Douyin — the Chinese version of TikTok — removes comments and memes about horrific murder in Hangzhou

Society & Culture

After the news broke that a man in Hangzhou murdered and dismembered his wife, Douyin, Chinese version of Tiktok, is now taking action against insensitive remarks and memes about the killing, drawing boundaries for what it calls “malicious memeification.”

hangzhou murder
A man identified as Mr. Xǔ 许 gives an interview before he became a suspect in the murder of his wife

“I’m giving you a septic tank warning.” This was a popular refrain repeated across Chinese social media in the past week. In just a matter of few days, the phrase — a reference to a horrific murder where a Chinese man allegedly murdered his wife and discarded her body in a septic tank — went from an innocuous joke to an alarming meme used by men threatening to kill their partners if they “misbehave.”

Now, Douyin, Chinese version of Tiktok, is taking action against such insensitive and dangerous remarks about the killing, drawing boundaries for what it calls “malicious memeification.”

The decision was announced in a statement (in Chinese) issued by Douyin on July 29. The short-video app, which boasts over 400 million daily active users, said that since the trend was brought to its attention over the weekend, it had removed more than 170,000 comments, roughly 30,000 videos, and over 350 hashtags related to the meme. Additionally, a number of accounts that capitalized on the sensational news to gain followers have received a 30-day suspension for harming the “safe and healthy ecosystem of Douyin.”

“In order to build a friendly and positive community, Douyin calls on people to respect the dead and stop making unkind jokes about social events solely for the sake of attention,” Douyin said, adding that it had always taken a hard line on inappropriate online activities such as memeifying tragic news.

The deceased, a 51-year-old woman in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, was reported missing by her husband Mr. Xǔ 许 earlier this month. During the early stages of the investigation, the husband, 55, told police that his wife went out for a walk in the middle of the night and never came back. But after going through footage captured by surveillance cameras around the couple’s residential compound, the police discovered that the woman had never left her building on the day of her disappearance. Last week, the investigation hit a breakthrough when human remains were found in a septic tank at her apartment building. The next day, local police arrested (in Chinese) the husband, who later confessed to murdering and dismembering his wife.

Since then, very few details have been revealed about the murder, except that some of the victim’s remains were discovered in a septic tank. The lack of information quickly prompted a lot of speculation about how the killing was executed. The most popular theory said that the husband used a meat grinder and two tons of water to clean the blood and flush the evidence down the toilet.

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Although this rumor was never confirmed by police, it quickly turned the wife’s death into the punchline of a joke, causing a string of insensitive remarks glorifying uxoricide. For example, in response to a Douyin video of a man doing chores around the house while his wife was dancing, a person commented, “When she disobeys your orders, two tons of water will solve the problem.” In another Weibo post, a man wrote, “I casually gave my wife a septic tank warning while arguing with her last night. Today, she looks like a different person and voluntarily did a lot of housework.”

While these posts may seem harmless to the creators, some internet users expressed their discomfort at the meme, arguing that it’s extremely disrespectful to joke about someone’s death. Moreover, given that the wife was reportedly (in Chinese) a victim of domestic abuse before her murder, the threatening tone of the meme actually glorified domestic violence in a way, putting women in abusive marriages at greater risk. “There is a line that people shouldn’t cross when it comes to memeification. I strongly support Douyin’s decision,” a Douban user wrote (in Chinese).