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UNITED STATES
SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION
Washington, D.C. 20549
 
 
FORM 20-F
 
 
(Mark One) 
REGISTRATION STATEMENT PURSUANT TO SECTION 12(b) OR 12(g) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
OR
 
ANNUAL REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
For the fiscal year ended December 31, 2020.
OR
 
TRANSITION REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
OR
 
SHELL COMPANY REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
Date of event requiring this shell company report
For the transition period from
                    
to
                    
Commission file number:
001-38657
 
 
LAIX Inc.
(Exact Name of Registrant as Specified in Its Charter)
 
 
Not Applicable
(Translation of Registrant’s Name Into English)
The Cayman Islands
(Jurisdiction of Incorporation or Organization)
Yi Wang, Chief Executive Officer
3/F, Building B, No. 1687 Changyang Road
Yangpu District, Shanghai 200090
People’s Republic of China
Telephone:
+86-21-3511-7188
Email: yi.wang@liulishuo.com
(Name, Telephone,
E-mail,
and/or Facsimile number and Address of Company Contact Person)
Securities registered or to be registered pursuant to Section 12(b) of the Act:
 
Title of Each Class
 
Trading
Symbol
 
Name of Each Exchange
On Which Registered
American depositary shares, each
American depositary share representing
one Class A ordinary share
 
LAIX
 
New York Stock Exchange
Class A ordinary shares, par value
US$0.001 per share*
       
 
*
Not for trading, but only in connection with the listing on the New York Stock Exchange of American depositary shares.
Securities registered or to be registered pursuant to Section 12(g) of the Act:
None
(Title of Class)
Securities for which there is a reporting obligation pursuant to Section 15(d) of the Act:
None
(Title of Class)
 
 
Indicate the number of outstanding shares of each of the issuer’s classes of capital or common stock as of the close of the period covered by the annual report:
As of December 31, 2020, there were 49,602,321 ordinary shares issued and outstanding, par value US$0.001 per share, being the sum of 29,926,647 Class A ordinary shares and 19,675,674 Class B ordinary shares.

Indicate by check mark if the registrant is a well-known seasoned issuer, as defined in Rule 405 of the Securities Act.    ☐  Yes    ☒  No
If this report is an annual or transition report, indicate by check mark if the registrant is not required to file reports pursuant to Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.    ☐  Yes    ☒  No
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant: (1) has filed all reports required to be filed by Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to file such reports), and (2) has been subject to such filing requirements for the past 90 days.    ☒  Yes    ☐  No
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has submitted electronically every Interactive Data File required to be submitted pursuant to Rule 405 of Regulation
S-T
(§232.405 of this chapter) during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to submit such files).    ☒  Yes    ☐  No
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a large accelerated filer, an accelerated filer, a
non-accelerated
filer, or an emerging growth company. See the definitions of “large accelerated filer,” “accelerated filer,” and “emerging growth company” in Rule
12b-2
of the Exchange Act.
 
Large accelerated filer      Accelerated filer    
Non-accelerated filer
 
           
                 Emerging growth company  
If an emerging growth company that prepare its financial statements in accordance with U.S. GAAP, indicate by check mark if the registrant has elected not to use the extended transition period for complying with any new or revised financial accounting standards† provided pursuant to Section 13(a) of the Exchange Act.  ☒
 
The term “new or revised financial accounting standard” refers to any update issued by the Financial Accounting Standards Board to its Accounting Standards Codification after April 5, 2012.
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has filed a report on and attestation to its management’s assessment of the effectiveness of its internal control over financial reporting under Section 404(b) of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (15 U.S.C. 7262(b)) by the registered public accounting firm that prepared or issued its audit report.  ☐
Indicate by check mark which basis of accounting the registrant has used to prepare the financial statements included in this filing:
 
U.S. GAAP  ☒
    
International Financial Reporting Standards as issued
by the International Accounting Standards Board  ☐
     Other   ☐ 
If “Other” has been checked in response to the previous question, indicate by check mark which financial statement item the registrant has elected to follow.    ☐  Item 17    ☐  Item 18
If this is an annual report, indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a shell company (as defined in
Rule 12b-2
of the Exchange Act).    ☐  Yes    ☒  No
(APPLICABLE ONLY TO ISSUERS INVOLVED IN BANKRUPTCY PROCEEDINGS DURING THE PAST FIVE YEARS)
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has filed all documents and reports required to be filed by Sections 12, 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 subsequent to the distribution of securities under a plan confirmed by a court.
 
 
 

TABLE OF CONTENTS
 
INTRODUCTION      1  
FORWARD-LOOKING STATEMENTS      2  
PART I      3  
     3  
     3  
     3  
     45  
     75  
     75  
     90  
     100  
     101  
     102  
     103  
     112  
     113  
PART II      115  
     115  
     115  
     115  
     117  
     117  
     117  
     117  
     118  
     118  
     118  
     118  
PART III      119  
     119  
     119  
     119  
SIGNATURES      121  
 
i

INTRODUCTION
Except where the context otherwise requires and for purpose of this annual report only:
 
   
“ADRs” are to the American depositary receipts that evidence our ADSs;
 
   
“ADSs” are to our American depositary shares, each of which represents one Class A ordinary share;
 
   
“LAIX,” “we,” “us,” “our company” and “our” are to LAIX Inc., its subsidiaries and its variable interest entities;
 
   
“China” or the “PRC” are to the People’s Republic of China, excluding, for the purposes of this annual report only, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan;
 
   
“monthly active users” or “MAUs” are to the number of registered users that launched our mobile app during a given month; we derive the average monthly active users in a certain period by computing the average of monthly active users of all months in that period;
 
   
“paying users” for a certain period are to users who make payments for any of our courses and services during that period; a user who makes payments across different courses and services offered on the same mobile app using the same registered account is counted as one paying user; a user who makes payments for the same course or service multiple times in the same period is counted as one paying user;
 
   
“gross billings” for a certain period are to the total amount of cash received from the sale of course packages in that period, net of the total amount of cash refunds paid to users in the same period;
 
   
“RMB” and “Renminbi” are to the legal currency of China;
 
   
“Class A ordinary shares” are to our Class A ordinary shares, par value US$0.001 per share;
 
   
“Class B ordinary shares” are to our Class B ordinary shares, par value US$0.001 per share;
 
   
“shares” or “ordinary shares” are to our Class A and Class B ordinary shares, par value US$0.001 per share; and
 
   
“US$,” “U.S. dollars,” “$,” and “dollars” are to the legal currency of the United States.
Our reporting currency is the Renminbi because our business is mainly conducted in China and all of our revenues are denominated in Renminbi. This annual report contains translations of Renminbi amounts into U.S. dollars at specific rates solely for the convenience of the reader. The conversion of Renminbi into U.S. dollars in this annual report is based on the exchange rate set forth in the H.10 statistical release of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. Unless otherwise noted, all translations from Renminbi to U.S. dollars and from U.S. dollars to Renminbi in this annual report were made at a rate of RMB6.5250 to US$1.00, the noon buying rate on December 31, 2020, as set forth in the H.10 statistical release of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. We make no representation that any Renminbi or U.S. dollar amounts could have been, or could be, converted into U.S. dollars or Renminbi, as the case may be, at any particular rate, the rates stated below, or at all. The PRC government imposes control over its foreign currency reserves in part through direct regulation of the conversion of Renminbi into foreign exchange and through restrictions on foreign trade. On April 23, 2021, the noon buying rate for Renminbi was RMB6.4945 to US$1.00.
 
1

FORWARD-LOOKING STATEMENTS
This annual report on Form
20-F
contains forward-looking statements that reflect our current expectations and views of future events. These statements are made under the “safe harbor” provisions of Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended. Known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other factors, including those listed under “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors,” may cause our actual results, performance or achievements to be materially different from those expressed or implied by the forward-looking statements.
You can identify some of these forward-looking statements by words or phrases such as “may,” “will,” “expect,” “anticipate,” “aim,” “estimate,” “intend,” “plan,” “believe,” “is/are likely to,” “potential,” “continue” or other similar expressions. We have based these forward-looking statements largely on our current expectations and projections about future events that we believe may affect our financial condition, results of operations, business strategy and financial needs. These forward-looking statements include, among other things, statements relating to:
 
   
our goals and strategies;
 
   
our future business development, financial condition and results of operations;
 
   
the expected growth of the AI technology and education industries in China;
 
   
our expectations regarding demand for and market acceptance of our products and services;
 
   
our expectations regarding our relationships with users, content providers, third-party service providers and other stakeholders;
 
   
competition in our industry; and
 
   
relevant government policies and regulations relating to our industry.
These forward-looking statements involve various risks and uncertainties. Although we believe that our expectations expressed in these forward-looking statements are reasonable, our expectations may later be found to be incorrect. Our actual results could be materially different from our expectations. Important risks and factors that could cause our actual results to be materially different from our expectations are generally set forth in “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors,” “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview,” “Item 5. Operating and Financial Review and Prospects,” and other sections in this annual report. You should read thoroughly this annual report and the documents that we refer to with the understanding that our actual future results may be materially different from and worse than what we expect. We qualify all of our forward-looking statements by these cautionary statements.
This annual report contains certain data and information that we obtained from various government and private publications. Statistical data in these publications also include projections based on a number of assumptions. The AI technology and education industries may not grow at the rate projected by market data, or at all. Failure of this market to grow at the projected rate may have a material and adverse effect on our business and the market price of our ADSs. In addition, the rapidly evolving nature of the AI technology and education industries results in significant uncertainties for any projections or estimates relating to the growth prospects or future condition of our market. Furthermore, if any one or more of the assumptions underlying the market data are later found to be incorrect, actual results may differ from the projections based on these assumptions. You should not place undue reliance on these forward-looking statements.
The forward-looking statements made in this annual report relate only to events or information as of the date on which the statements are made in this annual report. Except as required by law, we undertake no obligation to update or revise publicly any forward-looking statements, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise, after the date on which the statements are made or to reflect the occurrence of unanticipated events. You should read this annual report and the documents that we refer to in this annual report and have filed as exhibits to the registration statement, of which this annual report is a part, completely and with the understanding that our actual future results may be materially different from what we expect.
 
2

PART I
 
ITEM 1.
IDENTITY OF DIRECTORS, SENIOR MANAGEMENT AND ADVISERS
Not applicable.
 
ITEM 2.
OFFER STATISTICS AND EXPECTED TIMETABLE
Not applicable.
 
ITEM 3.
KEY INFORMATION
 
A.
Selected Financial Data
Our Selected Consolidated Financial Data
The following selected consolidated comprehensive loss data for the years ended December 31, 2018, 2019 and 2020, selected consolidated balance sheet data as of December 31, 2019 and 2020 and selected cash flow data for the years ended December 31, 2018, 2019 and 2020 have been derived from our audited consolidated financial statements included elsewhere in this annual report. The selected consolidated statement of comprehensive loss data for the fiscal year ended December 31, 2016 and 2017, the selected consolidated balance sheet data as of December 31, 2016, 2017 and 2018 and the selected consolidated cash flow data for the year ended December 31, 2016 and 2017 are derived from our audited consolidated financial statements not included in this annual report. Our consolidated financial statements are prepared and presented in accordance with the accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America, or U.S. GAAP. Our historical results do not necessarily indicate results expected for any future periods. You should read this Selected Consolidated Financial Data section together with our consolidated financial statements and the related notes and “Item 5. Operating and Financial Review and Prospects” included elsewhere in this annual report.
 
    
Year Ended December 31,
 
    
2016
   
2017
   
2018
   
2019
   
2020
 
    
RMB
   
RMB
   
RMB
   
RMB
   
RMB
   
US$
 
    
(in thousands, except for share and per share data)
 
Selected Consolidated Statement of Comprehensive Loss
            
Net revenues
           12,332             165,561             637,224           1,023,213             972,628             149,062  
Cost of revenues
(1)
     (27,503     (57,691     (174,731     (273,515     (277,240     (42,489
  
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
 
Gross (loss)/profit
     (15,171     107,870       462,493       749,698       695,388       106,573  
  
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
 
Operating expenses:
            
Sales and marketing expenses
(1)
     (28,534     (283,055     (705,414     (969,401     (801,362     (122,814
Research and development expenses
(1)
     (30,013     (53,162     (155,154     (213,866     (190,711     (29,228
General and administrative expenses
(1)
     (8,754     (19,807     (65,423     (153,507     (111,004     (17,012
  
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
 
Total operating expenses
     (67,301     (356,024     (925,991     (1,336,774     (1,103,077     (169,054
  
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
 
Other operating income
     —         —         —         2,390       43       7  
Loss from operations
     (82,472     (248,154     (463,498     (584,686     (407,646     (62,474
  
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
 
Other (expenses)/income:
            
Interest income
     2,671       934       2,732       11,283       904       139  
Foreign exchange related (losses)/gains, net
     (9,840     7,144       (4,156     (2,533     4,671       716  
Change in fair value of short-term investment
     59       750       —         —         —         —    
Other income, net
     413       2,172       1,016       3,055       9,146       1,402  
  
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
 
Net loss before tax
     (89,169     (237,154     (463,906     (572,881     (392,925     (60,217
Income tax expense
           (5,606     (24,160     (1,900     (1,902     (291
  
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
 
Net loss
     (89,169     (242,760     (488,066     (574,781     (394,827     (60,508
  
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
 
Series A preferred share redemption value accretion
     (3,601     (3,105     (1,978     —         —         —    
 
3

    
Year Ended December 31,
 
    
2016
   
2017
   
2018
   
2019
   
2020
 
    
RMB
   
RMB
   
RMB
   
RMB
   
RMB
   
US$
 
    
(in thousands, except for share and per share data)
 
Series B preferred share redemption value accretion
     (11,548     (12,565     (10,140     —         —         —    
Series C preferred share redemption value accretion
     —         (11,147     (15,899     —         —         —    
  
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
 
Net loss attributable to LAIX Inc.’s ordinary shareholders
     (104,318     (269,577     (516,083     (574,781     (394,827     (60,508
  
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
 
Foreign currency translation adjustment, net of nil tax
     12,995       (24,982     16,403       13,165       (19,227     (2,947
  
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
 
Comprehensive loss
     (76,174     (267,742     (471,663     (561,616     (414,054     (63,455
  
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
 
Net loss per ordinary share attributable to ordinary shareholders —Basic and diluted
     (5.28     (13.59     (19.17     (11.64     (7.99     (1.22
Weighted average number of ordinary shares used in per share calculation —Basic and diluted
     19,770,990       19,834,535       26,921,735       49,364,429       49,430,696       49,430,696  
 
Note:
(1)
Including share-based compensation expenses as follows:
 
    
Year Ended December 31,
 
    
2016
    
2017
    
2018
    
2019
    
2020
 
    
RMB
    
RMB
    
RMB
    
RMB
    
RMB
    
US$
 
    
(in thousands)
 
Cost of revenues
     1,257        1,341        667        1,657        7,154        1,096  
Sales and marketing expenses
     839        2,380        6,637        590        3,282        503  
Research and development expenses
     2,285        3,800        27,114        13,966        14,432        2,212  
General and administrative expenses
     139        997        11,055        10,470        4,159        637  
  
 
 
    
 
 
    
 
 
    
 
 
    
 
 
    
 
 
 
Total
     4,520        8,518        45,473        26,683        29,027        4,448  
  
 
 
    
 
 
    
 
 
    
 
 
    
 
 
    
 
 
 
The following table presents our selected consolidated balance sheet data as of the dates indicated:
 
    
As of December 31,
 
    
2016
   
2017
   
2018
    
2019
(1)
   
2020
(2)
 
    
RMB
   
RMB
   
RMB
    
RMB
   
RMB
   
US$
 
    
(in thousands)
 
Selected Consolidated Balance Sheet:
             
Current assets:
             
Cash, cash equivalents and restricted cash
     41,301       416,483       344,722        282,982       138,507       21,227  
Short-term investments
     121,336       35,422       403,107        269,643       91,049       13,954  
Accounts receivable, net
     —         7,236       14,403        7,360       5,892       903  
Prepayments and other current assets
     2,959       21,907       109,552        86,787       58,272       8,931  
Total current assets
     165,596       481,048       871,784        646,772       293,720       45,015  
Total assets
     167,214       494,325       950,383        919,177       445,747       68,314  
Total current liabilities
     44,807       288,500       730,457        1,114,417       1,033,888       158,450  
Total liabilities
     46,307       290,408       731,489        1,243,982       1,158,310       177,519  
Total mezzanine equity
     286,946       651,904       —          —         —         —    
Total shareholders’ equity (deficits)
     (166,039     (447,987     218,894        (324,805     (712,563     (109,205
 
4

 
Note:
(1)
Effective from January 1, 2019, we adopted ASC 842, a new accounting standard on the recognition of
right-of-use
assets and operating lease liabilities issued by FASB in February 2016, and have applied this accounting standard on a modified retrospective basis and have elected not to restate comparative periods. See Note 2(u) to our audited consolidated financial statements included elsewhere in this annual report for further information.
(2)
Effective from January 1, 2020, we adopted ASU
2016-13,
a new guidance for credit losses on instruments issued by FASB in June 2016. The adoption did not have a material impact on our consolidated financial statements and related disclosures. See Note 2(i) to our audited consolidated financial statements included elsewhere in this annual report for further information.
The following table presents our selected consolidated cash flow data for the periods indicated:
 
    
Year Ended December 31,
 
    
2016
   
2017
   
2018
   
2019
   
2020
 
    
RMB
   
RMB
   
RMB
   
RMB
   
RMB
   
US$
 
    
(in thousands)
 
Selected Consolidated Cash Flow Data:
            
Net cash used in operating activities
     (38,591     (60,120     (112,942     (148,164     (302,598     (46,375
Net cash (used in)/provided by investing activities
     (121,677     69,901       (417,716     100,246       164,667       25,236  
Net cash provided by/(used in) financing activities
     —         377,191       443,978       (16,344     4,285       657  
Net (decrease)/increase in cash, cash equivalents and restricted cash
     (160,268     386,972       (86,680     (64,262     (133,646     (20,482
Exchange rate effect on cash, cash equivalents and restricted cash
     2,312       (11,790     14,919       2,522       (10,829     (1,660
Cash, cash equivalents and restricted cash at the beginning of year
     199,257       41,301       416,483       344,722       282,982       43,369  
Cash, cash equivalents and restricted cash at the end of year
     41,301       416,483       344,722       282,982       138,507       21,227  
 
B.
Capitalization and Indebtedness
Not applicable.
 
C.
Reasons for the Offer and Use of Proceeds
Not applicable.
 
D.
Risk Factors
Risks Related to Our Business
We have a limited operating history in a new market at the intersection of the rapidly evolving AI technology and education industries and our historical operating and financial results may not be indicative of future performance, which makes it difficult to predict our future business prospects and financial performance.
We have a limited operating history, which makes it difficult to evaluate our future prospects and ability to make profit. We launched our flagship mobile app, “English Liulishuo,” in 2013, and introduced our
AI-powered
DongNi English course in 2016. Through our mobile platform, we offer English learning products and services primarily based on AI technologies. Therefore, we operate at the intersection of AI technology and education industries, both of which are rapidly evolving. Our business model, on the basis of integration of AI technologies into language learning, is relatively new and we expect that it will continue to evolve as we grow.
 
5

We cannot assure you that we can successfully implement our business model. As the market and our business develop, we may modify our platform, products and services. These changes may not achieve expected results and may have a material and adverse impact on our results of operations and financial condition. Although our revenues have grown rapidly since we began monetization, due to our limited operating history, our past revenues and historical growth rate may not be indicative of our future performance. We cannot assure you that we will be able to achieve similar results or grow at the same rate as we had in the past or at all. Rather than relying on our historical operating and financial results to evaluate us, you should consider our business prospects in light of the risks and difficulties we may encounter as an early-stage company operating in a new market, including, among other things, our ability to expand our user base and convert
non-paying
users into paying users, provide high-quality products and services, enhance our technology and data capabilities, build our reputation and promote our brand, improve our operational efficiency, attract, retain and motivate talented employees, and anticipate and adapt to changing market conditions. We may not be able to successfully address these risks and difficulties, which could significantly harm our business, results of operations and financial condition.
If we are not able to continue to attract and retain users, convert
non-paying
users into paying users, and increase spending of paying users on our products and services, our business and prospects may be materially and adversely affected.
We generate revenues primarily from users paying for our courses and services. Therefore, our ability to attract and retain users, convert our
non-paying
users into paying users, and increase spending of paying users on our courses and services is critical to the continued success and growth of our business. Such ability primarily depends on the overall experience we provide to our users, as well as the actual or perceived effectiveness of our courses.
Although we have been able to develop a large and rapidly growing user base, to continue to do so, we must attract users by continuing to build our brand and reputation as an effective English learning platform, as well as effectively market and precisely target our products and services to prospective users. To retain and engage our user base, we must provide personalized, superior user experience, offer quality courses and content covering a wide range of interests and formats, introduce effective learning products and services, develop engaging platform features, and build and manage a sticky user community.
However, we cannot assure you that our users will consider their experience satisfactory or our products and services effective. For example, users who cannot make a progress or feel like they are not making progress may attribute such failure to the ineffectiveness of our courses. In addition, some users may encounter trouble in navigating our mobile apps or experience technical difficulties, such as failure of our mobile apps to correctly recognize and properly record speech. Further, our users may not be satisfied with their experience with Weixin-based study groups, which may be caused by our online study advisors or by other users in the group. They may not like the mechanism of having a separate Weixin-based study group, and find the social interactive features of our mobile apps inadequate.
If we fail to address, among other things, any of the foregoing challenges, users may become frustrated by or dissatisfied with our products and services, and may leave our platform without making purchases, and paying users may discontinue using our products and services. As a result, our business, results of operations and financial condition could be materially and adversely affected.
The success and future growth of our business relies to a large extent on the public recognition and acceptance of our
AI-powered
education approach, the actual and perceived effectiveness of such education approach and mobile apps as learning tools.
Our products and services are primarily
AI-driven,
with AI technologies built into the core of our courses, which transforms the traditional approach to education. We operate our courses and services on our mobile platform, whereas it is customary in the education industry to have
in-person
teaching. The general public, many of whom are our potential users, may not recognize and accept the concept of learning on a mobile app rather than from a human teacher. They may also have concerns over the feasibility and effectiveness of our AI teacher and our products and services, considering that our business model is relatively new and there are few player with proven track records in the market. If our users are unable to experience actual improvements of their English proficiency after spending a reasonable amount of time with our AI teacher, they may consider our education approach ineffective. As a result of the foregoing, the general public may not choose our products and services, and may stick with traditional
in-person
teaching. If we fail to educate and show existing users and potential users about the value and the effectiveness of our innovative approach as well as further promote our products and services, our growth will be limited and our business, financial performance and prospects may be materially and adversely affected.
 
