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ByteDance’s Zhang Yiming steps down as chair of Chinese social media group

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ByteDance’s Zhang Yiming is stepping down as chair of the Chinese social media group he founded almost a decade ago, relinquishing his last formal executive position at the company behind TikTok.

The 38-year-old’s departure from a formal management role at the company follows a spate of resignations in China’s tech sector as the government steps up oversight and regulation of the industry’s leading entrepreneurs.

Zhang led the Beijing-based company to create a string of hit apps including viral video platforms TikTok and Douyin. But he found himself at the centre of a geopolitical storm last year when the Trump administration tried to force the sale of part of ByteDance’s global business.

Zhang announced in May that he would step down as group chief executive to work on “longer-term initiatives”, saying his introverted personality made him less than an “ideal manager”. At the same time, he also began to transition out of the chair role to hand over to his successor and co-founder Liang Rubo, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Zhang remains a senior adviser at the company and still comes into the office but does not yet have a new formal title, the person added.

By Wednesday, ByteDance’s website no longer featured a page that had showed Zhang with his full title alongside investors who sit on the company’s global board. Instead, the English website had a photo of Zhang under the headline “Leadership” with no title or other details.

The shake-up at ByteDance comes after Kuaishou, its main Chinese rival, said last week that chief executive Su Hua had stepped down from the role to devote more time to the company’s long-term goals as chair. Colin Huang, the founder of ecommerce group Pinduoduo, also exited his executive roles at his company this year, while Ant Group’s chief executive Simon Hu resigned in March.

“They hope to get further from the spotlight,” said Chen Long at Plenum, a Beijing-based consultancy.

But Long said the lack of formal titles might make little difference if the entrepreneurs remained heavily involved in their businesses. “Look at Jack Ma, he shed his titles but remained atop Alibaba,” he said, referring to the founder of the Chinese ecommerce group. “So he remained the focus of attention.”

Ma largely disappeared from public view last year after Beijing cancelled the $37bn initial public offering of his fintech Ant Group and slapped Alibaba with a record fine for antitrust issues. Last month, he made his first known international trip since getting into trouble with regulators.

The news of Zhang’s exit, first reported by Chinese news site LatePost, was revealed a day after ByteDance announced a significant restructuring that reorganised its business into six main units, including content creation, education and gaming.

The company’s chief financial officer, who joined the company in March, also stepped aside to focus solely on TikTok, of which he was made chief executive in May.

During Zhang’s tenure leading ByteDance, the company grew to 100,000 employees and became one of the world’s most influential media platforms.

China has ramped up scrutiny of its leading tech companies this year, landing ByteDance in trouble with authorities over issues such as sexual content and deepfakes.

In September, Douyin, the company’s main revenue generator, limited children to watching 40 minutes of videos a day and last month introduced five-second pauses between clips during long viewing sessions to prevent addiction.

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