Annabel Yao, the youngest daughter of Huawei’s founder and CEO, has embarked on her dream career – one that’s quite different from that of her billionaire father.
The China-born, Harvard-educated socialite released her debut single on her 23rd birthday last week as the first step in her quest to become a mega pop star.
Donning figure-hugging crop tops, oversize earrings and knee-high boots in her music video, the heiress to the Chinese telecom giant is billed as a ‘princess who breaks the rules’ as she launches her singing career in the Far East.
Annabel Yao, the youngest child of Huawei’s founder Ren Zhengfei and half-sister of Huawei’s CFO Meng Wanzhou, is seen performing in her first music video, BackFire, released last week
Annabel (seen in her music video) has faced criticism and doubt on Chinese social media
Annabel’s self-made father Mr Ren founded Huawei at the age of 43 with just 21,000 yuan (£2,300). Mr Ren is pictured speaking at a press conference in China on January 18, 2019
Despite the catchy slogan, Annabel denies being a ‘princess’ in real life.
‘I have never regarded myself as a so-called “princess”,’ she says in a biographic documentary released on the same day of her showbiz debut.
‘I think, like many peers, I had to spend a lot of effort and study extremely hard to be admitted to a good school.’
The budding singer, who graduated from Harvard last year with a degree in computer science, reveals that she felt ‘a sense of loss after her graduation’ and calls her switch in career a ‘significant decision of my life’.
‘People on the internet give me many tags: ballerina, Harvard graduate, socialite and fu’erdai,’ Annabel admits while referring to a colloquial Chinese term used to describe the children of wealthy families.
‘I don’t want to be restricted by these definitions. I want to try things I haven’t tried before. [I want to] do unconventional things.’
‘I have never regarded myself as a so-called “princess”,’ Annabel says. ‘I think, like many peers, I had to spend a lot of effort and study extremely hard to be admitted to a good school.’ The socialite, who attended the Parisian debutante ball in 2018, is seen in a recent Instagram photo
Annabel (seen in a photo on her Instagram) was born in 1998 in the Chinese city of Kunming to Mr Ren and his second wife, Yao Ling, who is said to be Mr Ren’s former secretary in Huawei
Annabel, often referred to as Anna, is the youngest of three children of Huawei’s self-made chief Ren Zhengfei, who is estimated to be worth $1.4billion (£1.03billion).
She was born on January 14, 1998, in the southern Chinese city of Kunming to Mr Ren and his second wife, Yao Ling, who is said to be Mr Ren’s former secretary in Huawei.
She took her mother’s surname and was trained as a ballerina in her youth. In November 2018, she was introduced to the world as a glamorous debutante at the 25th annual Bal des Débutantes in Paris.
Despite being born with a silver spoon in her mouth, Annabel discloses that she had a lonely childhood.
‘I envied other children for being able to spend more time with their parents,’ she states.
Her half-sister Meng Wanzhou, 25 years her senior, caught the international attention, also in 2018, after being arrested at the Vancouver International Airport on a warrant from the United States in December that year.
Wanzhou, Mr Ren’s firstborn and Huawei’s CFO, is under house arrest in Canada while facing bank fraud charges for allegedly misleading HSBC about Huawei’s business dealings in Iran and potentially causing the bank to break US sanctions.
Little is known about Annabel’s half-brother Ren Ping, who allegedly joined his father’s company after obtaining an MBA degree in the United Kingdom.
On Weibo, the Chinese equivalent to Twitter, some people slam Annabel’s singing and dancing skills while others compare her unfavourable to her half-sister. The budding singer is seen posing for two photos uploaded to her official Weibo account, which was set up in December
Annabel’s half-sister Meng Wanzhou (pictured on January 12) is under house arrest in Vancouver while facing bank fraud charges for allegedly misleading HSBC about Huawei’s business dealings in Iran and potentially causing the bank to break US sanctions
Compared to her publicity-shy siblings, Annabel is the darling of the media and enjoys showing off her fashionable lifestyle through Instagram.
Who is Huawei’s CEO?
Born in rural Guizhou to parents who were teachers, Huawei’s founder Ren Zhengfei’s path to great fortune remains largely unclear in his homeland.
He studied in an architectural and engineering colleague in the city of Chongqing in 1963.
In 1974, he joined the Chinese Liberation Army as a combat engineer to built a fibre factory in the northeast using French technologies.
He retired from the army in 1983 after the central government decided to restructure its industries.
After four unhappy years at a petroleum company, Mr Ren founded Huawei at aged 43 with just 21,000 yuan (£2,388).
Mr Ren’s military background has led many to speculate that Huawei gained business success through its connection with the Chinese army and government, but Huawei has firmly denied the allegations.
The tycoon has had three wives.
Both of his daughters took their mothers’ surnames while his son keeps the Ren surname.
His first wife, Meng Jun, came from a family with a powerful background. Her father, Meng Dongbo, was said to be a deputy provincial governor with impressive political connections. The couple had two children, daughter Meng Wanzhou and son Ren Ping.
It is said that Mr Ren’s second wife, Yao Ling, was his former secretary in Huawei before they got married. Their daughter is socialite and singer Annabel Yao.
Mr Ren’s current and third wife, Su Wei, is less than half his age, according to Chinese media reports.
During the annual Parisian debutante ball, she wore a cream-coloured J Mendel dress, was escorted by a Belgian prince and performed the opening waltz.
For her new title, BackFire, the star-wannabe croons in English and Mandarin lyrics like ‘Baby I’m a backfire’ and ‘It’s me who will break the so-called rules’.
She also trades her classic ballet moves for modern body-popping, leading web users to compare her to K-pop girl band Blackpink and even Rihanna.
However, the heiress’s first stab into the entertainment world has drawn much criticism and doubt in China, where the gap between the rich and poor is growing fast.
On Weibo, the Chinese equivalent to Twitter, some people slam her singing and dancing skills while others compare her unfavourable to her 48-year-old half-sister.
One critic writes: ‘[She is] too eager to prove herself. Perhaps, [it’s better] to let the public accept you slowly.’
Another accuses her of ‘galloping in the entertainment circle for fame and fortune’ while Wanzhou is ‘facing jail on behalf of the family’.
There are also supporters, such as one person who praises her for ‘growing up strong despite adversity’ before adding ‘keep it up, musician of the future’.
Another fan chants: ‘The first music production of Anna the princess looks very good.’
Annabel’s agency recognises that her family background would bring more attention and pressure on her.
One representative of the agency, Beijing-based TH Entertainment, says in Annabel’s documentary: ‘People will have higher standards and expectations for [her]. This is a challenge and an inevitable process for Anna.’
Talking about her newly launched career, the socialite acknowledges the bumpy road and social pressure ahead.
She notes: ‘I am very lucky to have been born into a happy family. I am also grateful for my parents’ support whenever I have a big life decision to make.
‘But as a new entertainer, you won’t get support from people just because you have been lucky. It will have to depend on your talent.’
She concludes: ‘Nobody can walk the path for me. I must do it myself step by step.’