It’s an understandable concern, given the social-media attention directed at Ms. Liu, which has been vast and often vicious. On Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter, her case has been one of the most popular topics of the last two years.
“The woman is a slut,” one commenter said. “The woman looks disgusting,” commented another. “It was obvious that they disagreed on the price,” added a third. “Looks like the woman set up the whole thing.” And one suggested that Mr. Liu was the actual victim, writing, “Look at the woman’s build, I absolutely believe that Liu Qiangdong was raped.”
These are just a few of the 8,500 comments on a single Weibo post, which was retweeted 14,000 times and liked by 95,000 users. Now imagine this, and worse, at scale, for months and months.
Many of the most active hashtags related to the case, including #RichardLiulawsuit and #RichardLiusexualassault, have been disabled on Weibo. But even less popular hashtags regarding the case get an astonishing amount of attention. One, which has to do with a denial that Mr. Liu was getting divorced, has 170 million views. Another, which concerns a defamation lawsuit Mr. Liu filed against a Chinese blogger, has 130 million views. A hashtag about a pretrial hearing in September has logged 110 million views.
Followers of the case quickly translate legal documents into Chinese and add subtitles to police audio and video. In some ways, Ms. Liu has become a figure as polarizing as President Trump. In July, the morning after the Minneapolis police released a report on the case, I got into a debate with a friend, and I suggested that she might want to read the document first before jumping to conclusions. My friend, an accomplished career woman and busy mother, replied that she had indeed read it — all 149 pages, in English, overnight, purely out of curiosity.
Ms. Liu’s case is attracting so much attention because she is accusing one of the country’s most powerful men of behavior that has long been ignored. Sexual harassment and assault are widespread in China, and elites face little scrutiny. The workings of government and the private lives of national leaders are off-limits to the news media. Self-made tech tycoons are widely admired celebrities.
Among this class of billionaires, Mr. Liu is one of the most high-profile. Born in a village in the eastern province of Jiangsu, he likes to recount how his family was able to afford meat only once or twice a year, and how he went to college with $70 raised by his fellow villagers. He founded JD.com in the early days of Chinese e-commerce, and turned the company into a logistics colossus. Mr. Liu became an entrepreneurial icon, known for putting on a helmet and JD.com’s red uniform to personally make deliveries on a three-wheeled electric bike one day a year.