6

We have incurred, and in the future may continue to incur, net losses, negative cash flows from operation activities and net current liabilities. If we are not able to achieve profitability or raise sufficient capital to cover our capital needs, we may not continue as a going concern.
We have incurred significant losses in the past. We incurred net loss of RMB488.1 million, RMB574.8 million and RMB394.8 million (US$60.5 million) for the year ended December 31, 2018, 2019 and 2020, respectively. Net cash used in operating activities were RMB112.9 million, RMB148.2 million and RMB303.8 million (US$46.6 million) for the year ended December 31, 2018, 2019 and 2020, respectively. As of December 31, 2020, we had a total shareholders’ deficit of RMB712.6 million (US$109.2 million) and our current liabilities exceeded the current assets by RMB740.2 million (US$113.4 million). We cannot assure you that we will be able to generate net profits in the future. Our ability to achieve profitability will depend primarily on our ability to increase our operating margin, either by growing our revenues at a rate faster than our operating expenses increase, such as our research and development expenses, or by reducing our operating expenses as a percentage of our net revenues, especially our sales and marketing expenses. There can be no assurance that we will achieve this goal, and we may continue to incur losses, negative cash flows from operating activities and net current liabilities, which may materially and adversely affect our business, prospects, liquidity, financial condition and results of operations. If we are unable to achieve profitability or raise sufficient capital to cover our capital needs, we may not continue as a going concern. There can be no assurance that we can obtain additional financing. Our ability to obtain additional financing is subject to a number of factors, which may be beyond our control. See “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors—Risks Relating to Our Business—We may not be able to obtain additional capital when desired, on favorable terms or at all.”
Our consolidated financial statements for the year ended December 31, 2020 included in this annual report beginning on page
F-1
have been prepared based on the assumption that we will continue on a going concern basis. The auditors of our consolidated financial statements for the year ended December 31, 2020 have included in their audit reports an explanatory paragraph relating to substantial doubt about our ability to continue as a going concern, which contemplates the realization of assets and the settlement of liabilities and commitments in the normal course of business.
We may fail to continue to develop, innovate and utilize our technologies, especially AI technologies, which are core to our success.
We believe our technologies are core to our success and are critical to the implementation of our business model. Our products and services are empowered by our technologies, especially our AI technologies. We also rely on our data and technology capabilities to build and maintain our platform and infrastructure. We cannot assure you that we can keep up with the fast pace of the technology industry, and continue to develop, innovate and utilize our proprietary capabilities. In particular, the application of AI technology in education is still at an early stage and under exploration. New solutions and technologies developed and introduced by competitors could render our technology obsolete. Developing and integrating new technologies into our existing programs and algorithms could be expensive and time-consuming. We may not succeed in developing and incorporating new technologies at all. If we fail to continue to develop, innovate and utilize our technologies effectively and on a timely basis, our business, financial performance and prospects could be materially and adversely affected.
We may not be able to develop and introduce new products and services or upgrade existing products and services to meet changing user preferences in a timely and cost-effective manner, which may adversely affect our business, financial performance and prospects.
To attract users to our platform and keep our existing users engaged, we must introduce new products and services and upgrade our existing products and services to meet users’ evolving preferences. Users come to our platform aiming to improve their English proficiency, which is a general and broad concept. It is difficult to predict the preferences of a particular user or a specific segment of users. Changes and upgrades to our existing products and services may not be well received by our users, and newly introduced products and services may not achieve success as expected. For example, we launched “Darwin English,” an upgraded version of DongNi English standard courses with substantially similar product features, in August 2019 to strengthen our products and services. Darwin English was later renamed as “DongNi English A+.” In addition, we also launched “Phonics Course” and “AIX course” on our “Kids Liulishuo” mobile app to penetrate into
K-12
market, aiming to attract new addressable users. We may also introduce new products and services in areas beyond English learning, with which we have little or no prior experience. Such efforts may require us to make substantial investment in additional human capital and financial resources. We cannot assure you that any of such new products or services will achieve market acceptance or generate sufficient revenues to offset the costs and expenses incurred in relation to our development and promotion efforts. If we fail to improve our existing products and services and introduce new ones in a timely or cost-effective manner, our ability to attract and retain users may be impaired, and our financial performance and prospects may be adversely affected.
 
7

We incur significant expenses on and devote significant resources to generating and acquiring user traffic from third-party channels.
We may not be able to promote awareness of our brand and achieve widespread acceptance of our business model to increase direct access to our platform. Therefore, a significant portion of user traffic to our platform is generated from third-party channels, such as app stores of various major mobile brands as well as social network platforms. We have incurred significant expenses on and devoted considerable resources to branding and marketing activities and user traffic acquisition, and we may continue to do so in the future. We incurred branding and marketing expenses of RMB350.7 million in 2018, RMB519.7 million in 2019 and RMB442.0 million (US$67.7 million). In particular, increased competition for traffic acquisition led by
K-12
players during the summer months (from late May until the end of July) generally drives up the customer acquisition costs, which further affected our user and revenue growth. Our ability to convert user traffic to registered users and retain that user base depends on users’ satisfaction with the quality of our products and services offered on our platform. If we fail to meet these challenges, our business, financial performance and prospects will be materially and adversely affected.
We rely on Weixin, a third-party social network program, to conduct parts of our courses and deliver a significant portion of our services.
We rely on Weixin, a third-party social network program, to support our
AI-powered
courses and deliver a significant portion of our communications with users. In particular, our paying users are invited to join Weixin-based study groups conducted by our online study advisors, who then provide more personalized assistance as well as engage in cross-selling efforts on Weixin. If we are not able to conduct the foregoing activities on Weixin or have to incur significant expenses in doing so, we may have to move the functions to our own platform or other third-party platform. We also previously relied on Weixin to acquire user traffic and incentive our users to use our products and services by encouraging our users to post their readings via our LiuLi Reading products in the Moment Sharing function in Weixin. Such attempts generated very good results. However, due to tightened Weixin policy related to its Moment Sharing function, we were prohibited by Weixin from encouraging our users to post such information in their Moments, which adversely affected our LiuLi Reading and DongNi English products. As a result, our efforts of user acquisition and incentive promotion via Weixin were in turn adversely affected, which in turn adversely affected our
word-of-mouth
user growth. Our results of operations were also adversely affected, especially in the second quarter of 2019, and may continue to have ongoing impact on our results of operations. Even though we have been taking swift actions to offset the revenue impact by adjusting our marketing strategy and actively exploring alternative marketing channels to grow our user community, there can be no assurance that our attempts will be successful. Moreover, such experimental attempts also generated and may continue to generate significant amount of expenses, which may adversely affect our results of operations and financial condition. Furthermore, as Weixin is one of the largest social platforms in China, other platforms that do not have the same level of user base and user engagement may not be as effective as Weixin in performing the foregoing functions. Therefore, any interruption to or discontinuation of our cooperative relationship with the operator of Weixin may severely and negatively impact our ability to deliver our services to users.
 
8

If fewer users are motivated or inspired to improve their English proficiency, the demand for our products and services may decline, which may in turn adversely affect our business and results of operations.
Users choose our products and services to improve their English proficiency for various reasons. Some would like to study abroad in the future, some would like to be able to communicate in English at work, and some simply wish to improve their English pronunciation. However, without a specific target, such as standardized test preparation or improving grades at school, user demands for our products and services may be elastic. Some users may become less motivated or inspired to learn English or become occupied by work or other interests, and discontinue learning English. Some users may switch to products and services more specifically targeted at test preparation or designed to fit school curricula. If demand for our products and services decline, our business and results of operations may be adversely affected.
We may not be able to successfully execute our strategies and effectively manage our growth and the increasing complexity of our business, which could negatively impact our brand, financial performance and prospects.
We continue to experience rapid growth in our business, which will continue to place significant demands on our management, operational and financial resources. We may encounter difficulties as we execute our strategies, and expand our operations, data and technology, sales and marketing, and general and administrative functions. We expect our expenses to continue to increase in the future as we acquire more users, launch new technology development projects and build additional technology infrastructure. Continued growth could also strain our ability to maintain the quality and reliability of our platform, develop and improve our operational, financial, legal and management controls, and enhance our reporting systems and procedures. Our expenses may grow faster than our revenues, and our expenses may be greater than we anticipate. We may expand into geographic areas where we do not have experience with local regulations or regulators or where local market conditions are unfavorable for our business model. Managing our growth will require significant expenditures and allocation of valuable management resources. If we fail to achieve the necessary level of efficiency in our organization as it grows, our business, results of operations and financial condition could be harmed.
For example, we may face additional challenges as we implement our strategy to attract a more global user base. We may be subject to laws and regulations of other jurisdictions that are more stringent, which may significantly increase our compliance costs and adversely affect our results of operations and financial condition. In addition, we may not able to effectively attract global users and collect sufficient data to train our AI teacher, which may in turn impair the effectiveness of our products and services. Furthermore, we may not be able to generate sufficient revenue from the global market and offset the costs incurred by the expansion, which could negatively impact our financial performance and prospects.
We face competition from players in multiple industries and may fail to compete effectively.
We potentially could face competition not only from providers of online and offline education services, but also from technology and internet players, especially those actively developing AI technology. Our success in competing against other education services, including English learning services and mobile-enabled education services, is primarily dependent on our ability to improve users’ learning efficiency and effectiveness, provide quality learning content and promote our brand. Technology and internet players that are larger than us may devote more resources to research and development, introduce new technology faster than us or have capabilities more advanced than ours.
We also compete with them for talent with technological expertise, which is critical to the sustained development of our technology and products and services. We will also face increased competition as we expand our operations, and our competitors in new markets we expand into may have more experience than us in operating in those markets. Existing or potential competitors may have substantially greater brand recognition and possess more financial, marketing and research resources than we do. If we fail to compete effectively, our business, financial performance and prospects will be materially and adversely affected.
Our business and results of operations may be harmed by any failure to maintain and enhance the value of our brand, as well as any negative or malicious publicity about us.
Market recognition of our brand is critical for us to remain competitive. Our ability to maintain and enhance brand recognition and reputation depends primarily on the perceived effectiveness and quality of courses provided by our AI teacher. We may also engage in branding efforts such as marketing campaigns and online advertising. Our branding efforts, however, may not be successful and receive anticipated results, and we may incur significant branding costs along the way. If we are unable to maintain and further enhance our brand recognition and reputation and promote awareness of our products and services, we may not be able to maintain our current level of users, and our results of operations may be materially and adversely affected. Furthermore, any negative or malicious publicity relating to our company, our products and services could harm our brand image and in turn materially and adversely affect our business and results of operations.
 
9

We may not be able to successfully diversify our revenue streams.
We generate revenues primarily from our DongNi English course, which is powered by our AI teacher. In supplement to the standard courses, we also provide DongNi Select premium services which involve contracted human teachers. In August 2019, we launched “Darwin English,” an updated version of our DongNi English standard course, which was later renamed as “DongNi English A+.” Moreover, we also generate revenues from LiuLi Reading, a paid course allowing our users to read articles from reputable overseas publishers with learning tips and quizzes. In addition to individual users, we provide enterprise services to corporate customers. We are also exploring the kids’ English learning market and launched a mobile app “Kids Liulishuo,” targeting kids of three to twelve years old. Going forward, we may further expand our offerings to diversify our revenue streams and user base. However, we may not be successful in doing so. For example, not every enterprise has an incentive to acquire training to improve their employees’ English proficiency, and the growth in our corporate clientele may reach a bottleneck. Our test-preparation, DongNi Select premium services or the kids courses may not reach the same level of acceptance as our standard courses. Our new offerings in areas other than English learning may fail to address the demands and preferences of users. If we cannot successfully diversify our revenue streams, our future growth will be hindered.
Our success relies on the continuing efforts of our senior management team and qualified key personnel, and our business may be harmed if we are unable to retain or motivate them.
Our business operations depend on the continued services of our senior management team and qualified key personnel, particularly our three founders and the executive officers named in this annual report, as well as our AI scientists.
Although we have provided different incentives to our senior management team, we cannot assure you that we can continue to retain their services. One or more of our key executives may be unable or unwilling to continue in their present positions. Meanwhile, we have also provided attractive compensation packages to our qualified key personnel. However, considering the intense market demand and competition for qualified and skilled personnel, especially for AI scientists, we may not be able to hire and retain these personnel at compensation levels consistent with our existing compensation and salary structure. Some of the companies with which we compete for qualified and skilled personnel have greater resources than we have and may be able to offer more attractive terms of employment. In addition, we invest significant time and resources in training our employees, which increases their value to competitors who may seek to recruit them.
If we are unable to retain the services of our senior management team or qualified key personnel, we may not be able to find suitable replacements or may incur significant expenses in finding such replacements, thus our future growth may be constrained, our business may be severely disrupted and our results of operations and financial condition may be materially and adversely affected. In addition, although we have entered into confidentiality and
non-competition
agreements with our senior management team and qualified key personnel, there is no assurance that any member of our senior management team or any of our qualified key personnel will not join a competitor. In the event that any dispute arises between us, on one hand, and any of our senior management and qualified key personnel, on the other hand, we may have to incur substantial costs and expenses in order to enforce such agreements in China or we may be unable to enforce them at all.
Failure to effectively train and efficiently manage our online study advisors and our premium services teachers may materially and adversely affect the effectiveness of our courses, as well as harm our reputation and results of operations.
Our
in-person
services are provided primarily through our online study advisors, or OSAs. Our OSAs manage the Weixin-based study groups, which users of our products and mobile apps can join. Our OSAs help motivate users and monitor their progress, and respond to users’ queries through these study groups. As they are the ones who interact directly with our users, they are critical to the quality of user experience and our reputation. As of December 31, 2020, we had over 380 online study advisors and the average number of users managed by each online study advisor was approximately 510 in 2020. With the rapid increase of our user base, we face increasing challenges in managing the capacity of our online study advisors and the quality of their services. We generally seek to hire and train qualified and dedicated personnel who have a strong command of the English language and are capable of delivering innovative and inspiring instructions. We train our online study advisors when they are on board and also provide continued training to ensure that they stay abreast of changes in user demands, user preference and other key matters necessary to provide services effectively. However, we may not be able to recruit, train and retain a sufficient number of them while maintaining consistent service quality. A shortage of qualified online study advisors or a decrease in the quality of their service, whether actual or perceived, or a significant increase in compensation for us to retain those qualified staff, would have a material adverse effect on our business, results of operations and financial condition.
 
10

In addition, our DongNi Select premium services include online streaming courses with contracted human teachers. We have certain selection criteria for and provide
on-board
training to those teachers. We have also implemented performance reviews on a regular basis and users rating mechanism to monitor the teaching quality. However, we may not be able to train and effectively manage our premium services teachers, which may result in an unsatisfactory user experience. As a result, the effectiveness of our courses may be impaired and would in turn have a material adverse effect on business, results of operations and financial condition.
If our AI program or algorithms contain material defects, we may incur significant expenses to remediate such defects, which may cause reputational damage and market share loss.
Our courses are powered by our AI programs and algorithms, which address complex challenges in adaptive learning, autoscoring, speech recognition, grammar error detection, pragmatic error detection, synonym analysis and semantic understanding. If any part of our AI program or algorithms contains material defects, not only the corresponding portion of our courses would be impaired, but also the overall function of products and services. We may incur significant expenses to remediate such defects, or may not be able to correct them at all. We have not experienced any material defects to date, but there can be no assurance that our AI programs and algorithms are flawless. If any incidents of material defects took place, our user experience would be significantly harmed, and users may lose confidence and trust in our courses. As a result, we may incur significant reputational damage and market share loss.
We may face risks arising from our business operations without proper ICP License, which may materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and operational results.
Regulation on value-added telecommunications services, or VATS, in China is strict and has been developing, while the interpretation and enforcement of relevant laws and regulations has been and continues to be uncertain. Pursuant to the PRC Regulations on Telecommunication, in order to engage in VATS, a service provider must obtain a value-added telecommunications business operating license, or VATS License, from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, or the MIIT, or its provincial level counterparts. According to the Administrative Measures on Internet Information Services, an internet information service provider is required to obtain a VATS License with the approved business scope of “internet information service,” or an ICP License. The operation of internet information service absent the ICP License would result in confiscation of illegal revenues generated from the provision of such service as determined by the competent government authority, imposition of fines up to several times such illegal gains, and under serious circumstances, suspension of the illegal operation.
Through one of our variable interest entities, or VIEs, Shanghai Liulishuo Information and Technology Co., Ltd., or Shanghai Liulishuo, we have provided online English learning courses and services through mobile apps since 2013. Prior to the promulgation of the Classified Catalog of Telecommunications Services (2015 Version), effective from March 2016, or the 2016 MIIT Catalog, the scope of VATS was defined in an earlier version of the catalog. Pursuant to that previous version of the catalog, information service, categorized as a type of VATS, was defined as “the voice information services (telephone information services) or online information and data retrieval and other information services directly provided for end users through the fixed networks, mobile networks or internet and other public communications networks by means of information gathering, development, processing and the construction of the information platform.” It was unclear whether information service provided through our mobile apps fell in the scope of VATS. The 2016 MIIT Catalog revised the definition of information service as “the information services provided for users through public communications networks or internet by means of information gathering, development, processing and the construction of the information platform.” Further, MIIT issued a Q&A to clarify certain issues in implementing the 2016 MIIT Catalog, which requires internet information service providers that provide service through mobile apps to obtain an ICP License. However, different local authorities may have different interpretations and implementation in practice.
 
11

In order to adapt to the regulatory requirements, we applied for and obtained an ICP License through Shanghai Liulishuo in May 2018 from the competent government authority, Shanghai Communications Administration, for our two currently operating mobile apps, namely “English Liulishuo” and “IELTS Liulishuo.” In 2019, we further updated the ICP License to cover our “LiuLi Reading” mobile app, “Kids Liulishuo” mobile app, “Liulishuo” website, and our certain other initiatives and websites. We are still making efforts to expand the coverage of Shanghai Liulishuo’s ICP License to cover our newly launched app. We may continue to launch new products that require an ICP License. However, we cannot assure you that we will be able to obtain approval from Shanghai Communications Administration for the expansion of existing license coverage or for new ICP License for other PRC entities in a timely manner or at all, nor can we assure you that our operations before the ICP License is duly obtained or the coverage of which is properly expanded will not be regarded by the MIIT or its local counterpart as
non-compliance,
in which case we may be subject to penalties. Our business, financial condition, expected growth and prospects would be materially and adversely affected if we were subject to such penalties.
We may fail to protect our intellectual property rights effectively, or may face intellectual property infringement claims and other claims of third-party rights, which may be expensive to defend and may disrupt our business and operations.
We possess a series of intellectual properties which are important to our business and operations. However, we cannot assure you that we will be able to protect our intellectual properties in an effective way. On the other hand, we also cannot assure you that our operations, including courses and services, our technologies and mobile platforms, or any aspects of our business do not or will not infringe upon or violate intellectual property rights (including but not limited to trademarks, patents, copyrights,
know-how)
or other rights (including but not limited to portraiture right) owned or held by third parties.
We may be subject to legal or administrative proceedings and claims relating to intellectual property rights or other rights of third parties in the future. For example, we submitted application for trademark registration for the logo “  ” we previously used in our daily operation, however, such application in Class 41 (mainly related to education, training and recreational activities), which is the classification for the trademarks in terms of their use, has been rejected due to alleged similarity to existing registered trademarks. We have claimed against the Trademark Bureau for such rejection but failed. Currently, we mainly use a combination of the logo “  ” and Chinese characters of “Liulishuo,” namely “ ” in our daily operation, the trademark registration of which under Class 41 (mainly related to education, training and recreational activities) and Class 9 (mainly related to software and mobile apps) was successfully completed by us in late 2019. Furthermore, our trademark registration of “
流利说
,” which are the Chinese characters for “Liulishuo,” in Class 28 (mainly related to physical exercise products), Class 35 (mainly related to the advertisement service and business agency service) and Class 38 (mainly related to information delivery service) under the applicable rules has been invalidated by the Trademark Bureau as a result of an invalidation request made by a third party individual. We have challenged this invalidation decision at a PRC court, but we did not prevail at the trial that took place in December 2020. We have since filed an appeal, which proceeding is currently pending. If we fail to successfully register any of such logos currently in use or maintain the trademarks that we have registered in any trademark classes relevant to our business operations (including Class 41), third parties would be able to use such logos or trademarks under unregistered classes without our authorization and we may even be subject to infringement claims by third parties for using such logos or trademarks. As of the date of this annual report, we have registered trademarks for material aspects of our current business operation.
 
