Women using China’s largest ride-hailing platform, Didi Chuxing, are changing their profile photos after the death of a female passenger and revelations that drivers have been reviewing female users based on their profile pictures.
Last week Didi apologised and closed its ride-sharing service, Hitch, after a 21-year-old woman was found dead, half naked with more than 20 stab wounds, in the central Chinese city of Zhengzhou. Police suspected her driver, a 27-year-old man whose body was found in a river in the same city at the weekend. Didi said the man had stolen the profile of his father to use the app.
On Weibo, women have begun posting new profile photos that range from pictures of male relatives and stock photos found online to images of Thanos, a villain in Marvel’s Avengers series. Many changed their listed gender to male. Hitch, a cheaper carpool service, is one of Didi’s most used services.
A 20-year-old university student in Sichuan identified only by the surname Wang said her mother asked that she change her picture. Wang’s profile, previously a photo of her standing demurely by the word “Gal” painted on a wall, now features a heavily tattooed young man. Most of her friends have changed their profiles too. Others have been advised by their parents to take self-defence classes.
Chinese media have reported that a little-known function on the ride-sharing app allowed drivers to leave comments visible to other drivers about passengers. Tags include descriptions like “goddess” or “natural beauty”. Wang said that drivers left reviews describing her as “sweet looking.” One driver reviewed a female passenger as “long legged and hot as hell.”
The incident reflects persistent sexism toward female commuters in China’s cities. After the Hitch incident, China’s state-owned broadcaster CCTV issued advice for women using ride-hailing apps. In a brochure including an image of a woman in high heels and rolling a small suitcase while hailing a cab, authorities advised women not to take a car late at night, to remote or unfamiliar places, or alone. The ad also advised women not to “chat too much” with drivers.
Didi said in its statement last week it would review its operations and the identities of its drivers. It has not said anything about the reviews of passengers based on their appearance. The company did not respond to requests for comment from the Guardian.
"After the accident, there are many people sharing their bad experiences using Didi and it seems that Didi hasn’t responded to those complaints,” Wang said.