’s 17-minute documentary and accompanying poster, released on Thursday, as a “princess who breaks rules”.

“I’ve never treated myself as a so-called ‘princess’,” she says in the video. “I think I’m like most people my age, I have had to work hard, study hard, before I could get into a good school. I also get confused at times and have to try many different things to find my real path in life.”

The 23-year-old shared her excitement on her official account on Sina Weibo – China’s Twitter – saying the signing was a “special birthday present” she had given to herself. Within minutes of posting the announcement, critics stormed the social media platform to mock the daughter of one of China’s richest men for the life of struggle she had presented in the clip.

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“If she came out in a low-key way, hid her identity and earned respect from the audience, then I think that’s admirable,” one commentator said. “Sadly, before we can discover her personality and talent, the entire world already knows who her father is.”

“Can Ren’s daughter really have fans?” said another. “What will they like about her? They won’t give you free phones, nor will her money become your money.”

Yao is the child of Huawei founder and chief executive Ren Zhengfei and his second wife , Yao Ling. She’s already an accomplished academic and ballet dancer, after passing Britain’s prestigious Royal Academy of Dance’s top-level ballet exam at 15 before earning a place at Harvard University to study computer science when she was just 17, according to media reports.

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Yao caught the global public’s attention when, at the age of 20, she was invited to attend high society’s annual Le Bal des Débutantes ball in Paris.

Traditionally attended by daughters of the aristocracy when they were deemed ready to be presented to society as adults, about 20 girls each year are now invited from a dozen different countries.

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Dressed in haute couture and dancing the night away with a member of European royalty, Belgian Count Gaspard de Limburg-Stirum, Yao’s debut was covered by glossy fashion magazines and broadcasters around the world.

However, the young starlet is not the only member of the family to be firing up the internet. Yao’s half-sister and Huawei’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou , is back in a Canadian court seeking an easing of her bail conditions after her 2018 arrest, at the request of the United States, for suspected bank fraud and violation of sanctions against Iran.

She has been under house arrest since then in Vancouver, and continues to fight extradition to the US, which wants her to stand trial.

According to court testimony this week, Meng received death threats while under house arrest – in one case bullets were mailed to her home, the company providing her security testified .

In the documentary, Yao spoke of her half-sister, saying she had often received criticism from people who compare her to her incarcerated sister Meng.

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“I had often wondered why they said negative things about me and why everyone likes my sister but not me,” she said. “I will use these voices of doubts as my driving force to move forward.”

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The Chinese public have had a complicated relationship with Huawei. Seen as the pride of China’s tech industry, Huawei was viewed as a fighter against foreign forces by pro-government nationalists after fending off claims by the US government that it had spied for Beijing.

But in 2019, the company lost its shine when a former Huawei employee spent 251 days in jail after being accused of extortion from the company.

Long-time employee Li Hongyuan had demanded severance pay after his contract was not renewed with the firm. By the time he was released without charge, many had turned against the company and declared it another case of the little people being crushed by giant corporations when they tried standing up for their rights.

“The elephant has stepped on the ant,” said one internet critic.

While the company continues to be shrouded in controversy, the women’s father admitted in earlier media interviews that he felt he “owed” his daughters after leaving them for months at a time to fend for themselves when he was getting Huawei off the ground.

“Sometimes I stay abroad for months and don’t cross paths with my children,” he said in one interview. “I owe them a great deal. My children all depended on themselves. They have set high standards for themselves.”

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.

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