Venture capitalist may have to pay a heavy price for his behavior, report Li Jing and Kane Wu in Beijing.
Reports about a married billionaire who is chucking it all in to be with his mistress have dominated the headlines.
"To all friends and relatives, to all colleagues, I am giving up everything and eloping with Wang Qin," venture capitalist Wang Gongquan, 50, announced at 11:21 pm on Monday on Sina Weibo, China's equivalent to Twitter.
"I thank everyone for the years of help and care, and wish everyone happiness! I have no way to face everyone's expectations and trust, and I have no way to explain this to everyone. I feel ashamed and so am leaving without saying goodbye. I kneel down and beg forgiveness!"
Within an hour, that single message was re-tweeted 4,971 times with 2,842 comments. In two days, it was re-tweeted nearly 50,000 times and more than 40,000 comments were left.
Wang Gongquan (left), a billionaire in China, makes a big stir in the public after announcing on Monday his elopement with Wang Qin (right), who is a successful businesswoman.
"The elopement of one couple has become a carnival for the public," said Liu Dan, deputy director of the psychological counseling center at Beijing-based Tsinghua University.
"The great attention given reflects a shared yearning for a life that people can take full control of, and a popular disappointment toward the fact that money can most often manacle love in this society. Pure love may not be the truth behind the elopement, but it is what people are choosing to believe."
Public enthusiasm was fueled when Wang sent a second message on Wednesday: "I don't care about being condemned. I don't care if fame and fortune are gone."
An internal e-mail message from CDH Investments, the company Wang founded, confirmed his disappearance. President Wu Shangzhi told employees in the e-mail: "Gongquan has taken some time off to deal with his personal affairs ... We hope he can finish it as soon as possible and come back to work."
The successful investor
Before Monday night, Wang was better known for his legendary business maneuvers. The Jilin native quit a post in the provincial government to explore business opportunities in 1988 in Hainan, where he struck a fortune in property development and co-founded Vantone International Group.
He left the company in 1998 to join International Data Group as a senior partner. In 2002 he founded CDH Investments, a venture and private equity firm that manages some $3.5 billion in international funds and 4 billion in yuan funds.
Most of the companies he has invested in, including Minsheng Bank, AsiaInfo, Eachnet, JRJ.com and LDK Solar, proved to be wise market choices after going public or being parts of mergers and acquisitions. Wang has also been listed among China's Top 10 Venture Investors and China's Top 10 Entrepreneur Investors, among other titles.
On his Weibo account, Wang, apart from his business identity, appears to be more of an advocate for the rights of citizens. He has been dedicated to helping the underprivileged fight for their rights.
He was, for example, one of the first to speak up for an independent citizen observation group in the case of Qian Yunhui, the village committee chief in Yueqing, Zhejiang province, who died suspiciously in a car accident.
Romance or hype?
As established and revered as he is, Wang now has gotten himself into hot water. Friends, business partners, netizens and the media have been roasting him about the motives behind his bold act, especially because Wang is married. His wife, Yang Xuefeng, is reported to have been working in accounting at Vantone International Group in Hainan.
Netizens and the media did not waste much time before they dug out information about his lover, Wang Qin. She is 34, the board chairman of Jiangsu Zhongfu Investment Group, and divorced. In a recent update of her micro blog, she wrote: "Once you meet the love of your life, of course you should keep him by your side forever."
Some people speculated this was marketing hype for a new company.
"They are going to open a private equity fund together. This is pure hyping! It's a good lesson for Weibo marketers, but if you believe in true love, you will be disappointed!" a business and finance critic said on Weibo.
No shackles, no privacy
The couple's action has as many sympathizers as critics. "It has re-ignited a nationwide discussion about love," said Li Hongping, editor of Vista Magazine, a popular Chinese news weekly.
"The relationship between men and women is becoming a worldly pursuit, where people care more about property, house and social status, instead of spiritual communication," he said. He mentioned "BMW girl" Ma Nuo, who said last year on a TV dating show, "I'd rather weep in a BMW than smile on the backseat of my true love's bicycle."
"Now, suddenly, people seem to be faced with a romantic affair, for a successful businessman to give up everything for love. "
The public attention lies in part in Gongquan's wealth and his attitude toward wealth, according to Liu at Tsinghua University. "In the eyes of netizens, the elopement is a romantic movement. First of all, Wang is a rich guy. The public may not have paid so much attention if he were just an ordinary man.
"Then he is not manacled by his wealth, especially for a beloved woman, making it even more a legendary story," she said. This is especially attractive in a fast-paced society, where many people are not feeling "so happy or satisfied with their lives".
Many people have expressed their support. "Everybody has the right to pursue his love. I admire Wang, for he dares to love and hate. I often say ending a painful marriage leads to two happy families," Shu Xin, director of the China Marriage and Family Affairs Consulting and Research Center, a non-governmental organization, told China Daily.
Others consider him irresponsible. "Why do you guys run away? You have such a good life here. You act like a thief," Ren Zhiqiang, president of real estate developer Huayuan Group, said in his Weibo status.
"Your children are still here. Come home!" property tycoon Pan Shiyi, Wang's business partner in Vantone International Group and now president of Soho China Co Ltd, told Wang in his Weibo update after several failed attempts to get in touch with his old friend.
Liu offered a caveat, that Wang's real status may be different from the rosy conjecture of the public. He must have met some real difficulties in his life, she said. The attention can only worsen his situation by exposing all the details of his life and work, leaving little space for him to confide or discuss his problems with family and friends.
Whether he has the right to pursue love or not, Wang will pay dearly for his romantic behavior, said Cao Cheng, senior matrimonial lawyer of the Beijing Yingke Law Firm.
If he seeks a divorce, Wang has to relinquish at least half of his property, including shares of his company, bank savings and houses. If his wife can prove that Wang is at fault in the collapse of their marriage, she can get even more.
His new life is not blessed, according to marital experts. "An elopement means one loses social support and family. More important, one will have a lasting sense of guilt," said Wang Xin, family counselor with China's leading marriage website, Baihe.com.
People who leave a spouse for a lover not only leave the spouse behind but also give up their relationships with parents and children. They also have to run away from social surroundings, including friends and colleagues, she said.
All these losses will make them feel sorry, she said, and the guilt may someday overtake the passion for love.
He Na, Hu Yongqi and Wang Yan contributed to this report.