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A Unique Window into Huawei
Xinsheng Community makes available to the world employees' complaints, management's internal memos & speeches, and founder Ren Zhengfei's changing attitudes toward engaging with media.
Perhaps one of the least-known facts about the world’s most scrutinized company is that, for years, Huawei has kept its forum for employees open to the public.
The 心声社区 Xinsheng Community, offering some of Huawei’s corporate memos and founder’s internal speeches, sets the Chinese employee-owned company apart from fellow secrecry-obsessed international tech giants and domestic competitors.
In a 2020 speech, Ren said
Xinsheng Community is like the Forum Romanum, encouraging every employee to critique internal management issues. Only by allowing criticism can the company become healthier.
Every employee knows the problems within their system, and it's important to be brave enough to reveal these contradictions and expose the issues. Only by addressing these can we rectify them. Facing challenges head-on is the most important virtue of every manager. (John) Bolton's new book, "The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir", is available online. You all can have a look. From the perspective of the United States, he is a great nationalist, brave enough to expose the problems, hoping for a better America, even if we don't necessarily agree with his views.
Xinsheng Community is like Forum Romanum. You can either speak under a pseudonym or use your real name. Senior company leaders are reading the comments. Some who have criticized the company have even been given opportunities. Because exposing existing problems doesn't mean disapproval. However, comments in the "Heartfelt Voice Community" are limited to internal company issues and should not touch on societal matters. Also, do not engage in personal attacks or name-calling. If you believe that you have adequate evidence against someone, you can report it to the Ethics Committee or the Audit Department. Other than these limitations, the Xinsheng Community is entirely democratic concerning management issues.
In public view for a decade and a half, its official introduction reads
Inaugurated on June 29, 2008, the Xinsheng Community served as the communication hub for Huawei people. Huawei employees can share their thoughts openly or anonymously within the community. Statistics show that over 98% of the current Chinese employees have engaged with the Xinsheng community.
The content found within the Xinsheng Community falls into three main categories: employee feedback, Huawei’s internal documents, and Huawei People, an eponymous magazine.
Finger-pointing, “lie flat”, and resignations
WeLink, Huawei’s internal office software, suffered an outage in July 2023 that briefly paralyzed communications, judging from posts in Xinsheng Community where, shortly after the outage, discussions arose. Take this comment for example:
At the time of the Welink crash, I was in a meeting and initially thought it was an issue on my end. However, it resolved relatively quickly. Those around me continued with their tasks, with some even managing to avoid potential distractions from the surroundings.
Initially, I thought this was a minor incident and would pass, but then discussions emerged in the Xinsheng community about the severity of the incident and which teams should be held accountable. These discussions weren’t wrong. Strictly speaking, what these colleagues said was correct, and from the company’s perspective, it was even beneficial.
Apparently, some employees were calling for the Welink team to be held accountable and disciplined. On the same page
No need to say so much, I understand Welink (team), but I still think that incidents should be handled according to the SLA (Service Level Agreement). Just because it's an internal service doesn't mean it can be forgiven. If a similar incident were to occur in a product delivered to mobile operators with a large customer, we would have a nightmare from our customer.
In the Xinsheng community, a search for the term “pressure” returns a staggering 4,531 pages of results. The results encompass a wide range of common and highly relevant issues faced by individuals, such as how to handle mortgage payments. One complained in February 2022
In my early 30s, I haven't been able to save much money, and my family's financial assistance is limited. I can't afford a well-located apartment, and I don't want to settle for a remote one. Moreover, I strongly resist carrying a heavy mortgage burden. I'm married but don't have children, and I don't want to have kids either. This further diminishes my motivation for homeownership. I feel that renting a place near my workplace might be a good option, and I don't have any concrete plans for the future. However, I can't help but feel that this kind of "lying flat" lifestyle isn't ideal. I believe that in life, we should do things that align with our current life stage, and I'm feeling conflicted about it. Do any experienced individuals have any advice?
I'm currently in Beijing, while my family resides in a smaller second-tier city.
