Tuesday 11 May 2021 9:27 am

Rhyme or treason: Chinese tech giant Meituan’s boss in hot water over ancient poem

Shares in Chinese tech giant Meituan have dropped sharply after its chief executive posted an ancient poem on social media that was interpreted as a veiled criticism of President Xi Jinping.

Wang Xing, the billionaire boss of the food delivery app, posted The Book Burning Pit by Zhang Jie on a Chinese social media platform before deleting it shortly afterwards.

The poem — which dates back 1,000 years to the Tang dynasty — was written as a criticism of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, leading many to interpret Xing’s post as an attack on China’s leadership.

This rattled investors, with Meituan’s Hong Kong-listed shares falling as much as 14 per cent in trading on Monday. They are now down just over 5.5 per cent.

After deleting the post on Sunday Wang issued a clarification stating the poem was a reference to his company’s competitors, local media reported.

Meituan is currently under investigation by authorities in Beijing over allegations of abusing its market dominance.

It comes amid a wider crackdown on China’s tech sector, with rival Alibaba handed a record $2.8bn fine last month.

Alibaba founder Jack Ma has been subject to particular scrutiny, with regulators blocking the $37bn initial public offering of fintech division Ant Group and ordering the company to be restructured.

The intervention followed a speech made by Ma in October in which he criticised China’s regulators and state-owned banks. The billionaire tycoon — one of China’s wealthiest people — then disappeared from the public eye for three months.

Under President Xi Jinping China has become increasingly authoritarian, with critics warning of a clampdown on free speech.

The UK has imposed sanctions on Beijing and MPs last month officially voted to declare that China was committing genocide against Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang region.