Lei is gasping for a break.
Photograph by ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images
By Scott Cendrowski
December 17, 2015

The Chinese smartphone startup Xiaomi is being assaulted from all angles. Analysts are questioning the company’s $45 billion valuation; CEO Lei Jun must defend his smartphones sales target; and the press is questioning the quality of its product—not even the foreign press, China’s own media.

This week, a story appeared on the People’s Daily website, the top mouthpiece of the Communist Party, questioning whether Xiaomi’s air purifier was producing believable results.

The reporters were tipped off by posters on Chinese social media who complained that their new purifiers, which include a HEPA-filter packaged in plastic, were producing results with the wrapping still on.

“It’s still running at full speed without removing the filter cover and its app display level decreased significantly,” the story said, referring to the smartphone app that pairs with the filter to show real time changes in air quality. “Therefore, there’s a suspicion of fraudulent data.”

The story bounced around Chinese media this week. It ran under an official Xinhua news agency byline on Tencent’s (tcehy) WeChat, and appeared on popular tech hubs like Sina news.

The CEO of the Xiaomi subsidiary making the device, Zhimi Technology’s Su Jun, tried to explain the misreadings, or misunderstandings, in a Weibo post, China’s Twitter equivalent. But the company deleted it soon after, explaining that it was too complicated. A Xiaomi spokeswoman declined to comment about the stories.

Zhimi posted a certification from Chinese testing agencies testifying the quality of its air filter on Sunday.

The post was titled, ‘We let the reports and data to speak for themselves.’ It ended with a nonchalant smiley-face emoji wearing sunglasses, smoking a cigar.

That may be the best tact to take with gripers on social media. The Xiaomi air filters get positive reviews online. Immediately 800,000 units were sold when it launched earlier this year. In China today, most consumers are skeptical about products, especially Chinese-made ones, that carry health claims because of a recent history filled with fakes. The air filter skepticism may be a symptom of that mistrust.
What’s worth following in the Xiaomi story, should more criticism surface, is how closely the state media follows the reports. That’s one thing the Chinese haven’t come to expect. Foreigners neither.

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