12

There may be certain unauthorized third-party content on our platform and our products, services or other aspects of our business may infringe third-party intellectual property rights, portraiture right or other rights without our awareness. To the extent that our employees or consultants use intellectual property owned by others or unauthorized portraits in their work for us, disputes may arise as to the rights in related
know-how
and inventions, portraits and other proprietary assets. In addition, we previously had an online community open for all users on the English Liulishuo app, namely Liuliba. Although we have removed Liuliba from the English Liulishuo app, content previously posted by our users on such Liuliba platform, may expose us to allegations by third parties of infringement of intellectual property rights, invasion of privacy, defamation and other violations of third-party rights. In particular, our users were able to share English learning materials or methods with other users by posting a video, audio clip or other forms of content on Liuliba, which may subject us to claims of infringement of third-party intellectual property rights or other rights contained in the copyrighted video, audio clip or other forms of content. Although we had required our users to post only legally compliant and
non-offensive
materials, a third party may still find user-generated content used to be posted on our platform infringing intellectual property rights or other rights or offensive and take action against us in connection with such content. Holders of such intellectual property rights or other rights may seek to enforce such rights against us in China, the United States or other jurisdictions for any historical infringement by our users. If any third-party infringement claims are brought against us, we may be forced to divert management’s time and other resources from our business and operations to defend against these claims, regardless of their merits.
The application and interpretation of China’s intellectual property right laws and the procedures and standards for granting trademarks, patents, copyrights,
know-how
or other intellectual property rights in China, and the laws governing personal rights are still evolving and remain uncertain, and we cannot assure you that PRC courts or regulatory authorities would agree with our analysis. If we were found to have violated the intellectual property rights of others, we may be subject to liability for our infringement activities or may be prohibited from using such intellectual property or relevant contents, and we may incur licensing or usage fees or be forced to develop alternatives of our own. As a result, our reputation may be harmed and our business and financial performance may be materially and adversely affected.
We may not be able to prevent others from making unauthorized use of our intellectual property, and may incur increasing costs to protect us against such infringements. If we fail to protect our intellectual property rights, our brand and business may suffer.
We regard our patents, software registrations, trademarks, domain names,
know-how,
proprietary technologies and similar intellectual property as critical to our success, and we depend, to a large extent, on our ability to develop and maintain the intellectual property rights relating to our technology and course materials. We have devoted considerable time and resources to the development and improvement of, among others, our websites, mobile apps and our course materials.
We primarily rely on a combination of intellectual property laws and contractual arrangements, including confidentiality and
non-compete
agreements with our management, employees and others, as well as the contractual arrangements with third-party consultants in connection with product or learning content development, to protect our proprietary rights. See “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Intellectual Property.” However, we cannot assure you that such existing measures are sufficient and effective. Despite these measures, any of our intellectual property rights could be challenged, invalidated, circumvented or misappropriated, or such intellectual property may not be sufficient to provide us with competitive advantages. In addition, because of the rapid pace of technological change in our industry, parts of our business rely on technologies developed or licensed by third parties, and we may not be able to obtain or continue to obtain licenses and technologies from these third parties on reasonable terms, or at all.
It is often difficult to maintain and enforce intellectual property rights in China. Statutory laws and regulations are subject to judicial interpretation and enforcement and may not be applied consistently due to the lack of clear guidance on statutory interpretation. Confidentiality, invention assignment and
non-compete
agreements may be breached by counterparties, and there may not be adequate remedies available to us for any such breach.
Accordingly, we may not be able to effectively protect our intellectual property rights or to enforce our contractual rights in China. Monitoring and preventing any unauthorized use of our intellectual property is difficult and costly and the steps we take may be inadequate to prevent the misappropriation of our intellectual property. In the event that we resort to litigation to enforce our intellectual property rights, such litigation could result in substantial costs and a diversion of our managerial and financial resources. We can provide no assurance that we will prevail in such litigation. In addition, our trade secrets may be leaked or otherwise become available to, or be independently discovered by, our competitors. Any failure in protecting or enforcing our intellectual property rights could have a material adverse effect on our business, results of operations and financial condition.
 
13

Privacy concerns relating to our platform and the handling of user information could damage our reputation, and deter current and potential users and other customers from using our products and services.
Our platform stores and processes certain personal and other sensitive data provided by our users. Personally identifiable and other confidential information is subject to increased regulations in domestic and international jurisdictions. PRC government authorities have enacted a series of laws and regulations relating to the protection of privacy and personal information, under which internet service providers and other network operators are required to clearly indicate the purposes, methods and scope of any personal information collection and usage, to obtain appropriate user consent and to establish user information protection systems with appropriate remedial measures. The regulatory authorities are strengthening the supervisions on the protection of personal information and other lawful interest of users of mobile apps. For example, the Identification Methods of Illegal Collection and Use of Personal Information Through Apps, jointly promulgated by various governmental authorities, effective from November 28, 2019, specifies activities that can be identified as illegal collection and use of personal information through mobile apps. The Provisions on the Scope of Necessary Personal Information for Common Types of Mobile Internet Applications, which was jointly promulgated by four governmental authorities on March 12, 2021 and will take effect on May 1, 2021, sets out the scope of the personal information that is considered necessary for the operations of common types of apps, and stipulates that the operator of the apps may not refuse to provide the apps’ fundamental functions to users who do not consent to provide personal information beyond the scope of necessary personal information. Please see “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Regulation—Regulations Related to Internet Information Security and Privacy Protection” for more details. We have gone through several inspections of regulatory authorities in our daily operations and made rectifications as requested by such authorities. As of the date of this annual report, no administrative penalties was imposed on us in this respect so far. We have implemented certain technical measures to address the privacy concerns. However, this regulatory framework for privacy issues in China and worldwide is currently evolving and is likely to remain uncertain for the foreseeable future. We cannot assure you that our existing measures will be considered sufficient under applicable laws and regulations, or that we have complied with all applicable laws and regulations. We could be adversely affected if legislation or regulations in China are expanded to require changes in business practices or privacy policies, or if the PRC governmental authorities interpret or implement their legislation or regulations in ways that negatively affect our business, results of operations and financial condition. In addition to laws, regulations and other applicable rules regarding privacy and privacy advocacy, industry groups or other private parties may propose new and different privacy standards. Because the interpretation and application of privacy and data protection laws and privacy standards are still uncertain, it is possible that these laws or privacy standards may be interpreted and applied in a manner that is inconsistent with our practices. Any inability to adequately address privacy concerns, even if unfounded, or to comply with applicable privacy or data protection laws, regulations and privacy standards, could result in additional cost and liability for us, damage our reputation, inhibit the use of our platform and harm our business.
Any breaches to our security measures, including unauthorized access, computer viruses and cyber-attack, may adversely affect our database, reduce the use of our platform, impact our users’ experience and privacy as well as damage our reputation and brand names.
The massive volume of data that we process and store makes us or third-party service providers who host our servers an attractive target and potentially vulnerable to cyber-attacks, computer viruses, physical or electronic
break-ins
or similar disruptions. While we have taken steps to protect our database, our security measures could be breached. Because techniques used to sabotage or obtain unauthorized access to systems change frequently and generally are not recognized until they are launched against a target, we may be unable to anticipate these techniques or to implement adequate preventative measures. Even though we have not experienced any cyber-attack or other incidents of similar nature, any accidental or willful security breaches or other unauthorized access to our platform could cause confidential information to be stolen and used for criminal purposes. Security breaches or unauthorized access to confidential information could also expose us to liability related to the loss of the information, time-consuming and expensive litigation and negative publicity. If security measures are breached because of third-party action, employee error, malfeasance or otherwise, or if design flaws in our technology infrastructure are exposed and exploited, our relationships with users and other customers could be severely damaged, we could incur significant liability and our business and operations could be adversely affected.
 
14

The PRC Cyber Security Law, effective on June 1, 2017, stipulates that a network operator, including internet information service provider among others, must adopt technical measures and other necessary measures in accordance with applicable laws and regulations as well as compulsory national and industrial standards to safeguard the safety and stability of network operations, effectively respond to network security incidents, prevent illegal and criminal activities, and maintain the integrity, confidentiality and availability of network data. We are making efforts to comply with the applicable laws, regulations and standards, there can be no assurance that our measures will be effective and sufficient under the PRC Cyber Security Law. If we were found by the regulatory authorities to have failed to comply with the PRC Cyber Security Law, we would be subject to warnings, fines, confiscation of illegal revenue, revocation of licenses, cancellation of filings, shutdown of our platform or even criminal liability and our business, results of operations and financial condition would also be adversely affected. In addition, in light of the evolving regulatory framework of China for the protection of information in cyberspace, we may be subject to uncertainties of and adjustments to our business practices, which may incur additional operating expenses and adversely affect our results of operations and financial condition.
Any significant disruption in service on our platform or in our computer systems, including events beyond our control, could reduce the attractiveness of our platform and services and result in a loss of users.
In the event of a platform outage and physical data loss, the performance of our platform and services would be materially and adversely affected. The satisfactory performance, reliability and availability of our platform, services and underlying technology infrastructure are critical to our operations and reputation and our ability to retain existing and attract new users. Our servers and backup system are hosted and maintained at cloud servers by a third-party service provider. Our operations depend on the ability of such third-party service provider to protect our systems against damage or interruption from natural disasters, power or telecommunications failures, air quality issues, environmental conditions, computer viruses or attempts to harm our systems, criminal acts and similar events. If there is a lapse in service or damage to the facilities of such third-party service provider, we could experience interruptions and delays in our service and may incur losses including additional expense in arranging new facilities.
Historically, the services provided on our platform were disrupted several times due to network outage attributable to certain third-party service provider, including one incident in 2019 where our services were interrupted for nearly 12 hours, which caused disruptions to our users’ access to our mobile apps and courses. In 2020, we did not experience any technical disruption. We cannot assure you that we will be able to always maintain the satisfactory performance, reliability and availability of our platform, services and underlying technology infrastructure in our daily operation. Any interruptions or delays in the availability of our platform or services, whether as a result of third party or our error, natural disasters or security breaches, whether accidental or willful, could harm our reputation and our relationships with users and other customers. Additionally, we do not maintain business interruption insurance or general third-party insurance. Our disaster recovery plan has not been tested under actual disaster conditions, and we may not have sufficient capacity to recover all data and services in the event of an outage.
These factors could damage our brand and reputation, divert our employees’ attention and subject us to liability, any of which could adversely affect our business, results of operations and financial condition.
We may be held liable for information or content displayed on, retrieved from or linked to our platform or posted by us on other platform, which may materially and adversely affect our business and results of operations.
The PRC government has adopted regulations governing internet access and distribution of information over the internet. Under these regulations, internet content providers and internet publishers are prohibited from posting or displaying over the internet content that, among other things, violates PRC laws and regulations, impairs the national dignity of China, contains terrorism, extremism, content of force or brutality, or is reactionary, obscene, superstitious, fraudulent or defamatory. Failure to comply with these requirements may result in the revocation of licenses to provide internet content and other licenses, the closure of the concerned websites and criminal liabilities. In the past, failure to comply with these requirements has resulted in the closure of certain websites. The website operator may also be held liable for the censored information displayed on or linked to the website.
 
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According to the Administrative Provisions on Mobile Internet Applications Information Services promulgated by the Cyberspace Administration of China, or CAC, effective in August 2016, providers of mobile apps may not create, copy, publish or distribute information and content that is prohibited by laws and regulations. We are required to adopt and implement management systems of information security and establish and improve procedures on content examination and administration. We must adopt such measures as warning, restricted release, suspension of updates and closure of accounts, keep relevant records, and report unlawful content to competent government authorities. We have implemented internal control procedures screening the information and content on our mobile apps to ensure their compliance with these provisions. However, there can be no assurance that all the information or content displayed on, retrieved from or linked to our mobile apps complies with the requirements of the provisions at all times. If our mobile apps were found to violate the provisions, we may be subject to administrative penalties, including warnings, service suspension or removal of our mobile apps from the relevant mobile app store, which may materially and adversely affect our business and results of operations.
Under current PRC laws and regulations, an information service provider that reposts news for internet publication shall first obtain a license from CAC or its local counterpart, and shall repost news issued by domestic news entities within such scope as prescribed by the government. The reposting of news published by foreign media is generally prohibited without prior approval. Certain learning materials we provide on our platforms, particularly the “LiuLi Reading” app, are from foreign media. Due to the ambiguity of the definition of “news” under the current PRC laws and regulations, we cannot assure you that our provision of such materials will not be deemed as illegally reposting foreign news by the relevant PRC government authorities, which will subject us to various penalties, including fines and suspension of such provision.
We may also become involved in governmental investigation or exposed to administrative penalty relating to content posted by us on our and other platforms. For example, we received a fine of RMB100,000 in 2018 due to the use of certain exaggerating and inaccurate phrases regarding our platform which violated PRC Advertisement Law. We have paid such penalty as required by the administrative order from the competent authority.
In addition, we may also be subject to intellectual property infringement claims or other allegations as the content posted by us or our users on our online platform may infringe intellectual property or other rights held by any third party. See “—Risks Relating to our Business—We may face intellectual property infringement claims and other related claims of third-party rights, which may be expensive to defend and may disrupt our business and operations.”
Our platform and internal systems rely on software that is highly technical, and if it contains undetected errors, our business could be adversely affected.
Our platform and internal systems rely on software that is highly technical and complex. In addition, our platform and internal systems depend on the ability of the software to store, retrieve, process and manage immense amounts of data. The software on which we rely has contained, and may now or in the future contain, undetected errors or bugs. Some errors may only be discovered after the code has been released for external or internal use. Errors or other design defects within the software on which we rely may result in a negative experience for users and other customers, delay introductions of new features or enhancements, result in errors or compromise our ability to protect data or our intellectual property. Any errors, bugs or defects discovered in the software on which we rely could result in harm to our reputation, loss of users or other customers or liability for damages, any of which could adversely affect our business, results of operations and financial condition.
 
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We may not be successful in developing or maintaining relationships with key participants in the mobile industry or in developing products and services that operate effectively with these operating systems, networks, devices and standards.
We make our products and services available on both iOS and Android systems across a variety of mobile devices. We depend on the interoperability of our products and services with popular devices and mobile operating systems that we do not control. Any changes in devices or their systems that degrade the functionality of our products and services or give preferential treatment to competitive products or services could adversely affect usage of our products and services. We may not be successful in developing relationships with key participants in the mobile industry or in developing services that operate effectively with their operating systems, networks, devices and standards. We also cooperate with key participants in the mobile industry to put our products on the front page of their respective apps stores and label our products as recommended, which helps us attract prospective users. If we cannot maintain such relationships at reasonable costs or at all, we may not get sufficient exposure on their respective platforms, which will impair our ability to acquire traffic. Moreover, we are subject to the terms, policies and conditions of the app stores. If any of the key participants finds us to be in violation of the terms, policies and conditions of its app store, it may seek economic damages from us or remove our products from its app store. Such incident would also harm our relationship with the key participant. Further, if the number of systems, networks and devices for which we develop our products and services increases, it will result in an increase in our costs and expenses, and adversely affect our net margin and results of operations.
We utilize payment collection channels to collect proceeds from our paying users’ purchases. Any failure by those payment collection channels to process payments effectively and securely may materially and adversely affect our revenue realization and brand recognition.
We depend on the billing and payment systems of third parties such as online third-party payment processors to maintain accurate records of payments of sales proceeds by paying users and collect such payments. We receive periodic statements from these third parties which indicate the aggregate amount of fees that were charged to paying users of our courses and services. Our business and results of operations could be adversely affected if these third parties fail to accurately account for or calculate the revenues generated from the sales of our courses and services. If there are security breaches or failure or errors in the payment process of these third parties, our user experience may be affected and our business results may be negatively impacted.
Failure to timely collect our receivables from third parties whose billing and payment systems we use and third-party payment processors may adversely affect our cash flows. Our third-party payment processors may from time to time experience cash flow difficulties. Consequently, they may delay their payments to us or fail to pay us at all. Any delay in payment or inability of current or potential third-party payment processors to pay us may significantly harm our cash flow and results of operations.
We also do not have control over the security measures of our third-party payment service providers, and security breaches of the online payment systems that we use could expose us to litigation and possible liability for failing to secure confidential customer information and could, among other things, damage our reputation and the perceived security of all of the online payment systems that we use. If a well-publicized internet security breach were to occur, users concerned about the security of their online payments may become reluctant to purchase our products through payment service providers even if the publicized breach did not involve payment systems or methods used by us. In addition, billing software errors could damage user confidence in these payment systems. If any of the above were to occur and damage our reputation or the perceived security of the payment systems we use, we may lose paying users as they may be discouraged from purchasing products or services on our platform, which may have an adverse effect on our business and results of operations.
Our operations depend on the performance of the public communications infrastructure in China.
Almost all access to mobile and internet in China is maintained through state-owned telecommunication operators under the administrative control and regulatory supervision of the MIIT. We primarily rely on a limited number of telecommunication service providers to provide us with data communications capacity through local telecommunications lines and internet data centers to host our servers. We have limited access to alternative networks or services in the event of disruptions, failures or other problems with China’s public communications networks, such as mobile, internet or the fixed telecommunications networks. With the expansion of our business, we may be required to upgrade our technology and infrastructure to keep up with the increasing traffic on our platform. We cannot assure you that the public communications infrastructure in China will be able to support the demands associated with the continued growth in usage. In addition, we have no control over the costs of the services provided by public communications service providers. If the prices we pay for their services rise significantly, our financial performance may be adversely affected. Furthermore, if mobile access fees or other charges to mobile users increase, our user traffic may decline and our business may be harmed.
 
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If we fail to maintain an effective system of internal control over financial reporting, we may be unable to accurately report our financial results or prevent fraud.
We are a public company in the United States subject to the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, or Section 404, requires that we include a report of management on our internal control over financial reporting in our annual report on Form
20-F.
Our management has concluded that we did not maintain effective internal control over financial reporting as of December 31, 2020 due to material weakness identified. See “Item. 15 Controls and Procedures—Internal Control over Financial Reporting.” In addition, if we cease to be an “emerging growth company” as such term is defined in the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act of 2012, or the JOBS Act, our independent registered public accounting firm must attest to and report on the effectiveness of our internal control over financial reporting. Our management may continue to conclude that our internal control over financial reporting is not effective. Moreover, even if our management concludes that our internal control over financial reporting is effective, our independent registered public accounting firm, after conducting its own independent testing, may issue a report that is qualified if it is not satisfied with our internal controls or the level at which our controls are documented, designed, operated or reviewed, or if it interprets the relevant requirements differently from us. In addition, our reporting obligations as a public company may place a significant strain on our management, operational and financial resources and systems for the foreseeable future. We may be unable to timely complete our evaluation testing and any required remediation.
In the course of preparing and auditing our consolidated financial statements for the years ended December 31, 2018, 2019 and 2020 included in our annual report, we and our independent registered public accounting firm respectively identified one material weakness in our internal control over financial reporting as of December 31, 2020. In accordance with reporting requirements set forth by the SEC, a “material weakness” is a deficiency, or a combination of deficiencies, in internal control over financial reporting, such that there is a reasonable possibility that a material misstatement of our company’s annual or interim consolidated financial statements will not be prevented or detected on a timely basis. The material weakness identified relates to lack of sufficient competent financial reporting and accounting personnel with appropriate understanding of U.S. GAAP to design and implement
formal period-end financial
reporting policies and procedures; to address complex U.S. GAAP technical accounting issues; and to prepare and review our consolidated financial statements and related disclosures in accordance with U.S. GAAP and financial reporting requirements set forth by the SEC. To remedy our identified material weakness, we have taken action to and will continue to undertake steps to strengthen our internal control over financial reporting, including: (i) hiring more qualified personnel equipped with relevant U.S. GAAP and SEC reporting experience and qualifications to strengthen the financial reporting function and to set up a financial and system control framework, (ii) implementing regular and continuous U.S. GAAP accounting and financial reporting training programs for our accounting and financial reporting personnel, (iii) establishing effective oversight and clarifying reporting requirements
for non-recurring and
complex transactions to ensure consolidated financial statements and related disclosures are accurate, complete and in compliance with U.S. GAAP and SEC reporting requirements. However, such measures have not been fully implemented in the limited time that elapsed since our initial public offering and we concluded that the material weakness and deficiencies in our internal control over financial reporting have not been remediated as of December 31, 2020. See “Item 15. Controls and Procedures—Internal Control over Financial Reporting.”
During the course of documenting and testing our internal control procedures, in order to satisfy the requirements of Section 404, we may identify other weaknesses and deficiencies in our internal control over financial reporting. In addition, if we fail to maintain the adequacy of our internal control over financial reporting, as these standards are modified, supplemented or amended from time to time, we may not be able to conclude that we have effective internal control over financial reporting in accordance with Section 404. Moreover, our internal control over financial reporting may not prevent or detect all errors and all fraud. A control system, no matter how well designed and operated, can provide only reasonable, not absolute, assurance that the control system’s objectives will be met. Because of the inherent limitations in all control systems, no evaluation of controls can provide absolute assurance that misstatements due to error or fraud will not occur or that all control issues and instances of fraud will be detected.
 