Resignation, typically one of the hush-hush topics between employers and employees, is extensively discussed in the employer-organized forum. One wrote in July 2023
From graduating from university in 2019 until now, it feels like time has passed in the blink of an eye. Initially, I entered Huawei quite by chance and I was fortunate. Over the years at the company, I may not have achieved much professionally, but I've been content. I've had the opportunity through work to visit many places both domestically and internationally, have seen the beauty of the world, experienced different cultures, and made friends whom I believed would be lifelong companions. These things have been very important to me.
Why am I resigning? If I had to sum it up in one sentence, it would be that after a long period of adjustment, I realized that it wasn't the right fit for me, and my abilities fell short.
During my time at the company, I transitioned from front-line positions to roles in the overseas supply chain platform. I've experienced different job roles, and every day at work has been spent in a hectic environment with conflicts. After work, I just wanted to play with my phone and not engage in conversation. I gradually lost my passion for exploring life and the ambitious drive I had when I first joined the company. It took me a long time to contemplate the meaning of life, and I've come to realize that living a life that I find meaningful is more important than just having utility and value.
Someone concurred below
You've expressed it very well, and I see a lot of similarities with your situation. I’m also preparing to resign, so I wish you smooth sailing on your journey ahead!
There was even one speech by Ren in 1996 at a “collective resignation ceremony”
The Marketing Department, as the vanguard of the company, has established indelible merits over the past six years and has earned the trust and respect of all company employees and users. I have also worked closely with them, and it's been a relationship filled with emotions. I love them, especially those employees who have sacrificed themselves and paved the way for tomorrow. But I also love tomorrow, and for the sake of tomorrow, we must correct today. Their collective resignation and acceptance of the organization's assessment demonstrate their fearless and selfless spirit, illuminating Huawei's history and serving as a role model for all company employees to learn from.
Get real with Huawei itself and the media
In August 2017, a similarity between the code of one Huawei project and the code from an external hosting platform was unearthed by one of the company’s employees, Liang Shanguang. In Xinsheng Community, Liang spotlighted potential risks related to either unauthorized disclosure of proprietary code or possible plagiarism.
Following Liang’s revelation, Ren, from the Office of the CEO, sent out a company-wide correspondence titled “Embracing Authenticity: Huawei’s Path to Enrichment through Truthfulness”.
Email from Office of the CEO
Email No.  087
Issued by: Ren Zhengfei
Embracing Authenticity: Huawei’s Path to Enrichment through Truthfulness
We must encourage employees and leaders at all levels to speak the truth. Truthful words can be right or wrong. Whether organizations at all levels accept them or not isn’t an issue, but the atmosphere needs to change. Speaking the truth helps improve management, while false words only make management more complicated and costlier. Therefore, the company has decided to promote Liang Shanguang, with employee number 00379880, by two levels, to 16A, effective immediately. This will not affect his regular assessment and promotion. Based on his voluntary choice of job position and location, he can work at the Shanghai Institute and will be protected by Deng Taihua from any retaliation.
Submitted to: Members of the Board of Directors, Members of the Supervisory Board
Primary recipients: All staff, Public disclosure
September 4, 2017
A lot of “surprise” in the comments section followed. “That’s cooool! Bro, you’ve made history at Huawei!” “I’m super excited. Every time I feel disappointed with certain departments or individuals, there are always such voices and facts that let us believe the company is still full of hope.” Liang himself also responded to the concerns of some colleagues: “Thank you all for your support. The leaders have said they will give me a longer ‘protection period’ to adapt to the new role, so everyone, please don’t worry about me anymore. Thanks to all of you upright folks.”
Some did not agree. For example, one comment reads:
I still believe that telling the truth is a basic moral principle that everyone should uphold. It’s something everyone should practice and can hold others accountable for…If you reward someone materially for just adhering to the basic moral principle, it actually lowers the value standard. Everyone will then think the motive behind morality is material gain. When people find out that the original “promise” doesn't bring benefits, and telling the truth causes damage to their interests, the trend will eventually shift, and people will tend to avoid telling the truth.
The boss rewarded Liang Shanguang, hoping that thousands of “Liang Shanguangs” could emerge. However, those driven by interests to tell the truth, if they don’t receive a reward like Liang, will be disappointed. This act does not satisfy their motive (gaining benefits). Moreover, without changing the underlying culture, it might even result in damage to interests. Over time, a culture of truth-telling might not be established at all.
