Bill and Melinda Gates’ divorce has shocked China, where the Microsoft (MSFT) co-founder has reached a degree of celebrity unmatched by almost any other Western businessman.
On China’s Twitter-like site Weibo, the hashtag “Bill Gates’ divorce” had generated more than 830 million views and 66,000 discussion posts as of Wednesday, far surpassing the 91 million views accrued when Amazon (AMZN) creator Jeff Bezos and MacKenzie Scott divorced in 2019.
Weibo users were concerned about everything, from the couple’s vast wealth to whether the divorce would impact Microsoft or their charitable foundation. The couple has invested $53.8 billion on global wellness, poverty alleviation, and other programs through their philanthropic organization. According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, Bill Gates is worth $146 billion, and the couple has vowed to donate the vast majority of their money to charity.
One Weibo user said, “You and Melinda have made huge contributions to people around the world. Even if you don’t hold hands together in future life, I hope your foundation can still continue and help more people,” in response to a post on Bill Gates’ official Weibo account announcing the divorce in Chinese.
Despite the fact that Bill Gates is no longer the CEO of Microsoft, the company has spent decades cultivating goodwill with China. Its goods are widely used in China, despite the fact that other Western tech firms have been barred from doing so.
While Facebook (FB) is blocked on the mainland, Microsoft’s LinkedIn is one of the few Western social media platforms available. The Bing search engine is now available, although Google has been unavailable for many years.
And Bill Gates’ personal appeal is likely aided by the company’s success: he now has more than 4.1 million Weibo followers, outnumbering Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s 1.7 million and Apple CEO Tim Cook’s 1.4 million.
On Weibo, also well-known Chinese tech figures joined the conversation: Former Google (GOOGL) China head Kai-fu Lee, who helped create Microsoft Research Lab Asia, a highly influential network in China, said he couldn’t believe the news.
Many Chinese tech talents have come through Microsoft Research Lab Asia in Beijing, including Bytedance founder Zhang Yiming, Alibaba (BABA) tech leader Wang Jian, and former Baidu (BIDU) president Zhang Yaqin.
In a Weibo post, Lee described Bill and Melinda as “the most affectionate couple I’ve seen among celebrity entrepreneurs.”
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation opened an office in Beijing in 2007 and has since collaborated with the Chinese government on a number of domestic initiatives, ranging from HIV prevention to poverty reduction.
Since the 1990s, Bill Gates has visited China more than a dozen times and established good ties with the country’s top leaders. In March 1994, he was greeted by former Chinese President Jiang Zemin, just as China was gaining access to the Internet for the first time.
China was keen to open up its economy and catch up with the West in terms of technology at the time. The travel, which included a pledge from Gates to Jiang that Microsoft would assist China in developing its software industry, aided Microsoft’s expansion in the Chinese market.
Former Chinese President Hu Jintao was invited to dinner at Gates’ home in Washington state in 2006.
Last year, Chinese President Xi Jinping wrote to Gates to express gratitude for his assistance in the war against Covid-19.
In 2018, the ruling Chinese Communist Party hailed Gates as “the Chinese people’s old buddy,” a title it rarely bestows on foreigners with whom it has a close relationship.
Meanwhile, some Chinese users on social media expressed their dissatisfaction with the divorce, saying that it had shaken their faith in marriage. For 27 years, the pair had been married.
“Even you are divorced,” one user wrote on Weibo in response to Bill Gates. “How can the lot of us have any chance of marrying?”