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Generally speaking, if we fail to achieve and maintain an effective internal control environment, we could suffer material misstatements in our financial statements and fail to meet our reporting obligations, which would likely cause investors to lose confidence in our reported financial information. This could in turn limit our access to capital markets, harm our results of operations and lead to a decline in the trading price of our ADSs. Additionally, ineffective internal control over financial reporting could expose us to increased risk of fraud or misuse of corporate assets, and subject us to potential delisting from the stock exchange on which we list, regulatory investigations and civil or criminal sanctions.
Future investments in and acquisitions of complementary assets, technologies and businesses may fail, and may result in equity and earnings dilution and significant diversion of management attention.
We may invest in or acquire assets, technologies and businesses that are complementary to our existing business. This may include opportunities to expand our service offerings and strengthen our technology and data capabilities. Our investments or acquisitions may not yield the results we expect. In addition, investments and acquisitions could result in the use of substantial amounts of cash, potentially dilutive issuances of equity securities, significant amortization expenses related to intangible assets, significant diversion of management attention and exposure to potential unknown liabilities of the acquired business. Moreover, the cost of identifying and consummating investments and acquisitions, and integrating the acquired businesses into ours, may be significant, and the integration of acquired businesses may be disruptive to our existing business operations. In the event that our investments and acquisitions are not successful, our results of operations and financial condition may be materially and adversely affected.
We may not be able to obtain additional capital when desired, on favorable terms or at all.
We may make investments from time to time in facilities, hardware, software, technological systems and other projects to remain competitive. Due to the unpredictable nature of the capital markets and our industry, there can be no assurance that we will be able to raise additional capital on terms favorable to us, or at all, if and when required, especially if we experience disappointing results of operations. If adequate capital is not available to us as required, our ability to fund our operations, take advantage of unanticipated opportunities, develop or enhance our infrastructure or respond to competitive pressures could be significantly limited. If we do raise additional funds through the issuance of equity or convertible debt securities, the ownership interests of our shareholders could be significantly diluted. These newly issued securities may have rights, preferences or privileges senior to those of existing shareholders.
Failure to comply with PRC labor laws and make adequate contributions to various employee benefits plans as required by PRC regulations may subject us to penalties.
Companies operating in China are required to register with governmental authorities and participate in various government-sponsored employee benefit plans, including certain social insurance, housing funds and other welfare-oriented payment obligations, and contribute to the plans in amounts equal to certain percentages of salaries, including bonuses and allowances, of employees up to a maximum amount specified by the local government from time to time at locations where our employees are based. In addition, companies registered in China are required to apply for work permits for their foreign employees. The requirement of employee benefit plans has not been implemented consistently by the local governments in China given the different levels of economic development in different locations. Historically, we failed in making adequate employee benefit payments in strict compliance with the relevant PRC regulations for and on behalf of our employees and had been reliant on third-party service provider to pay social benefits mainly for our employees based outside of Shanghai. Our failure in making contributions to various employee benefit plans in strict compliance with applicable PRC labor-related laws may subject us to late payment penalties, and we could be required to make up the contributions for these plans as well as to pay late fees and fines. Further, we recruit foreign employees from time to time, but we may not be able to obtain requisite work permits for all of them in a timely manner. Our failure to timely obtain work permits for our foreign employees may subject us to penalties and we may be unable to hire such foreign employees. If any of the foregoing were to occur, our financial condition and results of operations may be adversely affected.
 
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We have granted and may continue to grant restricted shares, share options and other share-based awards in the future, which may result in increased share-based compensation expenses.
We adopted a 2014 Equity Incentive Plan, or the 2014 Plan, and a 2018 Share Incentive Plan, or the 2018 Plan, as amended and restated in September 2020, for the purpose of granting share-based compensation awards to employees, directors and consultants to incentivize their performance and align their interests with ours. For further detailed information, please refer to “Item 6. Compensation—B. Share Incentive Plans.” For the years ended December 31, 2018, 2019 and 2020, we recorded RMB45.5 million, RMB26.7 million and RMB29.0 million (US$4.4 million), respectively, in share-based compensation expenses. We believe the granting of share-based compensation is of significant importance to our ability to attract and retain key personnel and employees, and we will continue to grant share-based compensation to employees in the future. As a result, our expenses associated with share-based compensation may increase, which may have an adverse effect on our results of operations.
If we are not able to control our labor costs in an effective way, our business, results of operations and financial condition may be adversely affected.
Our labor costs are primarily incurred in China. The economy of China has been experiencing significant growth, leading to inflation and increased labor costs, particularly in the large cities, such as Shanghai. In addition, we are required by PRC laws and regulations to pay various statutory employee benefits, including pensions, housing fund, medical insurance, work-related injury insurance, unemployment insurance and maternity insurance to designated government agencies for the benefit of our employees. We expect that our labor costs in China, including wages and employee benefits, will continue to grow as our business grows in scale. Significant additional government-imposed increases in the jurisdictions where we have operations may affect our profitability and results of operations, unless we are able to pass on these costs to our users by increasing prices of our programs.
A severe or prolonged downturn in the Chinese or global economy could materially and adversely affect our business and financial condition.
The global macroeconomic environment is facing numerous challenges. The growth rate of the Chinese economy has gradually slowed since 2010 and the trend may continue. There is considerable uncertainty over the long-term effects of the expansionary monetary and fiscal policies adopted by the central banks and financial authorities of some of the world’s leading economies, including the United States and China. Unrest, terrorist threats and the potential for war in the Middle East and elsewhere may increase market volatility across the globe. There have also been concerns about the relationship between China and other countries, including the surrounding Asian countries, which may potentially have economic effects. In particular, there is significant uncertainty about the future relationship between the United States and China with respect to trade policies, treaties, government regulations and tariffs. Economic conditions in China are sensitive to global economic conditions, as well as changes in domestic economic and political policies and the expected or perceived overall economic growth rate in China. Any severe or prolonged slowdown in the global or Chinese economy may materially and adversely affect our business, results of operations and financial condition.
We have limited insurance coverage of our operations, which may expose us to significant costs and business disruption.
The insurance industry in China is still in an early stage of development, and insurance companies in China currently offer limited business-related insurance products. We do not maintain business interruption insurance or general third-party liability insurance, nor do we maintain property insurance, product liability insurance or
key-man
insurance. We consider this practice to be reasonable in light of the nature of our business and the insurance products that are available in China and in line with the practices of other companies in the same industry of similar size in China. Any uninsured risks may result in substantial costs and the diversion of resources, which could adversely affect our results of operations and financial condition.
 
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We face risks related to natural disasters, health epidemics and other outbreaks, which could significantly disrupt our operations.
Our business could be adversely affected by the effects of epidemics. In recent years, there have been breakouts of epidemics in China and globally. Since December 2019,
COVID-19
has spread rapidly to many parts of the world, and the effect of the
COVID-19
continues. In response to intensifying efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus, the Chinese government took a number of actions, which included extending the Chinese New Year holiday in 2020, quarantining individuals in China who had the
COVID-19,
asking citizens to remain at home and to avoid gathering in public, and other actions. We adjusted our operations and instructed our employees to all stay at their homes and work from home during the outbreak and experienced lower work efficiency and productivity. We gradually resumed our normal operation in February 2020. The global spread of
COVID-19
pandemic in a significant number of countries around the world has resulted in, and may intensify, global economic distress, and the duration and extent of the impact of
COVID-19
outbreak cannot be reasonably estimated at this time. The extent to which it may affect our results of operations, financial condition and cash flow will depend on the future developments of the outbreak, which are highly uncertain and cannot be predicted. Such uncertainty poses operational challenges to our online course service offerings. Our operations could be disrupted if one of our employees is suspected of having
COVID-19,
H1N1 flu, avian flu or another epidemic in our offices, since it could require our employees to be quarantined and/or our offices to be disinfected. In addition, our results of operations could be adversely affected to the extent that the outbreak harms the PRC economy in general.
We are also vulnerable to natural disasters and other calamities. Our servers and back system are hosted and maintained at cloud servers by a third-party service provider. We cannot assure you that such third-party service provider will have adequate measures to protect itself from the effects of fire, floods, typhoons, earthquakes, power loss, telecommunications failures,
break-ins,
war, riots, terrorist attacks or similar events. Any of the foregoing events may give rise to server interruptions, breakdowns, system failures, technology platform failures or internet failures, which could cause the loss or corruption of data or malfunctions of software or hardware as well as adversely affect our ability to provide services on our platform.
We are subject to risks relating to our leased properties
Currently, all of our offices are on leased premises. We may not be able to successfully maintain, extend or renew our leases upon expiration of the current terms on commercially reasonable terms or at all, and may therefore be forced to relocate to new offices. Besides, pursuant to relevant PRC laws and regulations, land that acquired through governmental allocation is prohibited from leasing without prior approval from competent governmental authorities. Otherwise, the relevant government authority may revoke such leases and take back these leased properties without compensation. Currently, certain of our leased properties are on land acquired through governmental allocation. If such lease agreements are revoked by the relevant government authority, we may therefore be forced to relocate to new offices.
Further, we have entered into certain lease agreements with parties who have not provided evidence of proper legal title to the leased premises or authorization from the legal owners for sublease of the premises. If such parties are not the legal owners, nor have they obtained the proper authorization from the legal owners of the premises, and the actual owners successfully challenge the validity of the relevant leases, we would be forced to relocate.
In the event we are forced to relocate, we may not be able to locate desirable alternative sites for our offices in a timely and cost-effective manner and the relocation of any of our offices may disrupt our operations and result in significant relocation expenses, which could adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations. In addition, although we may seek damages from the counterparties to the lease agreements, there can be no assurance that we would be able to collect such damages or the damages we collected could cover our relocation expenses.
We have not registered our lease agreements with the relevant government authorities. Under the relevant PRC laws and regulations, we may be required to register and file with the relevant government authority executed leases. The failure to register the lease agreements for our leased properties will not affect the validity of these lease agreements, but the competent housing authorities may order us to register the lease agreements in a prescribed period of time and impose a fine ranging from RMB1,000 to RMB10,000 for each
non-registered
lease if we fail to complete the registration within the prescribed timeframe.
 
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Risks Relating to Our Corporate Structure
If the PRC government deems that our contractual arrangements with our VIEs do not comply with PRC regulatory restrictions on foreign investment in the relevant industries, or if these regulations or the interpretation of existing regulations change in the future, we could be subject to severe penalties or be forced to relinquish our interests in those operations.
Foreign ownership of internet-based businesses, such as internet information services, is subject to restrictions under current PRC laws and regulations. For example, foreign investors are not allowed to own more than 50% of the equity interests in a value-added telecommunication service provider (except
e-commerce
which does not apply to us) and major foreign investor must typically have experience in providing value-added telecommunications services overseas and maintain a good track record in accordance with the Special Administrative Measures (Negative List) for the Access of Foreign Investment promulgated in June 2020, or, prior to the enactment of which, the Guidance Catalog of Industries for Foreign Investment promulgated in 2007, as amended, and other applicable laws and regulations.
We are a Cayman Islands exempted company and our PRC subsidiaries are considered foreign-invested enterprises. To comply with PRC laws and regulations, we conduct operations in China through our VIEs. Dr. Yi Wang, Mr. Zheren Hu, Dr. Hui Lin, Zhuhai Xinran Consulting and Management Co., Ltd., Ningbo Meishan Bonded Port Zhimei Fifth Equity Investment Partnership (Limited Partnership), Jiwei Enterprise Management and Consulting (Shanghai) Co., Ltd., Mr. Jiong Gu, and two other shareholders hold 37.32%, 10.51%, 6.11%, 11.88%, 11.88%, 10.38%, 5.56% and 6.36% equity interests in Shanghai Liulishuo, respectively. Shanghai Mengfan Cultural Communication Co., Ltd., or Shanghai Mengfan has the same shareholding structure as Shanghai Liulishuo. Dr. Yi Wang, Mr. Zheren Hu and Dr. Hui Lin also collectively hold all equity interests in Shanghai Mengfan Education Training Co., Ltd., or Mengfan Education, a new VIE we established to hold a private school operating permit.
We have entered into a series of contractual arrangements with each of our VIEs, their respective shareholders and Yuguan Information Technology (Shanghai) Co., Ltd., which we refer to as Yuguan or our WFOE in this annual report, which enable us to (i) exercise effective control over our VIEs, (ii) receive substantially all of the economic benefits of our VIEs, and (iii) have an exclusive call option to purchase all or part of the equity interests in our VIEs when and to the extent permitted by PRC laws. Because of these contractual arrangements, we are deemed the primary beneficiary of our VIEs, and hence consolidate their financial results as our variable interest entities under U.S. GAAP. For a detailed description of these contractual arrangements, see “Item 4. Information on the Company – A. History and Development of the Company.”
In the opinion of Fangda Partners, our PRC legal counsel, (i) the ownership structure of our WFOE and our VIEs currently does not violate applicable PRC laws and regulations currently in effect; and (ii) the contractual arrangements between our WFOE, our VIEs and their respective shareholders governed by PRC law currently are valid, binding, and do not violate applicable PRC laws or regulations currently in effect. However, we have been advised by our PRC legal counsel that there are substantial uncertainties regarding the interpretation and application of current and future PRC laws, regulations and rules, and there can be no assurance that the PRC regulatory authorities will take a view that is consistent with the opinion of our PRC legal counsel.
It is uncertain whether any new PRC laws or regulations relating to variable interest entity structures will be adopted or if adopted, what they would provide. In particular, the Foreign Investment Law promulgated by the PRC National People’s Congress in March 2019, which became effective from January 1, 2020, may impact our current variable interest entity structures. See “—Risks Relating to Doing Business in China—Substantial uncertainties exist with respect to the interpretation and implementation of the PRC Foreign Investment Law and how it may impact the viability of our current corporate structure, corporate governance and business operations.” Additionally, in August 2018, the Ministry of Justice of the People’s Republic of China published the Amendment to the Implementation Rules for Private Education Law (Draft for Approval), or the Draft Amendment for Private Education Law, for public review and comments. While there remains substantial uncertainty with respect to the final content, effective date, interpretation and implementation of the Draft Amendment for Private Education Law, if enacted into law, related party transactions to which a private school (including a private training education institution) is a party would be required to be concluded on a fair and just basis without impediment to the interests of the state, the school, the teachers and the students, which could potentially impact our contractual arrangements with our VIEs. Please see “—Risks Relating to Doing Business in China—We face risks associated with uncertainties surrounding the PRC laws and regulations governing the education industry in general, and the online
for-profit
private training in particular.”
If the ownership structure, contractual arrangements and businesses of our PRC subsidiaries or our VIEs are found to be in violation of any existing or future PRC laws or regulations, or our PRC subsidiaries or our VIEs fail to obtain or maintain any of the required permits or approvals, the relevant PRC regulatory authorities would have broad discretion to take action in dealing with such violations or failures, including:
 
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revoking the business licenses and/or operating licenses of such entities;
 
   
shutting down our servers or blocking our mobile apps, or discontinuing or placing restrictions or onerous conditions on our operation through any transactions between our PRC subsidiaries and VIEs;
 
   
imposing fines, confiscating the income from our PRC subsidiaries or our VIEs, or imposing other requirements with which we or our VIEs may not be able to comply;
 
   
requiring us to restructure our ownership structure or operations, including terminating the contractual arrangements with our VIEs and deregistering the equity pledge of our VIEs, which in turn would affect our ability to consolidate, derive economic interests from, or exert effective control over our VIEs; or
 
   
restricting or prohibiting our use of the proceeds of our initial public offering to finance our business and operations in China, and taking other regulatory or enforcement actions that could be harmful to our business.
Any of these actions could cause significant disruption to our business operations and severely damage our reputation, which would in turn materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations. If any of these occurrences results in our inability to direct the activities of our VIEs that most significantly impact its economic performance, and/or our failure to receive the economic benefits from our VIEs, we may not be able to consolidate the entity in our consolidated financial statements in accordance with U.S. GAAP.
We rely on contractual arrangements with our VIEs and their respective shareholders to exercise control over a significant part of our business, which may not be as effective as direct ownership in providing operational control.
We have relied and expect to continue to rely on variable interest entity contractual arrangements to conduct a significant part of our operations in China. We rely on contractual arrangements with Shanghai Liulishuo, Shanghai Mengfan, Mengfan Education and their respective shareholders to conduct a significant part of our operations in China. For a description of these contractual arrangements, see “Item 4. Information on the Company—C. Organizational Structure—Contractual Arrangements with Our VIEs and Their Respective Shareholders.” The shareholders of our VIEs may not act in the best interests of our company or may not perform their obligations under these contracts. If we had direct ownership of our VIEs, we would be able to exercise our rights as a shareholder to effect changes in the board of directors of our VIEs, which in turn could implement changes, subject to any applicable fiduciary obligations, at the management and operational level. However, under the contractual arrangements, we would rely on legal remedies under PRC law for breach of contract in the event that our VIEs and their respective shareholders did not perform their obligations under the contracts. These legal remedies may not be as effective as direct ownership in providing us with control over our VIEs.
If our VIEs or their respective shareholders fail to perform their obligations under the contractual arrangements, we may have to incur substantial costs and expend additional resources to enforce such arrangements. All the agreements under our contractual arrangements are governed by PRC law and provide for the resolution of disputes through arbitration in China. Accordingly, these contracts would be interpreted in accordance with PRC law and any disputes would be resolved in accordance with PRC legal procedures. The legal system in China is not as developed as in some other jurisdictions, such as the United States. As a result, uncertainties in the PRC legal system could limit our ability to enforce these contractual arrangements. Meanwhile, there are very few precedents and little formal guidance as to how contractual arrangements in the context of a variable interest entity should be interpreted or enforced under PRC law. Significant uncertainties remain regarding the ultimate outcome of such arbitration should legal action become necessary. In addition, under PRC law, rulings by arbitrators are final, parties cannot appeal the arbitration results in courts, and if the losing parties fail to carry out the arbitration awards within a prescribed time limit, the prevailing parties may only enforce the arbitration awards in PRC courts through arbitration award recognition proceedings, which would require additional expenses and delay. Moreover, the shareholders of the VIEs shall pledge all equity interests they hold in the VIEs to our WFOE pursuant to the equity pledge agreements. As of the date of this annual report, we have registered the equity pledges for Shanghai Liulishuo, Shanghai Mengfan and Mengfan Education with the local branch of the State Administration for Market Regulation, or the SAMR, in accordance with PRC laws to perfect their respective equity pledges. If any of the shareholders of our VIEs incur any liabilities, such equity interests they hold in our VIEs may be subject to recourse by their third-party creditors, before equity pledge registration is completed. In such case, our rights under these contractual arrangements will be adversely affected. In the event we are unable to enforce these contractual arrangements, or if we suffer significant delay or other obstacles in the process of enforcing these contractual arrangements, we may not be able to exert effective control over our VIEs, and our ability to conduct our business may be negatively affected.
 