Behind the act of not telling the truth, perhaps there are issues with a large bureaucratic organization, organizational structure, culture, incentive system, or power? We need to peel back the layers to discover the underlying problems behind the problems.
One of the persistent problems facing Huawei is external communications. It’s widely known among veteran China reporters that in the early years, Huawei ducked media inquiries.
Huawei’s initial reluctance to engage with media can be found in a 2001 internal speech titled Huawei’s Winter by Ren
Deal with external discussions with a low-profile
Regarding our attitude towards the media, I hope all employees will maintain a low profile because we are not a publicly traded company, and thus we don't need to publicize ourselves to society…The media has its own operating rules, and we should not engage with them. Some of our employees engage in online debates, which only hinder the company. When the media speaks well of you, don't get too excited because you may not really be doing well. If they criticize you, see if there are areas for improvement. If the reports are inaccurate, don't dwell on it; over time, things will improve. I hope everyone can stay calm.
In the past few years, foreign media said we were heavily in debt, making significant losses, and on the verge of collapse. Huawei didn't collapse just because they said so. Maybe it even lulled our competitors and inadvertently helped us. Half a year ago, they were still saying that we were heavily in debt, but suddenly, at the end of last year, U.S. media said we were swimming in wealth and started speculating about my personal wealth. I don't think the company is wealthy, and I personally don't have much money.
Do I look like a wealthy person to you? You know me best; I am often mistaken for an old laborer. The finance department knows me best. It wasn't until the end of last year that I truly cleared all my debts to the company, making me debt-free (for the first time) in this century. Of course, I bought a house and a car. Originally, I bought a Peugeot car for 100,000 yuan, which was manufactured by Peugeot’s Guangzhou factory. Later, many leaders advised me to buy a better car just in case it could withstand an accident. So when the media says we're wealthy, are we really?
A decade later, a 2010 memo titled “Improve relations with the media” apparently sourced from Xinsheng Community and widely quoted in Chinese media recorded Ren’s meeting with senior Huawei executives, Ren made a U-turn
Today, I am having a discussion with officials from the relevant department, and the main topic was to improve our relationship with the media. The company needs to separate my personal psychological barriers from its promotional activities because Huawei is a thriving and growing company, and necessary publicity is required. However, I personally cannot bear the burden of this, which is another matter.
From the very first day of founding the company, I, as the top leader, have had an excessively heavy load to bear. Unlike state-owned enterprises, we don't have higher-ups to consult with, and this creates greater pressure. We must make independent decisions on everything, and the period of suppression has been too long; we've become numb. I, as a person, have indeed become numb, without a sense of honor or accomplishment, or much of any feeling. Because of this, I face obstacles when dealing with the media. However, Huawei is like a young and vibrant individual in its twenties, and it really needs to be correctly recognized by the world.
One significant reason for others' misunderstanding of the company is our lack of proactive communication and our fear of even passive communication, which we mistakenly view as keeping a low profile. In the face of public opinion, the company has long behaved like an ostrich burying its head in the sand. I can be an ostrich, but the company cannot. The company needs to advance. I've heard that people below (those responsible for media relations) are very cautious, and they are extremely nervous about saying anything wrong. I don't know if they've turned my psychological issues into the numbness of over 100,000 people. If over 100,000 people become numb, how can the company progress? We need to distinguish between my personal situation and the company's promotional principles. If we don't make this distinction, the company's promotional efforts will always be positioned incorrectly and will hinder the company. At a critical turning point in our company's history, I hope to have a discussion with everyone to clarify some misunderstandings.
Those responsible for media relations should dare to present the facts and truth to the public.
Do any of you read Tianya Forum (one of the most popular Internet forums in China at the time)? Do the things they say on Tianya Forum carry more weight than us misspeaking occasionally? If such powerful statements can be posted online and we don't care, why should we worry about our employees occasionally making mistakes while speaking the truth? Previously, the company's approach to publicity was to suppress it. Can we silence the mouths of millions of people? We need to adapt and go with the flow, without worrying that the raft will encounter turbulent waters. When the company opened the Xinsheng Community, I felt a lot of pressure, and there were many opponents. Nevertheless, we persisted in keeping the Xinsheng community open.
