Meituan’s share price plunges after boss publishes Chinese poem

Workers walk past the Meituan logo in Beijing

Shares of Meituan, China’s largest food delivery platform, fell after its chief executive published – then deleted – an ancient poem in a move widely seen as possible criticism of the Chinese government.

Authorities are investigating the company into allegations of anti-monopoly behavior, as part of a broader crackdown on tech companies.

Meituan’s share price fell 5.3% on Tuesday and fell to 9.8% on Monday after its general manager Wang Xing published the classic Tang Dynasty poem, which criticized Emperor Qin Shi Huang for silencing his critics by burning books.

Mr. Wang’s message was seen as a veiled comparison of the ruthless former emperor and the current authoritarian government of China.

Meituan delivery boy in yellow tours Shanghai
A Meituan delivery boy in yellow tours Shanghai (Ng Han Guan / AP)

Investors worried about the reaction of Chinese authorities sold their holdings in Meituan shares.

Mr. Wang posted the classic poem The Book Burning Pit by Tang Dynasty poet Zhang Jie on the Fanfou social media platform, according to Chinese media.

He then deleted the post, saying it was meant to refer to fierce competition in the e-commerce industry, where the most dangerous competitors are often unexpected.

Emperor Qin is revered as the founder of a modern and unified China, but seen as a brutal and ruthless ruler who killed scholars who dared to challenge him.

Under President Xi Jinping, China has imposed ever tighter controls on an already repressive political landscape and on Chinese media.

The ruling Communist Party hardly tolerates public dissent.

The internet industry has come under intense scrutiny in recent months, as Beijing has expressed concern over the growing influence of companies such as e-commerce giant Alibaba and others.

Regulators ordered Alibaba to pay a record fine of $ 2.8 billion (£ 2 billion) for abusing its market position and canceled plans for a massive initial public offering by its subsidiary Ant Group.

Other tech companies, including gaming giant Tencent and search engine giant Baidu, have been fined for not disclosing their investments and acquisitions.

Regulators have also summoned companies to warn them about anti-competitive behavior.

Alibaba’s problems surfaced after its founder, Jack Ma, publicly accused financial regulators of being late at a conference in November.

Its stock price has fallen nearly 17% since regulators announced in late December that they were investigating the company.

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