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The shareholders of our VIEs may have potential conflicts of interest with us, which may materially and adversely affect our business and financial condition.
A significant portion of equity interests in our VIEs are held by our founders while the remaining portion of equity interests in our VIEs are held by our
pre-IPO
investors. They may have potential conflicts of interest with us. These equity interests holders may breach, or cause our VIEs to breach, or refuse to renew, the existing contractual arrangements we have with them and our VIEs, which would have a material and adverse effect on our ability to effectively control our VIEs and receive economic benefits from them. For example, the equity interests holders may be able to cause our agreements with our VIEs to be performed in a manner adverse to us by, among other things, failing to remit payments due under the contractual arrangements to us on a timely basis. We cannot assure you that when conflicts of interest arise, any or all of these shareholders will act in the best interests of our company or such conflicts will be resolved in our favor.
Currently, we do not have any arrangements to address potential conflicts of interest between these equity interests holders and our company. For the equity interests holders who are also our directors and executive officers, we rely on them to abide by the laws of the Cayman Islands and China, which provide that directors owe a fiduciary duty to the company that requires them to act in what they consider in good faith to be in the best interests of our company and not to use their position for personal gains. There is currently no specific and clear guidance under PRC laws that address any conflict between PRC laws and laws of Cayman Islands in respect of any conflict relating to corporate governance. If we cannot resolve any conflict of interest or dispute between us and the equity interests holders of our VIEs, we would have to rely on legal proceedings, which could result in disruption of our business and subject us to substantial uncertainty as to the outcome of any such legal proceedings.
Our contractual arrangements with our VIEs may be subject to scrutiny by the PRC tax authorities and they may determine that we or our VIEs owe additional taxes, which could negatively affect our financial condition and the value of your investment.
Under applicable PRC laws and regulations, arrangements and transactions among related parties may be subject to audit or challenge by the PRC tax authorities within ten years after the taxable year when the transactions are conducted. The PRC Enterprise Income Tax Law requires every enterprise in China to submit its annual enterprise income tax return together with a report on transactions with its related parties to the relevant tax authorities. The tax authorities may impose reasonable adjustments on taxation if they have identified any related party transactions that are inconsistent with arm’s length principles. We may face material and adverse tax consequences if the PRC tax authorities determine that the contractual arrangements between our WFOE, our VIEs and our VIEs’ shareholders were not entered into on an arm’s length basis in such a way as to result in an impermissible reduction in taxes under applicable PRC laws, rules and regulations, and adjust our VIEs’ income in the form of a transfer pricing adjustment. A transfer pricing adjustment could, among other things, result in a reduction of expense deductions recorded by our VIEs for PRC tax purposes, which could in turn increase its tax liabilities without reducing Yuguan’s taxable income. In addition, if Yuguan requests the shareholders of our VIEs to transfer their equity interests in or the assets of the VIEs at the price prescribed in the contractual agreements, and if such price is deemed below fair market value determined by the tax authority, or if the shareholders of our VIEs pay Yuguan any transfer price or distribution they receive in respect of the equity interests they hold in our VIEs according to the contractual arrangements, Yuguan may be subject to PRC income tax liabilities for such transactions. Furthermore, the PRC tax authorities may impose interest expenses and other penalties on our VIEs for the adjusted but unpaid taxes according to the applicable regulations. Our financial position could be materially and adversely affected if our VIEs’ tax liabilities increase or if they are required to pay interest expenses and other penalties.
 
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We may lose the ability to use and benefit from assets held by our VIEs that are material to the operation of our business if the entities go bankrupt or becomes subject to a dissolution or liquidation proceeding.
As part of our contractual arrangements with our VIEs, these entities hold certain assets that are material to the operation of our business. If our VIEs go bankrupt and all or part of its assets become subject to liens or rights of third-party creditors, we may be unable to continue some or all of our business activities, which could materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations. Under the contractual arrangements, our VIEs may not, in any manner, sell, transfer, dispose of any of its material assets (other than those occurring in the ordinary course of business), or create any security interest or other encumbrances on any of its assets for the benefit of any third party, without our prior written consent. If our VIEs undergo a voluntary or involuntary liquidation proceeding, unrelated third-party creditors may claim rights to some or all of these assets, thereby hindering our ability to operate our business, which could materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition, and results of operations.
Risks Relating to Doing Business in China
Changes in China’s economic, political or social conditions or government policies could have a material and adverse effect on our business and results of operations.
Substantially all of our operations are conducted in China. Accordingly, our results of operations, financial condition and prospects are influenced by economic, political and legal developments in China. China’s economy differs from the economies of most developed countries in many respects, including with respect to the degree of government involvement, level of development, growth rate, control of foreign exchange and allocation of resources. The PRC government exercises significant control over China’s economic growth through strategically allocating resources, controlling the payment of foreign currency-denominated obligations, setting monetary policy and providing preferential treatment to particular industries or companies. While the PRC economy has experienced significant growth over the past decades, that growth has been uneven across different regions and between industry sectors and may not continue, as evidenced by the slowing of the growth of the Chinese economy since 2012. Any adverse changes in economic conditions in China, in the policies of the Chinese government or in the laws and regulations in China could have a material adverse effect on the overall economic growth of China. Such developments could adversely affect our business and operating results, lead to reduction in demand for our services and solutions and adversely affect our competitive position.
Uncertainties with respect to the PRC legal system could adversely affect us.
The PRC legal system is a civil law system based on written statutes. Unlike the common law system, prior court decisions may be cited for reference but have limited precedential value.
In 1979, the PRC government began to promulgate a comprehensive system of laws and regulations governing economic matters in general. The overall effect of legislation over the past decades has significantly enhanced the protections afforded to various forms of foreign investments in China. However, China has not developed a fully integrated legal system, and recently enacted laws and regulations may not sufficiently cover all aspects of economic activities in China. In particular, the interpretation and enforcement of these laws and regulations involve uncertainties. Since the PRC administrative and court authorities have significant discretion in interpreting and implementing statutory and contractual terms, it may be difficult to evaluate the outcome of administrative and court proceedings and the level of legal protection available to you and us.
Furthermore, the PRC legal system is based in part on government policies and internal rules, some of which are not published on a timely basis or at all, and which may have a retroactive effect. As a result, we may not be aware of our violation of any of these policies and rules until sometime after the violation. Such uncertainties, including uncertainty over the scope and effect of our contractual, property (including intellectual property) and procedural rights, and any failure to respond to changes in the regulatory environment in China could materially and adversely affect our business and impede our ability to continue our operations.
 
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Substantial uncertainties exist with respect to the interpretation and implementation of the PRC Foreign Investment Law and how it may impact the viability of our current corporate structure, corporate governance and business operations.
The “variable interest entity” structure has been adopted by many
PRC-based
companies, including us, to obtain necessary licenses and permits in the industries that are currently subject to foreign investment restrictions in China. See “—Risks Related to Our Corporate Structure” and “Item 4. Information on the Company—C. Organizational Structure.” The Ministry of Commerce of the People’s Republic of China published a discussion draft of the proposed Foreign Investment Law in January 2015, or the 2015 Draft FIL, according to which, variable interest entities that are controlled via contractual arrangements would also be deemed as FIEs, if they are ultimately “controlled” by foreign investors. In March 2019, the PRC National People’s Congress promulgated the Foreign Investment Law, or the 2019 FIL, which became effective from January 1, 2020 and replaced the major existing laws and regulations governing foreign investment in China. Pursuant to the 2019 FIL, “foreign investments” refer to investment activities conducted by foreign investors directly or “indirectly” in China, which include any of the following circumstances: (i) foreign investors setting up foreign-invested enterprises in China solely or jointly with other investors, (ii) foreign investors obtaining shares, equity interests, property portions or other similar rights and interests of enterprises within China, (iii) foreign investors investing in new projects in China solely or jointly with other investors, and (iv) investment in other methods as specified in laws, administrative regulations, or as stipulated by the State Council. Although the 2019 FIL does not introduce the concept of “control” in determining whether a company should be considered as a foreign-invested enterprise, nor does it provide the “variable interest entity” structure as a method of foreign investment, as the 2019 FIL is relatively new and relevant government authorities may promulgate more laws, regulations or rules on the interpretation and implementation of the 2019 FIL, the possibility cannot be ruled out that the concept of “control” as stated in the 2015 Draft FIL may be embodied in, or the “variable interest entity” structure adopted by us may be deemed as a method of foreign investment by, any of such future laws, regulations and rules. If our consolidated “variable interest entity” were deemed as a foreign-invested enterprise under any of such future laws, regulations and rules, and any of the businesses that we operate would be in any “negative list” for foreign investment and therefore be subject to any foreign investment restrictions or prohibitions, further actions required to be taken by us under such laws, regulations and rules may materially and adversely affect our business and financial condition.
We may face risks and uncertainties with respect to the licensing requirement for internet audio-visual programs.
On December 20, 2007, the State Administration of Press Publication Radio Film and Television, or SAPPRFT (currently known as the State Administration of Radio and Television), and MIIT, jointly promulgated the Administrative Provisions on Internet Audio-Visual Program Service, or the Audio-Visual Program Provisions, which became effective on January 31, 2008 and was last amended on August 28, 2015. Among other things, the Audio-Visual Program Provisions stipulated that no entities or individuals may provide internet audio-visual program services without a License for Online Transmission of Audio-Visual Programs issued by SAPPRFT or its local bureaus or completing the relevant registration procedures with SAPPRFT or its local bureaus, and only state-owned or state-controlled entities are eligible to apply for a License for Online Transmission of Audio-Visual Programs. On March 17, 2010, SAPPRFT promulgated the Tentative Categories of Internet Audio-Visual Program Services, or the Categories, clarifying the scope of internet audio-visual programs services, which was amended on March 10, 2017. The making and editing of certain specialized audio-visual programs concerning, among other things, educational content, and broadcasting such content to the general public online is covered in the Categories. However, there are still significant uncertainties relating to the interpretation and implementation of the Audio-Visual Program Provisions, in particular, the scope of “internet audio-visual programs.”
Our key English learning products are featured by AI teachers and as part of the components of our courses, we offer short English audio clips on our mobile apps for users to listen and repeat, and then user-recorded audios will be automatically generated, which can be repeatedly played by the users. In our DongNi Select premium services, which are supplemental to our standard courses, we deliver our courses in online streaming format where the foreign teachers are able to provide live courses to a limited number of specific users. The live audio/video data are transmitted through our mobile apps between the specific recipients instantly without any further redaction. We believe the
AI-powered
courseware we offer and the live courses we transmit distinguish us from general providers of internet audio-visual program services. However, we cannot assure you that the competent PRC government authorities will not take a view contrary to our opinion.
The Categories describe “internet audio-visual program services” in a very broad, vague manner and are unclear as to whether the contents we offer or are available on our platforms fall into the definition of “internet audio-visual programs.” The PRC government may find that our activities mentioned above or any other content offered on our mobile apps fall within the definition of “internet audio-visual programs” and thus are subject to the licensing requirement for internet audio-visual programs. We currently do not hold a License for Online Transmission of Audio-Visual Programs. If the PRC government determines that our content should be considered as “internet audio-visual programs” for the purpose of the Audio-Visual Program Provisions, we may be required to obtain a License for Online Transmission of Audio-Visual Programs. We are, however, not eligible to apply for such license since we are not a state-owned or state-controlled entity. If this were to occur, we may be subject to penalties, fines, legal sanctions or an order to suspend the provision of our relevant content.
 
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We face risks associated with uncertainties surrounding the PRC laws and regulations governing the education industry in general, and the online
for-profit
private training in particular.
The principal regulations governing private education in China primarily consist of the PRC Education Law, the Law for Promoting Private Education, or Private Education Law, the Implementation Rules for Private Education Law and the Implementation Rules on the Supervision and Administration of
For-profit
Private Schools, or the Implementation Rules, as amended from time to time. These PRC laws and regulations on private education generally apply to the establishment and operation of all private schools, including schools and other education institutions, and provide that, among other things, (i) the establishment of a
for-profit
private school shall be approved by the education authorities or the authorities in charge of labor and social welfare, (ii) such
for-profit
private schools should be registered with the competent branch of the SAMR, and (iii) a duly approved private school will be granted a private school operating permit. The Implementation Rules further provide that the provisions contained therein should be applicable to
“for-profit
private training institutions” in an analogous manner. Shanghai has accordingly promulgated specific local regulations to clarify the requirements and procedures for establishing and operating private schools in December 2017, but it expressly provided that management measures and regulations applicable to private training institutions that only provide online courses would be promulgated separately. On February 24, 2020, Shanghai Municipal Education Commission, together with six other Shanghai authorities, promulgated the Rules of Shanghai for Filings of Extracurricular Online Training, which became effective on April 1, 2020. Such rules are the implementation rules in Shanghai following the promulgation of the Implementation Opinions on the Regulation of Extracurricular Online Training by the Ministry of Education, or the MOE, and other five national authorities, which aim at regulating the school-curriculum-related online training provided to
K-12
students and require the online training institution providing the school-curriculum-related training service to make filing through the management platform of Shanghai training institutions, in respect to the training class content, training class schedule, recruitment target operational management and information management in such online training institution. In August 2020, the Shanghai Municipality published the draft for comments of the Measures of Shanghai Municipality for Implementation of Establishment and Management of Private Training Institutions, according to which, a private training institution that provides school-curriculum-related training or language training to
K-12
students shall obtain the permission from the competent authority before its establishment. The draft measures have yet to be formally promulgated and come into effect. Other than the regulations listed above, as of the date of this annual report, no other explicit local rules or guideline on regulation of online private training institutions have been promulgated in Shanghai, where our operating entity of our online platform and our VIE, Shanghai Liulishuo, was incorporated.
We operate online platform that provides online training programs through the internet, and our PRC subsidiaries and our operating entity of our online platform are registered with local counterparts of the SAMR as
for-profit
enterprises. As there lacks clear and consistent statutory interpretation regarding the implementation of the above laws and regulations, it is unclear how these regulatory requirements shall be applied to us. During our previous consultation with relevant governmental authorities, we were informed that we are not required to obtain a private school operating permit or other approval from education authorities or the authorities in charge of labor and social welfare for our operation of online education platform. However, we cannot assure you that the government authorities will not take a different view in the future. We may be required to obtain the above-mentioned, or any other approvals, licenses, permits, or otherwise comply with additional regulatory requirements in the future, due to clarification or change in interpretation or implementation of laws and regulations in education industry, or promulgation of new regulations or guidelines regulating online education institutions.
 
27

In August 2018, the Ministry of Justice of the People’s Republic of China published the Draft Amendment for Private Education Law, for public review and comments, which is still subject to discussion, potential revision and adoption by the State Council before it becomes effective. Accordingly, substantial uncertainty remains with respect to its final content, effective date, interpretation and implementation. Nevertheless, such Draft Amendment for Private Education Law proposes changes, clarifications and additional requirements with respect to private schools in addition to the currently effective Private Education Law and relevant implementation rules. In particular, the Draft Amendment for Private Education Law clarifies that the scope of “private school” includes private training education institutions engaging in
non-degree
education, which could potentially include us. According to the Draft Amendment for Private Education Law, a
for-profit
private institution that provides online training education or an online platform that facilitates such training education services, which does not engage in (i) cultural education related to school curriculums or tutoring services for kindergarten, primary or second school examinations or entrance requirements for primary, secondary or high school, or (ii) education that leads to a degree, would require a filing with (but not approval by) education or human resources and social security authorities. If enacted into law in its current form, the Draft Amendment for Private Education Law would represent a major change to the laws and regulations relating to private schools, including, among others, (i) the required composition of the board of directors of private schools, (ii) that related party transactions to which a private school is a party would be required to be conducted on a fair and just basis without impediment to the interests of the state, the school, the teachers and the students and any director who is interested in any related party transactions of such private school should abstain from voting to approve any such transactions, and (iii) that, for a
for-profit
private school, 25% of its net profit per annum should be reserved for its development. If the Draft Amendment for Private Education Law is enacted in its current form, we may be required to change our corporate governance practices and our compliance costs could increase. The Draft Amendment for Private Education Law also expressly provides that any investor controlled by a foreign entity is prohibited from establishing, participating in the establishment of, or exercising de facto control over compulsory education schools. As we do not provide compulsory education services, we believe such prohibition, even if enacted in its current form, would not apply to us.
In August 2018, the State Council issued its new Opinion on the Regulation of the Development of Extracurricular Training Institutions, or the New Opinion, which primarily regulates extracurricular training institutions targeting
K-12
students. The New Opinion provides certain detailed requirements for extracurricular training institutions, including, among others, requirements for licenses and permits, training premises, safety conditions and fee collection, as well as for teaching staff and curriculum content. On December 28, 2018, nine PRC governmental authorities, including the MOE, jointly promulgated the Notice on Measures for Alleviating the Burdens on
K-12
students, which reiterates the above requirements. For more information, please see “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Regulation—Regulation Related to Private Education—The Law for Promoting Private Education and its Implementing Rules.” The New Opinion generally does not explicitly distinguish between online training institutions and offline training institutions. During previous consultations with relevant local governmental authorities, we were informed that the New Opinion only applies to offline training institutions, and so does not apply to us. However, we cannot assure you that the relevant government authorities will not take a different view in the future. In October 2018, the MOE launched a special supervision campaign on extracurricular training institutions and required the local competent authorities to investigate the training institutions within their jurisdictions and requested such institutions to rectify any
non-compliant
activities. We have not been subject to any investigation or received inquiries by any authority during such special supervision campaign. However, we cannot assure you that our operations will not be subject to any governmental inspections, investigations or inquiries in the future.
On August 10, 2019, the MOE, together with other seven PRC authorities, jointly promulgated the Opinions on the Guidance and Regulation of Healthy and Orderly Development of Education Mobile Internet Applications, or the Education APP Opinions. The Education APP Opinions provide that all the companies providing education mobile internet applications shall make filings with the competent education authority at the provincial level and register their basic corporate information and details of education mobile internet applications. On November 11, 2019, the MOE promulgated the Administrative Measures on the Filing of Education Mobile Internet Applications, which further elaborated the provisions of the filing requirements and procedures. For more information, please see “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Regulation—Regulation Related to Online and Distance Education.” As of the date of this annual report, we have made filings for most of our operating mobile apps, and are in the process of completing the filing procedures with respect to our new apps launched in late 2020. However, we cannot assure you that we would be able to complete the filing in a timely manner, or at all. Failure to complete the filing procedures in time or failure to comply with other regulatory requirements thereunder may subject us to governmental orders of rectification, and if we fail to rectify within the time limit as required by the authorities, the relevant apps may be suspended from operation, the filings may be revoked, and we may be blacklisted and prohibited from making new filings for six months.
 
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In addition, on November 20, 2018, the MOE, the SAMR (formerly known as State Administration for Industry and Commerce), and the Ministry of Emergency Management of China, jointly promulgated the Notice on Several Work Mechanisms for Strengthening Special Administration and Rectification of Extracurricular Training Institutions, or the New Notice. The New Notice provides certain requirements relating to the online training services, which mainly include that: (i) the competent authorities shall strengthen the supervision on the online training institution targeting on
K-12
students in accordance with the policies and requirements applied to the offline training institutions; (ii) the online training institution providing the school-curriculum-related training service is required to make filing with the competent authorities in respect to the name of the curriculum-related training class, training class content, recruitment target, training class schedule and training time; and (iii) name, photos, class and qualification number of teachers in such online training institution providing the school-curriculum-related training service shall be disclosed on its website. On July 12, 2019, the MOE, together with other five PRC authorities, jointly promulgated the Implementation Opinions on the Regulation of Extracurricular Online Training, which reiterates the filing requirement of extracurricular online training institution. Furthermore, on February 24, 2020, Shanghai Municipal Education Commission, together with six other Shanghai authorities, jointly promulgated the Rules of Shanghai for Filings of Extracurricular Online Training, which took effect on April 1, 2020. The Rules of Shanghai for Filings of Extracurricular Online Training requires the online extracurricular training institution providing the school-curriculum-related training service to make filing through the management platform of Shanghai training institutions and to make subsequent filing of statement of changes and other materials through the platform in case of any changes with respect to the filed information. For more information, please see “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Regulation—Regulation Related to Online and Distance Education.” We, as an online training company mainly providing English learning training service, may be subject to the regulations provided by the New Notice and the Implementation Opinions, the Regulation of Extracurricular Online Training and Rules of Shanghai for Filings of Extracurricular Online Training and thus be required to satisfy the filing, disclosure and other requirements thereunder. We completed the initial filing through the management platform of Shanghai training institutions in July, 2020, but we have not yet completed subsequent filings of the statement of changes and other required materials through the platform to reflect the changes to the filed information. We cannot assure you that we will be able to complete such subsequent filings in a timely manner or at all, and the failure of which may subject us to rectifications or being blacklisted by competent regulatory authorities
If we fail to comply with any regulatory requirements, including obtaining any required licenses, approvals, permits or filings in a timely manner or at all, our continued business operations may be disrupted and we may be subject to various penalties or be unable to continue our operations, all of which will materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Our failure to obtain, maintain or renew other licenses, approvals, permits, registrations or filings necessary to conduct our operations in China could have a material adverse impact on our business, financial conditions and results of operations.
A number of PRC regulatory authorities, such as the SAMR, the CAC, the MIIT, the SAPPRFT, the Ministry of Civil Affairs, and the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Welfare, oversee different aspects of our business operations, and we are required to obtain a wide range of licenses, approvals, permits, registrations and filings required for conducting our business in China, which we cannot assure you that we have obtained all of them or will continue to maintain or renew all of them.
 