I don't understand why we can't address our internal issues openly. As long as employees adhere to the truth, as long as they have witnessed it personally and point out areas that need improvement, why can't these issues be addressed publicly?
In our recent management of departing employees, we have removed the clause about maintaining the company's reputation because it's impossible to maintain it; we can only improve it. We need to allow employees to speak up. In reality, the majority of employees deviate from the truth only slightly; they don't completely distort facts. After the Xinsheng community was opened, our internal environment actually improved significantly.
2. Improve relations with the media, treat them kindly.
Our current relationship with the media is problematic. Wu Chunbo [an advisor to Huawei] showed me an article about Huawei. I found the author to be well-intentioned, and the article was quite good. However, this journalist came to our company but couldn't get through the main gate; no one received him. He took a taxi, circled around Bantian [where Huawei was located], and went back. So, how can he reimburse his plane ticket? He approached Huawei as someone with a sense of mission, but he didn't see anything. How can his chief editor reimburse him? The media also puts in effort. Why make it difficult for them to leave gracefully? We need to learn to resolve various conflicts.
We should improve our relations with the media and treat them kindly. When it comes to media relations, we should lower the dam instead of building it higher. When media professionals come to our company, we should provide them with at least two pieces of information to help them write an article. They should be allowed to interview any employee, and employees can say whatever they want. Criticizing Huawei is also fine; they don't necessarily have to say good things about the company, as the truth will speak for itself. If Huawei has made a mistake, it's better to discover it earlier rather than later.
Second, our public relations department should not be too rigid. We should treat them kindly, allow them to conduct interviews, and if they write about us with specific names and facts, we should accept it and not hold a grudge.
In reality, the media is quite resentful of Huawei at the moment. Some of their statements are just venting due to our closed and arrogant behavior. When the media collectively criticizes us, don't assume it's all part of a conspiracy. Conspiracy theorists don't have that much power. It's more likely that the media is collectively expressing their anger toward Huawei, and it's crucial for us to improve our relations with them to some extent.
4. people in media relations need to speak up and not be afraid of making mistakes.
I hope in the new year we can be more open and allow everyone to take action. Firstly, people in media relations should dare to speak up, dare to “make mistakes.” What’s the harm in making a couple of mistakes when speaking? Has a company ever collapsed because someone said something wrong? If so, then this organization isn’t really valuable. By this point, Huawei should allow for criticism. If you look at all my speeches and articles, I’ve always encouraged voices of opposition and those who dare to challenge us to emerge within Huawei. We can’t be right in everything, at least I can’t be right in everything. Therefore, we need to free our thoughts a bit. If someone is disciplined for making a couple of wrong statements, I take responsibility for overturning that. However, if someone makes a mistake, we should have a discussion, analyze how to correct it next time. It’s not about punishment or retaliation, and it shouldn’t be tied to that person’s future.
5. We absolutely cannot use the media
One thing that should not change is that we cannot treat the media like we do customers. We need to establish some rules when dealing with media partners. Never use the media. We should aim to improve our relationship with the media, not exploit it. Don't think you're clever; every situation has two sides, and you may be getting into more complicated issues. We don't want the media to do anything specific for us. We just need to have a more harmonious relationship with the media, and what we need is for the media to provide us with a flexible environment.
Another decade later, even Ren himself could no longer bury his head in the sand, as he has given tons of media interviews since 2019, as reflected by his numerous interviews with the Financial Times, CNN, The Economist, Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, BBC, CNBC, Kyodo, Los Angeles Times, Bloomberg, Euronews, Fortune, The New York Times, Canada’s CTV and Globe Mail, etc. The transcripts are available on Xinsheng Community.
Huawei People: a magazine’s journey alongside Huawei’s rise
Xinsheng Community also houses Huawei People, a three-decade-old magazine now available both in Chinese and English. The first issue was published on May 11, 1993.
In the very first piece of the magazine
Its Editorial Note states that:
The primary objective of establishing Huawei People is to facilitate communication and conveyance between all levels of the company. It ensures that updates and information related to the company’s research, production, market, and daily life activities are transmitted through proper channels. Moreover, we hope it aids in fostering and promoting our corporate philosophy.
