PetroChina executive’s affair produces an unexpected fashion hit

Filmed in a popular shopping destination in downtown Chengdu and uploaded by a street photographer, the clip shows the couple taking a romantic stroll down the street in color-coordinated outfits. Hu wears a pink polo shirt that matches his female companion’s summer dress.

As soon as it hit the internet, the video blew up and sparked widespread interest in the pair. Online sleuths identified the man as Hu and the woman as Dǒng Sījǐn 董思瑾, a co-worker of Hu’s at China’s largest state-owned energy company. Anonymous internet users who claimed to know Hu began sharing scoops about his private life, alleging that he had been cheating on his wife for quite some time.

Hu reportedly messaged the photographer on Douyin — the Chinese sibling of TikTok — asking him to take down the video. The uploader obliged, but it was too late.

As speculation regarding the couple ramped up, resulting in a barrage of trending hashtags on Weibo that collectively garnered billions of views, CNPC released a statement on Wednesday evening — less than 24 hours after the original video was uploaded — announcing that Hu had been removed from his positions in the company and would face further investigation from its disciplinary committee. According to local media reports, Dong has also been dismissed.

The announcement, however, didn’t stop drama-loving spectators from trying to find out more about the couple. Rumors have run rampant. Users discovered that Dong’s father is a senior executive at CNPC, and that she often posts on social media about expensive designer bags and luxurious vacations.

One other thing stood out: Dong’s dress, which has commonly been referred to as a “mistress dress” (小三裙 xiǎosān qún), or “dismissal dress” (免职裙 miǎnzhí qún) on social media. Using reverse image search, fans of the dress found the Taobao vendor selling the item and were surprised to find that it only costs 618 yuan ($87), which is relatively cheap compared to what she paired it with in the viral video, a Lady Dior handbag sold at 44,000 yuan ($6,186).

According to agencies tracking ecommerce data, more than 1,000 copies of the dress were sold on Wednesday, which marked a significant jump in its sales and boosted it to the top of Taobao’s hot item list. By the end of Thursday, the sales number increased to over 4,000 units. Overwhelmed by the attention, the Taobao store posted a message yesterday, telling customers to “shop rationally.”

Not everyone, however, thought the dress was worth the hype. “Why would someone want to dress in the style of a mistress? The craze over this really reflects a moral decline in our society,” a Weibo user lamented, while another person criticized the dress from a fashion standpoint: “Pink is a hard color to pull off and I think the print on the dress is kinda tacky.” Others defended the dress, with one writing, “Every dress is probably worn by a mistress at one point. The dress is innocent!”

The collective fascination with Hu’s cheating scandal has also turned it into a meme. Using AI-power tools, some internet users transformed images of the now-infamous couple into something that looks like it’s been plucked straight from a graphic novel, whereas others created their own versions of the original video. “I’ve got the shirt and bought a train ticket to Chengdu. All I need is someone who can hold my hands,” a Douyin user wrote over a video showing him walking at home in a pink polo shirt.

Images from Weibo

On Thursday, several media outlets condemned the meme-ification of the scandal and urged the public to treat the matter as a serious example of an official being disciplined for committing adultery. A Beijing Daily editorial stated, “Focusing too much on the dress and making up salacious stories will divert public attention from the real lesson here.”

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