29

We may be deemed as providing certain restricted services or conduct certain restricted activities and thus be subject to certain licenses, approvals, permits, registrations, filings, reporting and other requirements due to lack official interpretations on certain terms under internet related PRC regulations and laws. For example, certain content posted on our mobile apps, including our course materials, may be deemed as “internet cultural products,” and our use of those contents may be regarded as “internet cultural activities,” thus we may be required to obtain an Internet Culture Business Operating License for provision of those contents through our mobile apps. Also, due to the ambiguity of the definition of “online publishing service,” the online distribution of content, including our course materials, through our mobile apps, may be regarded as “online publishing service” and therefore we may be required to obtain an Online Publishing License. In addition, we deliver certain courses in live-streaming format on our mobile apps which the relevant authorities may regard us as a live-streaming platform and may thus subject us to the requirement of making necessary filings as a live-streaming platform. Besides, some of our mobile apps provide a recharge function for users to purchase our virtual items or gift card which can be used to purchase our course packages, and thus we may be deemed as an issuer of “single-purpose commercial prepaid card,” and be required to connect our business process management system with Shanghai Single Purpose Prepaid Consuming Card Coordinated Supervision and Service Platform to report relevant information. We currently have not obtained any of the above licenses or made any such filings or reporting. Under current PRC laws and regulations, an information service provider that reposts news for internet publication shall first obtain license from CAC or its local counterpart. Certain learning materials we provide on our platform are from foreign media. Due to the ambiguity of the definition of “news” under the current PRC laws and regulations, we cannot assure you that our provision of such materials will not be deemed by the relevant PRC government authorities as reposting “news” without proper license, which will subject us to various penalties, including fines and suspension of such provision. Although we do not think we are subject to any of these licenses or filing requirements, and as of the date of this annual report, we have not been subject to any fines or other form of regulatory or administrative penalties or sanctions due to the lack of any the licenses, approvals, permits, registrations, filings and reporting, we cannot assure you that the PRC government authorities will not take a different view or will not require us to obtain any additional licenses, approvals, permits, registrations, filings and fulfill reporting obligations in the future. If we fail to do so, we may be subject to various penalties, such as confiscation of illegal revenues, fines and discontinuation or restriction of business operations, which may materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
In addition, there can be no assurance that we will be able to maintain our existing licenses, approvals, registrations or permits necessary to provide our current online services in China, renew any of them when their current term expires, or update existing licenses or obtain additional licenses, approvals, permits, registrations or filings, or fulfill reporting obligations necessary for our business expansion from time to time. If we fail to do so, our business, financial conditions and operational results may be materially and adversely affected.
We may rely on dividends and other distributions on equity paid by our PRC subsidiaries to fund any cash and financing requirements we may have, and any limitation on the ability of our PRC subsidiaries to make payments to us could have a material and adverse effect on our ability to conduct our business.
We are a holding company, and we may rely on dividends and other distributions on equity paid by our PRC subsidiaries for our cash and financing requirements, including the funds necessary to pay dividends and other cash distributions to our shareholders and service any debt we may incur. For a detailed discussion of applicable PRC regulations governing distribution of dividends, see “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Regulation—Regulations Related to Dividend Distribution,” “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Regulation—Regulations Related to Taxation” and “Item 5. Operating and Financial Review and Prospects—B. Liquidity and Capital Resources—Holding Company Structure.” Additionally, if our PRC subsidiaries incur debt on their own behalf in the future, the instruments governing their debt may restrict their ability to pay dividends or make other distributions to us. Furthermore, the PRC tax authorities may require our WFOE to adjust its taxable income under the contractual arrangements it currently has in place with our VIEs in a manner that would materially and adversely affect its ability to pay dividends and other distributions to us. See “—Risks Relating to Our Corporate Structure—Our contractual arrangements with our VIEs may be subject to scrutiny by the PRC tax authorities and they may determine that we or our VIEs owe additional taxes, which could negatively affect our financial condition and the value of your investment.”
Any limitation on the ability of our PRC subsidiaries to pay dividends or make other distributions to us could materially and adversely limit our ability to grow, make investments or acquisitions that could be beneficial to our business, pay dividends, or otherwise fund and conduct our business. See also “—Risks Relating to Doing Business in China—Governmental control of currency conversion may limit our ability to utilize our revenues effectively and affect the value of your investment” and “—Risks Relating to Doing Business in China—PRC regulations relating to investments in offshore companies by PRC residents may subject our
PRC-resident
beneficial owners or our PRC subsidiaries to liability or penalties, limit our ability to inject capital into our PRC subsidiaries or limit our PRC subsidiaries’ ability to increase their registered capital or distribute profits.”
 
30

Fluctuations in exchange rates could have a material and adverse effect on our results of operations and the value of your investment.
The conversion of Renminbi into foreign currencies, including U.S. dollars, is based on rates set by the People’s Bank of China. The Renminbi has fluctuated against the U.S. dollar, at times significantly and unpredictably. The value of Renminbi against the U.S. dollar and other currencies is affected by changes in China’s political and economic conditions and by China’s foreign exchange policies, among other things. We cannot assure you that Renminbi will not appreciate or depreciate significantly in value against the U.S. dollar in the future. It is difficult to predict how market forces or PRC or U.S. government policy may impact the exchange rate between Renminbi and the U.S. dollar in the future. Any significant appreciation or depreciation of Renminbi may materially and adversely affect our revenues, earnings and financial position, and the value of, and any dividends payable on, our ADSs in U.S. dollars. A significant depreciation of Renminbi against the U.S. dollar may significantly reduce the U.S. dollar equivalent of our earnings, which in turn could adversely affect the price of our ADSs.
Very limited hedging options are available in China to reduce our exposure to exchange rate fluctuations. To date, we have not entered into any hedging transactions in an effort to reduce our exposure to foreign currency exchange risk. While we may decide to enter into hedging transactions in the future, the availability and effectiveness of these hedges may be limited and we may not be able to adequately hedge our exposure or at all. In addition, our currency exchange losses may be magnified by PRC exchange control regulations that restrict our ability to convert Renminbi into foreign currency. As a result, fluctuations in exchange rates may have a material adverse effect on your investment.
PRC regulation of loans to and direct investment in PRC entities by offshore companies and governmental control of currency conversion may delay or prevent us from using the proceeds of our offshore offerings to make loans to our PRC subsidiaries and our VIEs or make additional capital contributions to our PRC subsidiaries, which could materially and adversely affect our liquidity and our ability to fund and expand our business.
Under PRC laws and regulations, we are permitted to utilize the proceeds from our initial public offering to fund our PRC entities by making additional capital contributions to our PRC subsidiaries or providing loans to our PRC subsidiaries and VIEs, subject to applicable government registration and approval requirements. Currently, there is no statutory limit to the amount of funding that we can provide to our PRC subsidiaries through capital contributions. However, the maximum amount we can loan to our PRC subsidiaries and VIEs is subject to statutory limits. According to current PRC laws and regulations, we can provide funding to our PRC subsidiaries through loans of up to either (i) the amount of the difference between the respective registered total investment amount and registered capital of each of our PRC subsidiaries, or the Total Investment and Registered Capital Balance, or (ii) two times, or the then applicable statutory multiple, the amount of their respective net assets, calculated in accordance with PRC GAAP, or the Net Assets Limit, at our election. We may also fund our VIEs through cross-border loans and the maximum amount would be their respective Net Assets Limit. Increasing the Total Investment and Registered Capital Balance of our PRC subsidiaries is subject to governmental procedures and may require a PRC subsidiary to increase its registered capital at the same time. If we choose to make a loan to a PRC entity based on its Net Assets Limit, the maximum amount we would be able to loan to the relevant PRC entity would depend on the relevant entity’s net assets and the applicable statutory multiple at the time of calculation. PRC laws and regulations may also impose more stringent limitations to cross-border loans, which will also have negative impact on our ability to fund our PRC entities. Please see “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Regulation—Regulations Related to Foreign Exchange—Regulations on Foreign Currency Exchange” and “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Regulation—Regulations Related to Foreign Exchange—Regulations on Foreign Debt.” These PRC laws and regulations may significantly limit our ability to use Renminbi converted from the net proceeds of our initial public offering to fund the establishment of new entities in China by our PRC subsidiaries, to invest in or acquire any other PRC companies through our PRC subsidiaries, to fund our existing VIEs or to establish and fund new variable interest entities in China. Moreover, we cannot assure you that we will be able to complete the necessary registrations or obtain the necessary government approvals on a timely basis, if at all, with respect to future loans to our PRC subsidiaries or our VIEs, or future capital contributions by us to our PRC subsidiaries. If we fail to complete such registrations or obtain such approvals or we are found to be in violation of any applicable laws with respect to foreign currency exchange, our ability to use the proceeds we received or expect to receive from our offshore offerings and to capitalize or otherwise fund our PRC operations may be negatively affected and we may be subject to penalties, which could materially and adversely affect our liquidity and our ability to fund and expand our business.
 
31

Governmental control of currency conversion may limit our ability to utilize our revenues effectively and affect the value of your investment.
The PRC government imposes controls on the convertibility of Renminbi into foreign currencies and, in certain cases, the remittance of currency out of China. Under existing PRC foreign exchange regulations, payments of current account items, such as profit distributions and trade and service-related foreign exchange transactions, can be made in foreign currencies without prior approval from the State Administration of Foreign Exchange, or SAFE, by complying with certain procedural requirements. However, approval from or registration with appropriate governmental authorities is required where Renminbi is to be converted into foreign currency and remitted out of China to pay capital expenses such as the repayment of loans denominated in foreign currencies. See “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Regulation—Regulations Related to Foreign Exchange—Regulation on Foreign Currency Exchange.”
Since 2016, the PRC government has tightened its foreign exchange policies again and stepped up scrutiny of major outbound capital movement. More restrictions and a substantial vetting process have been put in place by SAFE to regulate cross-border transactions falling under the capital account. The PRC government may also restrict access in the future to foreign currencies for current account transactions, at its discretion. We receive substantially all of our revenues in Renminbi. If the foreign exchange control system prevents us from obtaining sufficient foreign currencies to satisfy our foreign currency demands, we may not be able to pay dividends in foreign currencies to our shareholders, including holders of our ADSs.
PRC regulations relating to investments in offshore companies by PRC residents may subject our
PRC-resident
beneficial owners or our PRC subsidiaries to liability or penalties, limit our ability to inject capital into our PRC subsidiaries or limit our PRC subsidiaries’ ability to increase their registered capital or distribute profits.
PRC residents are subject to restrictions and filing requirements when investing in offshore companies. SAFE promulgated the Circular on Relevant Issues Concerning Foreign Exchange Control on Domestic Residents’ Offshore Investment and Financing and Roundtrip Investment through Special Purpose Vehicles, or SAFE Circular 37, on July 4, 2014, which replaced the former circular commonly known as “SAFE Circular 75” promulgated by SAFE on October 21, 2005. SAFE Circular 37 requires PRC residents (including individuals and entities) to register with local branches of SAFE in connection with their direct establishment or indirect control of an offshore entity, for the purpose of overseas investment and financing, with such PRC residents’ legally owned assets or equity interests in domestic enterprises or offshore assets or interests, referred to in SAFE Circular 37 as a “special purpose vehicle.” SAFE Circular 37 further requires amendment to the registration in the event of any significant changes with respect to the special purpose vehicle, such as increase or decrease of capital contributed by PRC individuals, share transfer or exchange, merger, division or other material event. In the event that a PRC resident holding interests in a special purpose vehicle fails to fulfill the required SAFE registration, the PRC subsidiaries of that special purpose vehicle may be prohibited from making profit distributions to the offshore parent and from carrying out subsequent cross-border foreign exchange activities, and the special purpose vehicle may be restricted in its ability to contribute additional capital into its PRC subsidiaries. Moreover, failure to comply with the various SAFE registration requirements described above could result in liability under PRC law for evasion of foreign exchange controls. According to the Notice on Further Simplifying and Improving Policies for the Foreign Exchange Administration of Direct Investment released on February 13, 2015 by SAFE, local banks will examine and handle foreign exchange registration for overseas direct investment, including the initial foreign exchange registration and amendment registration, under SAFE Circular 37 from June 1, 2015.
Dr. Yi Wang, Mr. Zheren Hu and Dr. Hui Lin, who are our beneficial owners and PRC residents, completed the initial SAFE registration pursuant to SAFE Circular 75, and are in the process of applying for amendment of such registration reflecting the subsequent change of our shareholding structure since then. There can be no assurance that such amendment of registration can be successfully completed in a timely manner. We have notified and requested all of our shareholders to comply with, or notify their beneficial owners who are PRC residents to comply with, applicable SAFE regulations, including their filing obligation under SAFE Circular 37 and other implementation rules. Nevertheless, we do not have control over our beneficial owners and there can be no assurance that all of our
PRC-resident
beneficial owners will comply with SAFE Circular 37 and other relevant implementation rules, and there is no assurance that the registration under SAFE Circular 37 and any amendment will be completed in a timely manner, or will be completed at all. The failure of our beneficial owners who are PRC residents to register or amend their foreign exchange registrations in a timely manner pursuant to SAFE Circular 37 and other relevant implementation rules, or the failure of future beneficial owners of our company who are PRC residents to comply with the registration procedures set forth in SAFE Circular 37 and subsequent implementation rules, may subject such beneficial owners or our PRC subsidiaries to fines and legal sanctions. Failure to register or comply with relevant requirements may also limit our ability to contribute additional capital to our PRC subsidiaries and limit our PRC subsidiaries’ ability to distribute dividends to our company or conduct other foreign exchange transactions. These risks may have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
 
32

The M&A Rules and certain other PRC regulations establish complex procedures for some acquisitions of PRC companies by foreign investors, which could make it more difficult for us to pursue growth through acquisitions in China.
A number of PRC laws and regulations have established procedures and requirements that could make merger and acquisition activities in China by foreign investors more time consuming and complex. In addition to the Anti-monopoly Law itself, these include the Regulations on Mergers and Acquisitions of Domestic Enterprises by Foreign Investors, or the M&A Rules, adopted by six PRC regulatory agencies, and the Rules of the Ministry of Commerce on Implementation of Security Review System of Mergers and Acquisitions of Domestic Enterprises by Foreign Investors, or the Security Review Rules, promulgated in 2011, the Foreign Investment Law, which took effect on January 1, 2020, and the Measures for Security Review of Foreign Investment, or the Foreign Investment Security Review Measures, effective from January 18, 2021. These laws and regulations impose requirements in some instances that the Ministry of Commerce be notified in advance of any
change-of-control
transaction in which a foreign investor takes control of a PRC domestic enterprise. In addition, the Anti-Monopoly Law requires that the Ministry of Commerce be notified in advance of any concentration of undertaking if certain thresholds are triggered. Moreover, the Security Review Rules specify that mergers and acquisitions by foreign investors that raise “national defense and security” concerns and mergers and acquisitions through which foreign investors may acquire de facto control over domestic enterprises that raise “national security” concerns are subject to strict review by the Ministry of Commerce, and prohibit any attempt to bypass a security review, including by structuring the transaction through a proxy or contractual control arrangement. Furthermore, the Foreign Investment Law reiterates that China establishes a foreign investment security review system to conduct a security review of foreign investment that impacts or may impact the national security, and the Foreign Investment Security Review Measures requires that foreign investment in certain key areas, including products and services of key information technology and internet, that results in acquiring the actual control of the investee, is required to obtain approval from designated governmental authorities in advance. In the future, we may grow our business by acquiring complementary businesses. Complying with the requirements of the relevant regulations to complete such transactions could be time consuming, and any required approval processes, including approval from the Ministry of Commerce, may delay or inhibit our ability to complete such transactions, which could affect our ability to expand our business or maintain our market share.
Any failure to comply with PRC regulations regarding our employee equity incentive plans may subject the PRC plan participants or us to fines and other legal or administrative sanctions.
In February 2012, SAFE promulgated the Circular of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange on Issues concerning the Administration of Foreign Exchange Used for Domestic Individuals’ Participation in Equity Incentive Plans of Companies Listed Overseas, or the Stock Option Rules. Under the Stock Option Rules, directors, supervisors, management members and other employees of PRC companies participating in any stock incentive plan of an overseas publicly listed company who are domestic individuals as defined therein are required to register and make regular periodic filings with SAFE through a domestic qualified agent, which could be a PRC subsidiary of such overseas listed company, and complete certain other procedures. Subsequent to the completion of our initial public offering, our company became an overseas listed company, we and our directors, supervisors, management members and other employees who are domestic individuals as defined under the Stock Option Rules and who have been granted options are subject to such requirements under the Stock Option Rules. We have assisted our share incentive plans participants to complete the registration and to comply with these requirements. However, there can be no assurance that all of the future share incentive plans participants can successfully register with SAFE as required by the rules in a timely manner, or at all. Failure to complete the SAFE registrations or failure to comply with other requirements under the Stock Option Rules may subject them to fines and legal sanctions and may also limit the ability to make payment under our equity incentive plans or receive dividends or sales proceeds related thereto, or our ability to contribute additional capital into our PRC subsidiaries and limit our PRC subsidiaries’ ability to distribute dividends to us or our ability to conduct other foreign exchange transactions. We also face regulatory uncertainties that could restrict our ability to adopt additional equity incentive plans for our directors and employees under PRC law.
 
33

If we are classified as a PRC resident enterprise for PRC income tax purposes or gains realized with respect to our ADSs or shares are deemed to be from PRC sources, we and our
non-PRC
shareholders or ADS holders could be subject to unfavorable tax consequences.
Under the PRC Enterprise Income Tax Law and its implementation rules, an enterprise established outside of China with a “de facto management body” within China is considered a PRC resident enterprise. The implementation rules define the term “de facto management body” as the body that exercises full and substantial control over and overall management of the business, productions, personnel, accounts and properties of an enterprise. In 2009, the State Administration of Taxation issued a circular, known as Circular 82, which provides certain specific criteria for determining whether the “de facto management body” of a
PRC-controlled
offshore incorporated enterprise is located in China. Although Circular 82 only applies to offshore enterprises controlled by PRC enterprises or PRC enterprise groups, the criteria set forth in the circular may reflect the State Administration of Taxation’s general position on how the “de facto management body” test should be applied in determining the tax resident status of all offshore enterprises. According to Circular 82, an offshore incorporated enterprise controlled by a PRC enterprise or a PRC enterprise group will be regarded as a PRC tax resident by virtue of having its “de facto management body” in China and will be subject to PRC enterprise income tax on its global income only if all of the following conditions are met: (i) the primary location of the
day-to-day
operational management is in China; (ii) decisions relating to the enterprise’s financial and human resource matters are made or are subject to approval by organizations or personnel in China; (iii) the enterprise’s primary assets, accounting books and records, company seals, and board and shareholder resolutions, are located or maintained in China; and (iv) at least 50% of voting board members or senior executives habitually reside in China.
We believe that none of our entities outside of China is a PRC resident enterprise for PRC tax purposes. However, the tax resident status of an enterprise is subject to determination by the PRC tax authorities and uncertainties remain with respect to the interpretation of the term “de facto management body.” If the PRC tax authorities determine that we are a PRC resident enterprise for enterprise income tax purposes, we will be subject to the enterprise income tax on our global income at the rate of 25% and we will be required to comply with PRC enterprise income tax reporting obligations. In addition, gains realized on the sale or other disposition of our ADSs or Class A ordinary shares may be subject to PRC tax, at a rate of 10% in the case of
non-PRC
enterprises or 20% in the case of
non-PRC
individuals (in each case, subject to the provisions of any applicable tax treaty), if such gains are deemed to be from PRC sources. It is unclear whether
non-PRC
shareholders of our company would be able to claim the benefits of any tax treaties between their country of tax residence and the PRC in the event that we are treated as a PRC resident enterprise. Any such tax may reduce the returns on your investment in the ADSs.
We may not be able to obtain certain benefits under the relevant tax arrangement for dividends paid by our PRC subsidiaries to us through our Hong Kong subsidiary.
We are a holding company incorporated under the laws of the Cayman Islands and as such rely on dividends and other distributions on equity from our PRC subsidiaries to satisfy part of our liquidity requirements. Pursuant to the PRC Enterprise Income Tax Law, a withholding tax rate of 10% currently applies to dividends paid by a PRC “resident enterprise” to a foreign enterprise investor, unless any such foreign investor’s jurisdiction of incorporation has a tax treaty or similar arrangements with China that provides for preferential tax treatment. Pursuant to the Arrangement between the Mainland China and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region for the Avoidance of Double Taxation and Tax Evasion on Income, such withholding tax rate may be lowered to 5% if a Hong Kong resident enterprise owns no less than 25% of a PRC enterprise within the
12-month
period immediately before distribution of the dividends and the Hong Kong resident enterprise is the beneficial owner of such dividends. Furthermore, the Administrative Measures for
Non-resident
Taxpayers to Enjoy Treatment under Treaties, which became effective in January 2020, require
non-resident
enterprises to determine whether they are qualified to enjoy the preferential tax treatment under the tax treaties and file relevant report with the tax authorities. There are also other conditions for enjoying the reduced withholding tax rate according to other relevant tax rules and regulations. See “Item 10. Additional Information—E. Taxation—PRC.” We cannot assure you that our determination regarding our qualification to enjoy the preferential tax treatment will not be challenged by the relevant tax authority or we will be able to complete the necessary filings with the relevant tax authority and enjoy the preferential withholding tax rate of 5% under the arrangement with respect to any dividends to be paid by our PRC subsidiaries to our Hong Kong subsidiary.
 