From the inception of this publication, we will release issues irregularly, based on the volume and importance of the content. We welcome individuals to join the editorial work of Huawei People and encourage submissions from all areas, projects, writing styles, and schools of thought. For your convenience, we will set up submission boxes at the company and in Xicheng. Until then, please submit your articles directly to Yan Weimin at the company office, and to Shi Wenjin at the Manufacturing Department office.
The first issue also surveyed employees’ opinion on the company’s internal canteen: Your opinion on the current cafeteria operation; Color, aroma, and taste of the dishes; Variety and presentation of the dishes; Variety and quality of breakfast and late-night snacks; Any issues with food spoilage, deterioration, or improper cleaning; Hygiene of the chefs; Kitchen sanitation; and orderliness in the cafeteria.
Pekingnology has dived into Huawei People to find out about Ren’s early life and his writings on returning from the U.S., Russia, and Japan. For example, nearly all international reporting on Ren Zhengfei talks about his ties to the People’s Liberation Army as if the Chinese military conspired in Huawei’s success, but few mention his involuntary decommissioning and his subsequent joblessness and struggle.
Catherin Lifang Chen, currently Executive Member of the Supervisory Board, told new hires at the beginning of 2021 in her then capacity of Member of the Board of Directors and Senior Vice President, as recorded in 2021’s first issue of Huawei People
We often face life-and-death situations but have never given up on investing in the future.
Huawei was initially a "three-no" company at its inception, meaning it had no technology, no capital, and no backing. Initially, it acted as a sales agent for user exchange products but lost its agency qualification in 1990. If it had changed its course at that time, Huawei might have disappeared into the annals of history long ago.
I joined Huawei in 1995 and have since witnessed Huawei's growth and various difficulties, such as financial constraints, discrimination against a private enterprise, lawsuits, attempts by various actors to poach Huawei's research and development (R&D) staff, theft of R&D achievements, and over a decade of escalating pressure from the U.S. government, among others. Huawei has faced numerous life-and-death situations throughout its history. These external crises are visible, but there are also internal hidden crises. We have never been far from them. "Fortresses are always broken from within," and organizational disintegration and complacency may be the greatest enemies. Therefore, the history of Huawei's growth is a history of continually overcoming these challenges.
So, what about Huawei today? Let me summarize. Huawei is still a "three-no" company, but these new "three-no" factors may also be the source of our future hope.
First, we still have no powerful backing. Overcoming difficulties and creating the future depend on ourselves. Having no way out can motivate everyone to find a way forward.
Second, there are no super-rich individuals among our employees. The company's distribution model is a combination of "capitalism + socialism." We want to have differences in compensation, but the disparities cannot be too large. Employees primarily rely on their labor to create value and accumulate personal wealth, with capital gains accounting for only one-third of overall income. This way, we can continuously attract outstanding talents to join us in expanding the pie.
Third, the company does not have much money. There is a saying within Huawei: "Huawei is the poorest and most generous high-tech company in the world." Compared to Apple, for example, Apple's financial reports show it has over $210 billion in cash, which is an order of magnitude more than Huawei. Huawei's net profit margin is around 7%, while Apple's is over 20%. However, Huawei never hesitates to spend money, whether it's in market and customer service investments (over 50 billion U.S. dollars annually), product research and development (over 120 billion U.S. dollars annually), or talent investment (over 160 billion U.S. dollars annually). We do this without hesitation because these investments represent Huawei's future. So, when we say Huawei is poor, it's because we allocate most of our money toward investing in the future, and that includes all of you present here. You are also part of Huawei's future, and the company is investing in you, hoping that you will rapidly improve your capabilities and add value.
If you really want to understand Huawei's situation, please take a look at our Xinsheng/Heartfelt Voice community. On Xinsheng, even posts criticizing the company won't be blocked. Instead, the Human Resources department will take a look at how they criticize. If the criticism is valid, they will begin an investigation and examine the person's performance over the past three years. If the performance is good, they will be transferred to the company secretary's office to assist with handling specific issues, provide training, and develop them. It's like giving them an opportunity to "cleanse" themselves at the General Staff Headquarters. After six months, they will be released. These seeds will eventually become leaders. Talking good about us actually numbs us because there is no substance. The content of the criticism in the Xinsheng community is very specific, and we need to analyze it in a concrete way. Without self-criticism, we would not have survived until today.