The arrest of Huawei’s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou, aka Sabrina Meng, in the Canadian city of Vancouver last weekend has sent shockwaves across China and the US.
Meng, the eldest daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, was reportedly on a stopover in the city on December 1 when she was nabbed by local police at the request of a US court over Huawei’s alleged violation of the US embargo against Iran. She now faces extradition from Canada to the United States.
Other than the repercussions on the fragile Beijing-Washington ceasefire on trade, observers are curious about the low-profile Meng and her relationship with her father, who steered the phenomenal rise of Huawei into a global telecommunications juggernaut.
The first question that many ask is about her surname.
Rumor has it that Meng, now 45, decided to take her mother’s family name when she was still a teenager.
Meng’s mother, Ren’s first wife, is said to be the daughter of a deputy governor of the western province of Sichuan, who spoon-fed the once floundering Huawei with stable, fat orders from local state-owned enterprises as well as the military.
Ren once told reporters that the acumen and indomitable spirit of his ex-father-in-law had rubbed off on his daughter, and that was why he let her change her surname.
However, it is also said that Ren was at the end of his tether back then and agreed to a “matrilocal” marriage in which all his children would use his wife’s family name. Ren’s son is also surnamed Meng, according to the Hong Kong Economic Times.
Meng Wanzhou entered her father’s company in 1993, having graduated with a master’s degree from the Huazhong University of Science & Technology.
She rose through the ranks over the years to deputy president and CFO overseeing Huawei’s books and overseas operations. She also sits on the board of 11 subsidiaries that are under the umbrella of the Shenzhen-based tech behemoth.
But Meng did not enter the public eye until 2013, after an exposé by Reuters that a Hong Kong-based telecom company at which she was a director had skirted US sanctions and sold HP computers to Iran.
Meng is seen by many at Huawei as the heiress of her father’s business empire. She has a son aged 10 and a four-year-old daughter, and her husband does not work at Huawei.
Ren’s other kids he had with his second and third wives all remained low-key, until the news came out recently that another daughter, Annabel Yao, was one of the 19 debutantes who performed the opening waltz at this year’s Le Bal des Débutantes in Paris.
She also carries the family name of her mother, Ren’s current wife, who was formerly his personal assistant.
Reports by Chinese newspapers say Annabel Yao is a Harvard computer-science student whose favorite pastimes is ballet. “As much as I enjoy coding … I have a passion for fashion, PR and entertainment,” she told reporters.
Ren, who usually shuns interview requests, welcomed reporters and photographers from the French weekly Paris Match to his cavernous villa in Shenzhen last month and even agreed to appear in a group photo with his wife and daughter.
The six-page feature in the French newsmagazine was titled “Une fille du ciel dans la Ville lumière” (A girl from heaven in the City of Lights).