Zhang Yiming was a hometown hero. Local media heralded his startup, ByteDance, as China’s most internationally successful internet product. It was the first Chinese tech company to challenge the likes of Facebook for global pop-culture dominance with its breakout hit app, TikTok. Now, as his company is under attack across the world, he’s also facing some criticism back home.
In an effort to save TikTok from a U.S. ban by President Donald Trump, Zhang is in talks to sell it to Microsoft. Those negotiations have sharply divided public opinion in China, where nationalism is a powerful force. Some have accused him via social media of selling out by bowing to U.S. pressure, while others depict him as a victim Trump is treating unfairly. The controversy has raised concerns among his backers.