34

We and our shareholders face uncertainty with respect to indirect transfers of equity interests in PRC resident enterprises, assets attributed to a PRC establishment of a
non-PRC
company or immovable properties located in China owned by
non-PRC
companies.
In February 2015, the State Administration of Taxation issued the Bulletin on Issues of Enterprise Income Tax on Indirect Transfers of Assets by
Non-PRC
Resident Enterprises, or SAT Bulletin 7, which partially replaced and supplemented previous rules under the Notice on Strengthening Administration of Enterprise Income Tax for Share Transfers by
Non-PRC
Resident Enterprises, or SAT Circular 698. In October, 2017, the State Administration of Taxation issued the Announcement on Issues Concerning the Withholding of
Non-PRC
Resident Enterprise Income Tax at Source, or SAT Bulletin 37. The SAT Bulletin 37 further clarifies the practice and procedure of the withholding of
non-PRC
resident enterprise income tax and replaced SAT Circular 698. Pursuant to SAT Bulletin 7, an “indirect transfer” of assets, including equity interests in a PRC resident enterprise, by
non-PRC
resident enterprises may be
re-characterized
and treated as a direct transfer of PRC taxable assets, if the arrangement does not have a reasonable commercial purpose and was established for the purpose of avoiding payment of PRC enterprise income tax. As a result, gains derived from the indirect transfer may be subject to PRC enterprise income tax. According to SAT Bulletin 7, “PRC taxable assets” include assets attributed to an establishment in China, immovable properties located in China, and equity investments in PRC resident enterprises. Gains derived from the transfer of PRC taxable assets by a direct holder that is a
non-PRC
resident enterprise is subject to PRC enterprise income taxes. When determining whether an arrangement has a “reasonable commercial purpose,” the following factors are considered: whether the value of the equity interests of the relevant offshore enterprise is mainly derived from PRC taxable assets; whether the assets of the relevant offshore enterprise mainly consist of direct or indirect investment in China; whether the income of the relevant offshore enterprise is mainly generated from China; whether the offshore enterprise and its subsidiaries directly or indirectly holding PRC taxable assets have real commercial nature as evidenced by actual function and risk exposure; for how long the existing business model and organizational structure of the relevant offshore enterprise has existed; the replicability of the arrangement by direct transfer of PRC taxable assets; and the tax situation of such indirect transfer and applicable tax treaties or similar arrangements. Gains derived from an indirect offshore transfer of assets of a PRC establishment or place of business are to be included in the enterprise income tax filing of the PRC establishment or place of business, and are subject to a PRC enterprise income tax rate of 25%. In case of a transfer of immovable properties located in China or of equity investments in a PRC resident enterprise, which is not related to a PRC establishment or place of business of a
non-resident
enterprise, a PRC enterprise income tax rate of 10% applies, subject to available preferential tax treatment under applicable tax treaties or similar arrangements. The party who is obligated to pay for the transfer has the withholding obligation with respect to the transfer. Where the payor fails to withhold sufficient tax, the transferor is required to declare and pay such tax to the tax authority by itself within the statutory time limit. Late payment of applicable tax will subject the transferor to default interest. Failure to withhold applicable tax will also subject the transferee to penalties under PRC tax laws. SAT Bulletin 7 does not apply to sales of shares by investors through a public stock exchange if the shares were acquired by the investors through a public stock exchange.
We face uncertainties as to the application of SAT Bulletin 7 and/or SAT Bulletin 37, including reporting and other obligations with respect to certain past and future transactions where PRC taxable assets are involved, such as offshore restructuring, sale of the shares in our offshore subsidiaries or investments. We may be subject to filing obligations or taxed as the transferor, or subject to withholding obligations as the transferee, in the transactions. For transfer of our shares by investors that are
non-PRC
resident enterprises, our PRC subsidiaries may be requested to assist in filings under SAT Bulletin 7 and/or SAT Bulletin 37. We may be required to allocate valuable resources to comply with SAT Bulletin 7 and/or SAT Bulletin 37, to request relevant transferors from whom we purchase taxable assets to comply with these rules, or to establish that we should not be taxed under these rules, which may have a material adverse effect on our financial condition and results of operations.
 
35

You may experience difficulties in effecting service of legal process, enforcing foreign judgments or bringing actions in China against us or our management named in this annual report based on foreign laws.
We are a company incorporated under the laws of the Cayman Islands, we conduct substantially all of our operations in China, and substantially all of our assets are located in China. In addition, all our senior executive officers reside within China for a significant portion of the time and all are PRC nationals. In addition, China does not have treaties providing for the reciprocal recognition and enforcement of judgments of courts with the Cayman Islands and many other countries and regions. Even if you are successful in bringing an action of this kind, PRC laws may render you unable to enforce a judgment against our assets or the assets of our directors and officers.
It may be difficult for overseas regulators to conduct investigation or collect evidence within China.
Shareholder claims or regulatory investigation that are common in the United States generally are difficult to pursue as a matter of law or practicality in China. For example, in China, there are significant legal and other obstacles to providing information needed for regulatory investigations or litigations initiated outside China. Although the authorities in China may establish a regulatory cooperation mechanism with the securities regulatory authorities of another country or region to implement cross-border supervision and administration, such cooperation with the securities regulatory authorities in the Unities States may not be efficient in the absence of mutual and practical cooperation mechanism. Furthermore, according to Article 177 of the PRC Securities Law, or Article 177, which became effective in March 2020, no overseas securities regulator is allowed to directly conduct investigation or evidence collection activities within the territory of the PRC. While detailed interpretation of or implementation rules under Article 177 have yet to be promulgated, the inability for an overseas securities regulator to directly conduct investigation or evidence collection activities within China may further increase difficulties faced by you in protecting your interests. See also “—General Risks Relating to Our ADSs—You may face difficulties in protecting your interests, and your ability to protect your rights through U.S. courts may be limited, because we are incorporated under Cayman Islands law.” for risks associated with investing in us as a Cayman Islands company.
Changes in accounting standards may affect our results of our operations.
We are required to adopt new accounting standards under FASB from time to time. Certain new accounting standards may impose significant different accounting treatments on certain line items on our consolidated financial statements, which could result in unexpected changes to our results of operation. For example, in February 2016, the FASB issued ASU
No. 2016-02,
which provides another transition method in addition to the existing transition method by allowing entities to initially apply the new leases standard at the adoption date and recognize a cumulative-effect adjustment to the opening balance of retained earnings in the period of adoption consistent with preparers’ requests. The amendments are effective for fiscal years beginning after December 15, 2018, including interim periods within those fiscal years for public entities. We have adopted this new guidance for the year ended December 31, 2019. The standard had a material impact on our consolidated balance sheets, but did not have a material impact on our consolidated statements of income or statements of cash flows. The most significant impact was the recognition of RMB159.7 million on our assets as operating lease
right-of-use-assets
and RMB159.7 million on our liabilities as operating lease liabilities, respectively. Even though we are not aware of any changes in accounting standards in 2020 that would have a material impact on our financial statements, there can be no assurance that there will be no material impact on our financial statements as a result of changes in accounting standards in the future.
Our ADSs may be delisted under the Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act if the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, or the PCAOB, is unable to inspect auditors who are located in China. The delisting of our ADSs, or the threat of their being delisted, may materially and adversely affect the value of your investment. Additionally, the inability of the PCAOB to conduct inspections deprives our investors with the benefits of such inspections.
The Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act, or the HFCA Act, was enacted on December 18, 2020. The HFCA Act states if the SEC determines that we have filed audit reports issued by a registered public accounting firm that has not been subject to inspection by the PCAOB for three consecutive years beginning in 2021, the SEC shall prohibit our shares or ADSs from being traded on a national securities exchange or in the over the counter trading market in the U.S.
 
36

Our auditor, the independent registered public accounting firm that issues the audit report included elsewhere in this annual report, as an auditor of companies that are traded publicly in the United States and a firm registered with the PCAOB, is subject to laws in the United States pursuant to which the PCAOB conducts regular inspections to assess its compliance with the applicable professional standards. Since our auditor is located in China, a jurisdiction where the PCAOB has been unable to conduct inspections without the approval of the Chinese authorities, our auditor is currently not inspected by the PCAOB.
On March 24, 2021, the SEC adopted interim final rules relating to the implementation of certain disclosure and documentation requirements of the HFCA Act. We will be required to comply with these rules if the SEC identifies us as having a
“non-inspection”
year under a process to be subsequently established by the SEC. The SEC is assessing how to implement other requirements of the HFCA Act, including the listing and trading prohibition requirements described above.
The SEC may propose additional rules or guidance that could impact us if our auditor is not subject to PCAOB inspection. For example, on August 6, 2020, the President’s Working Group on Financial Markets, or the PWG, issued the Report on Protecting United States Investors from Significant Risks from Chinese Companies to the then President of the United States. This report recommended the SEC implement five recommendations to address companies from jurisdictions that do not provide the PCAOB with sufficient access to fulfil its statutory mandate. Some of the concepts of these recommendations were implemented with the enactment of the HFCA Act. However, some of the recommendations were more stringent than the HFCA Act. For example, if a company was not subject to PCAOB inspection, the report recommended that the transition period before a company would be delisted would end on January 1, 2022.
The SEC has announced that the SEC staff is preparing a consolidated proposal for the rules regarding the implementation of the HFCA Act and to address the recommendations in the PWG report. It is unclear when the SEC will complete its rulemaking and when such rules will become effective and what, if any, of the PWG recommendations will be adopted. The implications of this possible regulation in addition the requirements of the HFCA Act are uncertain. Such uncertainty could cause the market price of our ADSs to be materially and adversely affected, and our securities could be delisted or prohibited from being traded
“over-the-counter”
earlier than would be required by the HFCA Act. If our securities are unable to be listed on another securities exchange by then, such a delisting would substantially impair your ability to sell or purchase our ADSs when you wish to do so, and the risk and uncertainty associated with a potential delisting would have a negative impact on the price of our ADSs.
The PCAOB’s inability to conduct inspections in China prevents it from fully evaluating the audits and quality control procedures of our independent registered public accounting firm. As a result, we and investors in our ordinary shares are deprived of the benefits of such PCAOB inspections. The inability of the PCAOB to conduct inspections of auditors in China makes it more difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of our independent registered public accounting firm’s audit procedures or quality control procedures as compared to auditors outside of China that are subject to the PCAOB inspections, which could cause investors and potential investors in our stock to lose confidence in our audit procedures and reported financial information and the quality of our financial statements.
In May 2013, the PCAOB announced that it had entered into a Memorandum of Understanding on Enforcement Cooperation with the CSRC and the PRC Ministry of Finance, which establishes a cooperative framework between the parties for the production and exchange of audit documents relevant to investigations undertaken by the PCAOB in the PRC or by the CSRC or the PRC Ministry of Finance in the United States. The PCAOB continues to be in discussions with the CSRC and the PRC Ministry of Finance to permit joint inspections in the PRC of audit firms that are registered with the PCAOB and audit Chinese companies that trade on U.S. exchanges.
If additional remedial measures are imposed on the “big four”
PRC-based
accounting firms, including our independent registered public accounting firm, in administrative proceedings brought by the SEC alleging such firms’ failure to meet specific criteria set by the SEC with respect to requests for the production of documents, we could fail to timely file future financial statements in compliance with the requirements of the Exchange Act.
In December 2012, the SEC instituted administrative proceedings against the “big four”
PRC-based
accounting firms, including our independent registered public accounting firm, alleging that these firms had violated U.S. securities laws and the SEC’s rules and regulations thereunder by failing to provide to the SEC the firms’ audit work papers with respect to certain
PRC-based
companies that are publicly traded in the United States.
 
37

On January 22, 2014, the administrative law judge presiding over the matter rendered an initial decision that each of the firms had violated the SEC’s rules of practice by failing to produce audit papers and other documents to the SEC. The initial decision censured each of the firms and barred them from practicing before the SEC for a period of six months. Thereafter, the accounting firms filed a petition for review of the initial decision, prompting the SEC Commissioners to review the initial decision, determine whether there had been any violation and, if so, determine the appropriate remedy to be placed on these audit firms.
On February 6, 2015, the four
PRC-based
accounting firms (including our independent registered public accounting firm) each agreed to a censure and to pay a fine to the SEC to settle the dispute and avoid suspension of their ability to practice before the SEC and audit U.S.-listed companies. The settlement required the firms to follow detailed procedures and to seek to provide the SEC with access to Chinese firms’ audit documents via the CSRC. Under the terms of the settlement, the underlying proceeding against the four China-based accounting firms was deemed dismissed with prejudice four years after entry of the settlement. The four-year mark occurred on February 6, 2019. We cannot predict if the SEC will further challenge the four China-based accounting firms’ compliance with U.S. law in connection with U.S. regulatory requests for audit work papers or if the results of such a challenge would result in the SEC imposing penalties such as suspensions.
In the event the “big four”
PRC-based
accounting firms become subject to additional legal challenges by the SEC or PCAOB, depending upon the final outcome, companies listed in the United States with major PRC operations may find it difficult or impossible to retain auditors in respect of their operations in China, which could result in financial statements being determined to not be in compliance with the requirements of the Exchange Act, and could result in delisting. Moreover, any negative news about the proceedings against these audit firms may cause investor uncertainty regarding China-based companies listed in the United States and the market price of our shares may be adversely affected. If our independent registered public accounting firm was denied, whether temporarily or otherwise, the ability to practice before the SEC and we were unable to timely find another registered public accounting firm to audit and issue an opinion on our financial statements, our financial statements could be determined to not be in compliance with the requirements of the Exchange Act.
General Risks Relating to Our ADSs
The trading price of our ADSs is likely to be volatile, which could result in substantial losses to investors.
During the year ended December 31, 2020, the closing trading price of our ADSs has ranged from US$1.4 to US$6.4 per ADS. The trading price of our ADSs is likely to be volatile and could fluctuate widely due to factors beyond our control. This may happen because of broad market and industry factors, like the performance and fluctuation of the market prices of other companies with business operations located mainly in China that have listed their securities in the United States. A number of Chinese companies have listed or are in the process of listing their securities on U.S. stock markets. The securities of some of these companies have experienced significant volatility, including price declines in connection with their initial public offerings. The trading performances of these Chinese companies’ securities after their offerings may affect the attitudes of investors toward Chinese companies listed in the United States in general and consequently may impact the trading performance of our ADSs, regardless of our actual operating performance.
In addition to market and industry factors, the price and trading volume for our ADSs may be highly volatile for factors specific to our own operations, including the following:
 
   
variations in our revenues, earnings and cash flow;
 
   
announcements of new investments, acquisitions, strategic partnerships or joint ventures by us or our competitors;
 
   
announcements of new services and expansions by us or our competitors;
 
   
announcements of new policies, rules or regulations relating to the internet or the financial services industry in China;
 
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changes in financial estimates by securities analysts;
 
   
detrimental adverse publicity about us, our services, our competitors or our industry;
 
   
additions or departures of key personnel;
 
   
release of
lock-up
or other transfer restrictions on our outstanding equity securities or sales of additional equity securities; and
 
   
potential litigation or regulatory investigations.
Any of these factors may result in large and sudden changes in the volume and price at which our ADSs will trade.
In the past, shareholders of public companies have often brought securities class action suits against those companies following periods of instability in the market price of their securities. If we were involved in a class action suit, it could divert a significant amount of our management’s attention and other resources from our business and operations and require us to incur significant expenses to defend the suit, which could harm our results of operations. Any such class action suit, whether or not successful, could harm our reputation and restrict our ability to raise capital in the future. In addition, if a claim is successfully made against us, we may be required to pay significant damages, which could have a material adverse effect on our financial condition and results of operations.
Our dual-class share structure with different voting rights will limit your ability to influence corporate matters and could discourage others from pursuing any change of control transactions that holders of our Class A ordinary shares and ADSs may view as beneficial.
We have a dual-class share structure such that our ordinary shares consist of Class A ordinary shares and Class B ordinary shares. Each Class A ordinary share shall entitle the holder thereof to one vote on all matters subject to vote at our general meetings, and each Class B ordinary share shall entitle the holder thereof to ten votes on all matters subject to vote at our general meetings. Each Class B ordinary share is convertible into one Class A ordinary share at any time by the holder thereof, while Class A ordinary shares are not convertible into Class B ordinary shares under any circumstances. Upon any sale, transfer, assignment or disposition of any Class B ordinary share by a shareholder to any person who is not a founder or an affiliate of founder, or upon a change of ultimate beneficial ownership of any Class B ordinary share to any person who is not a founder or an affiliate of founder, such Class B ordinary share shall be automatically and immediately converted into the same number of Class A ordinary share.
Our founders, Dr. Yi Wang, Mr. Zheren Hu, and Dr. Hui Lin, beneficially own all of our outstanding Class B ordinary shares. As of March 31, 2021, Dr. Yi Wang, Mr. Zheren Hu, and Dr. Hui Lin beneficially owned approximately 51.8%, 22.1%, and 12.8% of the aggregate voting power of our company. As a result of the dual-class share structure and the concentration of ownership, holders of our Class B ordinary shares have considerable influence over matters such as decisions regarding mergers, consolidations and the sale of all or substantially all of our assets, election of directors and other significant corporate actions. They may take actions that are not in the best interest of us or our other shareholders. This concentration of ownership may discourage, delay or prevent a change in control of our company, which could have the effect of depriving our other shareholders of the opportunity to receive a premium for their shares as part of a sale of our company and may reduce the price of our ADSs. This concentrated control will limit your ability to influence corporate matters and could discourage others from pursuing any potential merger, takeover or other change of control transactions that holders of Class A ordinary shares and ADSs may view as beneficial. In addition, we may incur incremental compensation expenses to the holders of Class B ordinary share as a result of their becoming entitled to high votes on each Class B ordinary share.
The dual-class structure of our ordinary shares may adversely affect the trading market for our ADSs.
S&P Dow Jones and FTSE Russell have changed their eligibility criteria for inclusion of shares of public companies on certain indices, including the S&P 500, to exclude companies with multiple classes of shares and companies whose public shareholders hold no more than 5% of total voting power from being added to such indices. In addition, several shareholder advisory firms have announced their opposition to the use of multiple class structures. As a result, the dual class structure of our ordinary shares may prevent the inclusion of our ADSs representing Class A ordinary shares in such indices and may cause shareholder advisory firms to publish negative commentary about our corporate governance practices or otherwise seek to cause us to change our capital structure. Any such exclusion from indices could result in a less active trading market for our ADSs. Any actions or publications by shareholder advisory firms critical of our corporate governance practices or capital structure could also adversely affect the value of our ADSs.
 
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If securities or industry analysts do not publish research or reports about our business, or if they adversely change their recommendations regarding our ADSs, the market price for our ADSs and trading volume could decline.
The trading market for our ADSs will be influenced by research or reports that industry or securities analysts publish about our business. If one or more analysts who cover us downgrade our ADSs, the market price for our ADSs would likely decline. If one or more of these analysts cease to cover us or fail to regularly publish reports on us, we could lose visibility in the financial markets, which in turn could cause the market price or trading volume for our ADSs to decline.
The sale or availability for sale of substantial amounts of our ADSs could adversely affect their market price.
Sales of substantial amounts of our ADSs in the public market, or the perception that these sales could occur, could adversely affect the market price of our ADSs and could materially impair our ability to raise capital through equity offerings in the future. We cannot predict what effect, if any, market sales of securities held by our significant shareholders or any other shareholder or the availability of these securities for future sale will have on the market price of our ADSs. In addition, we may issue additional ordinary shares or ADSs for future acquisitions. If we pay for our future acquisitions in whole or in part with additionally issued ordinary shares or ADSs, your ownership interest in our company would be diluted and this, in turn, could have a material adverse effect on the price of our ADSs.
Because we do not expect to pay dividends in the foreseeable future after our initial public offering, you must rely on price appreciation of our ADSs for return on your investment.
We currently intend to retain most, if not all, of our available funds and any future earnings after our initial public offering to fund the development and growth of our business. As a result, we do not expect to pay any cash dividends in the foreseeable future. Therefore, you should not rely on an investment in our ADSs as a source for any future dividend income.
Our board of directors has complete discretion as to whether to distribute dividends, subject to certain requirements of Cayman Islands law, namely that our company may only pay dividends out of profits or share premium, and provided always that in no circumstances may a dividend be paid if this would result in our company being unable to pay its debts as they fall due in the ordinary course of business. In addition, our shareholders may by ordinary resolution declare a dividend, but no dividend may exceed the amount recommended by our board of directors. Even if our board of directors decides to declare and pay dividends, the timing, amount and form of future dividends, if any, will depend on, among other things, our future results of operations and cash flow, our capital requirements and surplus, the amount of distributions, if any, received by us from our subsidiary, our financial condition, contractual restrictions and other factors deemed relevant by our board of directors. Accordingly, the return on your investment in our ADSs will likely depend entirely upon any future price appreciation of our ADSs. There is no guarantee that our ADSs will appreciate in value or even maintain the price at which you purchased the ADSs. You may not realize a return on your investment in our ADSs and you may even lose your entire investment in our ADSs.
There can be no assurance that we will not be classified as a passive foreign investment company, or PFIC, for U.S. federal income tax purposes for any taxable year, which could result in adverse U.S. federal income tax consequences to U.S. holders of our ADSs or Class A ordinary shares.
A
non-U.S.
corporation will be classified as a passive foreign investment company, or PFIC, for any taxable year if either (1) at least 75% of its gross income for such year consists of certain types of “passive” income; or (2) at least 50% of the value of its assets (generally determined on the basis of a quarterly average) during such year is attributable to assets that produce passive income or are held for the production of passive income, or the asset test. Although the law in this regard is not entirely clear, we treat our VIEs as being owned by us for U.S. federal income tax purposes, because we control their management decisions and we are entitled to substantially all of the economic benefits associated with these entities, and, as a result, we consolidate their results of operations in our consolidated U.S. GAAP financial statements. If it were determined, however, that we do not own the stock of our VIEs for U.S. federal income tax purposes, we may be treated as a PFIC for the current taxable year and any subsequent taxable year.
 
