An explosive leak of chat records between the son of China’s once-richest men and a woman struggling to get away from him has fueled intense discussions about sexual harassment and entitled wealthy men.
The man, Wang Sicong, is the only son of Wang Jianlin, who founded conglomerate Dalian Wanda and previously owned movie theater chain AMC.
At 33 years old, the younger Wang is known for his lavish lifestyle (he famously bought a pair of gold Apple Watches for his Alaskan malamute), and his dates with models and internet celebrities regularly make gossip page headlines.
Despite his splurges and bluntly sexist comments, he is widely worshipped for his ultra-wealthy background, so much so that he earned the nickname “national husband”—for it should be all Chinese women’s dream to marry him.
But the latest leaks have reminded the public of the dark side of being fancied by a so-called eligible bachelor.
On Tuesday, Sun Yining, a previously little-known livestreaming host in her early 20s, shared screenshots of her private chat with Wang, accusing the man of pursuing her insistently against her will, even after she repeatedly told him she is a lesbian.
The chat records from April to June, posted by Sun on the microblogging site Weibo, included dozens of flirtatious messages allegedly sent by Wang. It showed that he traveled to the city Sun lives without telling her in advance and demanded she have a meal with him.
After Sun explained she was not interested in him and why, Wang told her that being a lesbian would hurt her entertainment career, and insisted he was her Mr. Right.
“Am I not the man destined for you?” says a text he sent after 3:30 a.m. on May 27, according to the screenshots posted on Weibo. “I will make you the happiest woman.”
“Can you let me love you dearly?” he continued. “Can you let me accompany you in your life?”
Every time Sun was seen turning Wang down, but the flirting did not stop. One day he asked Sun to abandon her livestreaming career and said, “I will take care of you, dummy.”
This month, following weeks of pursuit, Wang’s messages turned aggressive. He threatened to expose information about Sun that would ruin her reputation.
VICE World News is not able to independently verify the messages, which have gone viral. Wang did not respond to a request for comment sent to his Weibo account, where he has 42 million followers. Wanda Group, where Wang serves as a board member, did not respond to an emailed inquiry sent on Wednesday.
Two hours after Sun posted the messages, a celebrity gossip outlet on Weibo shared what was purported to be claims by Wang that the woman had lied about being heterosexual.
But most of the online discussions about the two focused on the exchanges shared by Sun, with a trending hashtag about the chat having been viewed more than one billion times in a day, according to Weibo data.
It has challenged the common belief in China that women would jump onto the chance to date someone like Wang because of his family wealth. In reality, as many female internet users have pointed out, unwanted love from the rich and powerful is more of an intimidation than a blessing.
Some women have called Wang a “terrifying suitor” who refuses to acknowledge explicit expressions of rejection, while sharing their own experiences of being stalked and harassed by men who were trying to date them.
Zheng Churan, a women’s rights activist based in the southern city of Guangzhou, said while it’s popular belief that women enjoy being pursued, in the real world, women often struggle to get rid of powerful suitors, due to the fear that the men will resort to harming them instead.
“Considering Wang’s power and privileges, his emotional blackmailing signals dangerous attacks both mentally and materially,” Zheng told VICE World News, citing Wang’s wealthy family and massive online following.
Sun’s standing up to Wang has won her a flood of support on social media, where women are increasingly advocating for gender equality. The public has also in recent years become more critical of the once-worshipped wealthy entrepreneurs, including Wang and his billionaire father. Many people have thus taken pleasure in seeing someone openly pushing back.
Lines from the leaked messages have been made into memes and stickers, with Wang’s cheesy flirts juxtaposed with Sun’s uninterested and sometimes harsh responses. “Do you think I’m scared of you?” she said after Wang threatened to discredit her, for example. “You think you are really something with some stinky money.”
But while many internet users and entertainment outlets have framed the saga as a funny dispute, Zheng said the coercion embedded in the messages should not be ignored.
“They are actually using a gossip attitude to dismiss the severity of gendered violence,” she said. “This is a commonly used tactic in patriarchal internet culture. When they try to make fun of it, the fear and violence suffered by women are not taken seriously.”
Follow Viola Zhou on Twitter.