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Assuming that we are the owner of our VIEs for U.S. federal income tax purposes, and based on our current and expected income and assets (taking into account our current market capitalization), we do not believe that we were a PFIC for our taxable year ended December 31, 2020 and we do not expect to be a PFIC for the current taxable year or the foreseeable future. However, no assurance can be given in this regard because the determination of whether we are or will become a PFIC is a fact-intensive inquiry made on an annual basis that depends, in part, upon the composition of our income and assets. Fluctuations in the market price of our ADSs may cause us to become a PFIC for the current or subsequent taxable years because the value of our assets for the purpose of the asset test may be determined by reference to the market price of our ADSs (which may be volatile).
If we were to be or become a PFIC for any taxable year during which a U.S. Holder (as defined in “Item 10. Additional Information—E. Taxation—United States Federal Income Tax Considerations”) holds our ADSs or Class A ordinary shares, certain adverse U.S. federal income tax consequences could apply to such U.S. Holder. See “Item 10. Additional Information—E. Taxation—United States Federal Income Tax Considerations—Passive Foreign Investment Company Rules.”
Our memorandum and articles of association contain anti-takeover provisions that could have a material adverse effect on the rights of holders of our Class A ordinary shares and ADSs.
Our fifth amended and restated memorandum and articles of association contain provisions to limit the ability of others to acquire control of our company or cause us to engage in
change-of-control
transactions. These provisions could have the effect of depriving our shareholders of an opportunity to sell their shares at a premium over prevailing market prices by discouraging third parties from seeking to obtain control of our company in a tender offer or similar transaction. Our dual-class voting structure gives disproportionate voting power to the holders of Class B ordinary shares. In addition, our board of directors will have the authority, without further action by our shareholders, to issue preferred shares in one or more series and to fix their designations, powers, preferences, privileges, and relative participating, optional or special rights and the qualifications, limitations or restrictions, including dividend rights, conversion rights, voting rights, terms of redemption and liquidation preferences, any or all of which may be greater than the rights associated with our Class A ordinary shares, in the form of ADS or otherwise. Preferred shares could be issued quickly with terms calculated to delay or prevent a change in control of our company or make removal of management more difficult. If our board of directors decides to issue preferred shares, the price of our ADSs may fall and the voting and other rights of the holders of our Class A ordinary shares and ADSs may be materially and adversely affected.
You may face difficulties in protecting your interests, and your ability to protect your rights through U.S. courts may be limited, because we are incorporated under Cayman Islands law.
We are an exempted company incorporated under the laws of the Cayman Islands. Our corporate affairs are governed by our memorandum and articles of association, the Companies Act of the Cayman Islands, as amended from time to time, and the common law of the Cayman Islands. The rights of shareholders to take action against the directors, actions by minority shareholders and the fiduciary responsibilities of our directors to us under Cayman Islands law are to a large extent governed by the common law of the Cayman Islands. The common law of the Cayman Islands is derived in part from comparatively limited judicial precedent in the Cayman Islands as well as from the common law of England, the decisions of whose courts are of persuasive authority, but are not binding, on a court in the Cayman Islands. The rights of our shareholders and the fiduciary responsibilities of our directors under Cayman Islands law are not as clearly established as they would be under statutes or judicial precedent in some jurisdictions in the United States. In particular, the Cayman Islands has a less developed body of securities laws than the United States. Some U.S. states, such as Delaware, have more fully developed and judicially interpreted bodies of corporate law than the Cayman Islands. In addition, Cayman Islands companies may not have standing to initiate a shareholder derivative action in a federal court of the United States.
 
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Shareholders of Cayman Islands exempted companies like us have no general rights under Cayman Islands law to inspect corporate records (other than the memorandum and articles of associations and our register of mortgages and charges) or to obtain copies of lists of shareholders of these companies. Our directors have discretion under our memorandum and articles of association to determine whether or not, and under what conditions, our corporate records may be inspected by our shareholders, but are not obliged to make them available to our shareholders. This may make it more difficult for you to obtain the information needed to establish any facts necessary for a shareholder motion or to solicit proxies from other shareholders in connection with a proxy contest.
Certain corporate governance practices in the Cayman Islands, which is our home country, differ significantly from requirements for companies incorporated in other jurisdictions such as the United States. If we choose to follow home country practice, our shareholders may be afforded less protection than they otherwise would under rules and regulations applicable to U.S. domestic issuers. For example, we currently follow our home country practice with respect to our board composition in lieu of the requirement of NYSE Listed Company Manual Section 303A.01 to have a majority of independent directors as defined in the NYSE Listed Company Manual. In addition, we follow our home country practice with respect to the approval for adoption and material amendment to our equity-compensation plans in lieu of the requirement of NYSE Listed Company Manual Section 303.08 to obtain shareholder approval on all equity-compensation plans and material revisions thereto.
As a result of all of the above, our public shareholders may have more difficulty in protecting their interests in the face of actions taken by management, members of the board of directors or controlling shareholders than they would as public shareholders of a company incorporated in the United States.
Certain judgments obtained against us by our shareholders may not be enforceable.
We are a Cayman Islands exempted company and all of our assets are located outside of the United States. Substantially all of our current operations are conducted in China. In addition, most of our current directors and officers are nationals and residents of countries other than the United States. All or a substantial portion of the assets of these persons are located outside the United States. As a result, it may be difficult or impossible for you to bring an action against us or against these individuals in the United States in the event that you believe that your rights have been infringed under the U.S. federal securities laws or otherwise. Even if you are successful in bringing an action of this kind, the laws of the Cayman Islands and of China may render you unable to enforce a judgment against us, our assets, our directors and officers or their assets.
We are an emerging growth company within the meaning of the Securities Act and may take advantage of certain reduced reporting requirements.
We are an “emerging growth company,” as defined in the JOBS Act, and we may take advantage of certain exemptions from requirements applicable to other public companies that are not emerging growth companies including, most significantly, not being required to comply with the auditor attestation requirements of Section 404 for so long as we are an emerging growth company until the fifth anniversary from the date of our initial listing.
The JOBS Act also provides that an emerging growth company does not need to comply with any new or revised financial accounting standards until such date that a private company is otherwise required to comply with such new or revised accounting standards. However, we have elected to “opt out” of this provision and, as a result, we will comply with new or revised accounting standards as required when they are adopted for public companies. This decision to opt out of the extended transition period under the JOBS Act is irrevocable.
We have incurred and may continue to incur increased costs as a result of being a public company, particularly after we cease to qualify as an “emerging growth company.”
We are a public company and expect to incur significant legal, accounting and other expenses that we did not incur as a private company. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, as well as rules subsequently implemented by the SEC and the New York Stock Exchange, impose various requirements on the corporate governance practices of public companies. We expect these rules and regulations to increase our legal and financial compliance costs and to make some corporate activities more time-consuming and costly. As a company with less than US$1.07 billion in revenues for our last fiscal year, we qualify as an “emerging growth company” pursuant to the JOBS Act. An emerging growth company may take advantage of specified reduced reporting and other requirements that are otherwise applicable generally to public companies. After we are no longer an “emerging growth company,” we expect to incur significant expenses and devote substantial management effort toward ensuring compliance with the requirements of Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 and the other rules and regulations of the SEC.
 
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As a result of becoming a public company, we increased the number of independent directors and adopt policies regarding internal controls and disclosure controls and procedures. We also expect that operating as a public company will make it more difficult and more expensive for us to obtain director and officer liability insurance, and we may be required to accept reduced policy limits and coverage or incur substantially higher costs to obtain the same or similar coverage. In addition, we will incur additional costs associated with our public company reporting requirements. It may also be more difficult for us to find qualified persons to serve on our board of directors or as executive officers. We are currently evaluating and monitoring developments with respect to these rules and regulations, and we cannot predict or estimate with any degree of certainty the amount of additional costs we may incur or the timing of such costs.
In the past, shareholders of a public company often brought securities class action suits against the company following periods of instability in the market price of that company’s securities. If we were involved in a class action suit, it could divert a significant amount of our management’s attention and other resources from our business and operations, which could harm our results of operations and require us to incur significant expenses to defend the suit. Any such class action suit, whether or not successful, could harm our reputation and restrict our ability to raise capital in the future. In addition, if a claim is successfully made against us, we may be required to pay significant damages, which could have a material adverse effect on our financial condition and results of operations.
We are a foreign private issuer within the meaning of the rules under the Exchange Act, and as such we are exempt from certain provisions applicable to United States domestic public companies.
Because we are a foreign private issuer under the Exchange Act, we are exempt from certain provisions of the securities rules and regulations in the United States that are applicable to U.S. domestic issuers, including:
 
   
the rules under the Exchange Act requiring the filing of quarterly reports on Form
10-Q
or current reports on Form
8-K
with the SEC;
 
   
the sections of the Exchange Act regulating the solicitation of proxies, consents, or authorizations in respect of a security registered under the Exchange Act;
 
   
the sections of the Exchange Act requiring insiders to file public reports of their stock ownership and trading activities and liability for insiders who profit from trades made in a short period of time; and
 
   
the selective disclosure rules by issuers of material nonpublic information under Regulation FD.
We are required to file an annual report on Form
20-F
within four months of the end of each fiscal year. In addition, we intend to publish our results on a quarterly basis through press releases, distributed pursuant to the rules and regulations of the New York Stock Exchange. Press releases relating to financial results and material events will also be furnished to the SEC on Form
6-K.
However, the information we are required to file with or furnish to the SEC will be less extensive and less timely than that required to be filed with the SEC by U.S. domestic issuers. As a result, you may not be afforded the same protections or information that would be made available to you were you investing in a U.S. domestic issuer.
The voting rights of holders of ADSs are limited by the terms of the deposit agreement, and you may not be able to exercise your right to vote your Class A ordinary shares.
As a holder of our ADSs, you will only be able to exercise the voting rights with respect to the underlying Class A ordinary shares represented by the ADSs you hold in accordance with the provisions of the deposit agreement. Under the deposit agreement, you must vote by giving voting instructions to the depositary. Upon receipt of your voting instructions, the depositary will vote the underlying Class A ordinary shares represented by the ADSs you hold in accordance with these instructions. You will not be able to directly exercise your right to vote with respect to the underlying shares unless you withdraw the shares. Under our memorandum and articles of association, the minimum notice period required for convening a general meeting is ten calendar days. When a general meeting is convened, you may not receive sufficient advance notice to withdraw the underlying Class A ordinary shares represented by your ADSs to allow you to vote with respect to any specific matter. If we ask for your instructions, the depositary will notify you of the upcoming vote and will arrange to deliver our voting materials to you. We cannot assure you that you will receive the voting materials in time to ensure that you can instruct the depositary to vote your shares. In addition, the depositary and its agents are not responsible for failing to carry out voting instructions or for their manner of carrying out your voting instructions. This means that you may not be able to exercise your right to vote and you may have no legal remedy if the underlying Class A ordinary shares represented by your ADSs are not voted as you requested.
 
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The depositary for our ADSs will give us a discretionary proxy to vote our Class A ordinary shares underlying your ADSs if you do not vote at shareholders’ meetings, except in limited circumstances, which could adversely affect your interests.
Under the deposit agreement for the ADSs, if you do not vote, the depositary will give us a discretionary proxy to vote our underlying Class A ordinary shares represented by your ADSs at shareholders’ meetings unless:
 
   
we have failed to timely provide the depositary with notice of meeting and related voting materials;
 
   
we have instructed the depositary that we do not wish a discretionary proxy to be given;
 
   
we have informed the depositary that there is substantial opposition as to a matter to be voted on at the meeting;
 
   
a matter to be voted on at the meeting would have a material adverse impact on shareholders; or
 
   
the voting at the meeting is to be made on a show of hands.
The effect of this discretionary proxy is that if you do not vote at shareholders’ meetings, you cannot prevent our underlying Class A ordinary shares represented by your ADSs from being voted, except under the circumstances described above. This may make it more difficult for shareholders to influence the management of our company. Holders of our ordinary shares are not subject to this discretionary proxy.
You may not receive dividends or other distributions on our Class A ordinary shares and you may not receive any value for them, if it is illegal or impractical to make them available to you.
The depositary of our ADSs has agreed to pay you the cash dividends or other distributions it or the custodian receives on Class A ordinary shares or other deposited securities underlying our ADSs, after deducting its fees and expenses. You will receive these distributions in proportion to the number of Class A ordinary shares your ADSs represent. However, the depositary is not responsible if it decides that it is unlawful or impractical to make a distribution available to any holders of ADSs. For example, it would be unlawful to make a distribution to a holder of ADSs if it consists of securities that require registration under the Securities Act but that are not properly registered or distributed under an applicable exemption from registration. The depositary may also determine that it is not feasible to distribute certain property through the mail. Additionally, the value of certain distributions may be less than the cost of mailing them. In these cases, the depositary may determine not to distribute such property. We have no obligation to register under U.S. securities laws any ADSs, ordinary shares, rights or other securities received through such distributions. We also have no obligation to take any other action to permit the distribution of ADSs, ordinary shares, rights or anything else to holders of ADSs. This means that you may not receive distributions we make on our Class A ordinary shares or any value for them if it is illegal or impractical for us to make them available to you. These restrictions may cause a material decline in the value of our ADSs.
You may experience dilution of your holdings due to inability to participate in rights offerings.
We may, from time to time, distribute rights to our shareholders, including rights to acquire securities. Under the deposit agreement, the depositary will not distribute rights to holders of ADSs unless the distribution and sale of rights and the securities to which these rights relate are either exempt from registration under the Securities Act with respect to all holders of ADSs or are registered under the provisions of the Securities Act. The depositary may, but is not required to, attempt to sell these undistributed rights to third parties, and may allow the rights to lapse. We may be unable to establish an exemption from registration under the Securities Act, and we are under no obligation to file a registration statement with respect to these rights or underlying securities or to endeavor to have a registration statement declared effective. Accordingly, holders of ADSs may be unable to participate in our rights offerings and may experience dilution of their holdings as a result.
 
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You may be subject to limitations on transfer of your ADSs.
Your ADSs are transferable on the books of the depositary. However, the depositary may close its books at any time or from time to time when it deems expedient in connection with the performance of its duties. The depositary may close its books from time to time for a number of reasons, including in connection with corporate events such as a rights offering, during which time the depositary needs to maintain an exact number of ADS holders on its books for a specified period. The depositary may also close its books in emergencies, and on weekends and public holidays. The depositary may refuse to deliver, transfer or register transfers of our ADSs generally when our share register or the books of the depositary are closed, or at any time if we or the depositary thinks it is advisable to do so because of any requirement of law or of any government or governmental body, or under any provision of the deposit agreement, or for any other reason.
 
ITEM 4.
INFORMATION ON THE COMPANY
 
A.
History and Development of the Company
We commenced our operations and launched our flagship “English Liulishuo” mobile app in 2013. Our three founders are Dr. Yi Wang, Mr. Zheren Hu and Dr. Hui Lin.
In August 2013, we incorporated LingoChamp Inc. (currently known as LAIX Inc.) under the laws of the Cayman Islands as our offshore holding company. In the same month, LingoChamp Inc. established a wholly-owned Hong Kong subsidiary, LingoChamp (HK) Limited, or LingoChamp HK. In November 2013, LingoChamp HK established a wholly-owned PRC subsidiary, Yuguan Information Technology (Shanghai) Co., Ltd. In October 2015, LingoChamp HK also established a wholly-owned PRC subsidiary, Yuling Cultural Communication (Shanghai) Co., Ltd., or Yuling. In August 2018, we renamed our company as LAIX Inc., which stands for “life empowered by AI to reach infinite possibilities.” In February 2019, LingoChamp HK established a wholly-owned subsidiary, Shenzhen Yuguan Information and Technology Co., Ltd., or Shenzhen Yuguan.
Due to restrictions imposed by PRC laws and regulations on foreign ownership of companies that engage in internet and other related business, we conduct such business in China through a variable interest entity structure. We currently conduct substantially all of our operations in China through Shanghai Liulishuo. We intend to further expand operations in China through Shanghai Mengfan and Mengfan Education and have established variable interest entity contractual arrangements with Shanghai Mengfan and Mengfan Education, respectively. We collectively refer to Shanghai Liulishuo, Shanghai Mengfan and Mengfan Education as our VIEs in this annual report. Shanghai Liulishuo was established in 2013 when we commenced our operations. Shanghai Mengfan was established in December 2014. Mengfan Education was established in April 2019 to hold our private school operating permit. Our WFOE has entered into variable interest entity contractual arrangements with each of our VIEs and their respective shareholders. For more details, please see “—C. Organizational Structure—Contractual Arrangements with our VIEs and Their Respective Shareholders.” As a result of our direct ownership in our WFOE and the variable interest entity contractual arrangements, we are regarded as the primary beneficiary of our VIEs. We treat them and their subsidiaries as our variable interest entities under U.S. GAAP, and have consolidated the financial results of these entities in our consolidated financial statements in accordance with U.S. GAAP. In January 2019, Shanghai Liulishuo incorporated a wholly-owned PRC subsidiary, Wuhan Liulishuo Information and Technology Co., Ltd., or Wuhan Liulishuo.
In February 2020, we wound up Jiangsu Liulishuo Education Technology Co., Ltd., or Jiangsu Liulishuo, which was incorporated in January 2018 but did not have any business operation or financial contribution, and terminated the contractual arrangements among Yuguan, Jiangsu Liulishuo and its shareholders.
 
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On September 27, 2018, our ADSs commenced trading on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol “LAIX.” We raised approximately US$64.1 million in net proceeds from the issuance of new shares from the initial public offering after deducting underwriting commissions and the offering expenses payable by us.
The SEC maintains a web site at
 www.sec.gov
 that contains reports, proxy and information statements, and other information regarding registrants that make electronic filings with the SEC using its EDGAR system.
Our principal executive offices are located at 3/F, Building B, No. 1687 Changyang Road, Yangpu District, Shanghai, People’s Republic of China. Our telephone number at this address is +86
21-3511-7188.
Our registered office in the Cayman Islands is located at the office of Maples Corporate Services Limited, PO Box 309, Ugland House, Grand Cayman,
KY1-1104,
Cayman Islands. We maintain our web site at
ir.laix.com
.
See “Item 5. Operating and Financial Review and Prospects—B. Liquidity and Capital Resources—Capital Expenditures” for a discussion of our capital expenditures.
 
B.
Business Overview
Our proprietary AI teacher utilizes deep learning and adaptive learning technologies, big data, well-established education pedagogies and the mobile internet. Since our inception in 2013, we have built our
AI-powered
Liulishuo platform to deliver a user-centric, personalized and effective English learning experience with easy access.
We conducted analysis and integrated into our products and pedagogies developed by the world’s leading educational experts and cognitive scientist. Our AI teacher was built on the proprietary AI technologies that provide personalized teaching and guidance for all core components of a student’s language learning process, encompassing learning, practice, assessment and feedback. Our AI teacher can hear, understand, interact with and evaluate the performance of our users and has the ability to understand their learning needs. Leveraging the volume of smart user data we possess, our AI teacher will continuously evolve and deliver more personally tailored learning programs to each user.
We provide our products and services
on-demand
via our mobile apps, primarily our flagship “English Liulishuo” mobile app launched in 2013. On our platform, AI technologies are integrated with learning content incorporating well established learning pedagogies, gamified features and strong social elements. We provide a variety of courses inspired by a broad range of topics and culture themes to make English learning more interesting. Our online study advisors organize online study groups, monitor users’ learning progress answer user queries and send individualized, motivating messages to users, which adds a human touch to our users’ learning experience.
The Liulishuo Platform
Overview of Our Platform
We provide
AI-powered
English learning products and services for both individual users and corporate customers on our Liulishuo platform. Our AI teacher enables us to offer users a personalized learning experience through the application of deep learning and adaptive learning technologies. Our mobile platform allows users to improve their English language skills anytime and anywhere.
On our flagship app, “English Liulishuo”
(
英语流利说
), users can take paid courses as well as free lessons in various forms featuring a broad range of topics and culture themes. Our paid DongNi English (
懂你英语
) course is personalized based on learners’ English proficiency levels and focused on systemically improving their general English proficiency. As a supplement to the standard DongNi English course, we provide DongNi Select premium services that provides online streaming courses with human English teachers. Users can also access a separate, paid course focused on improving English pronunciation, namely Authentic Pronunciation (
地道发音
). Further, we launched enterprise learning services for corporate customers in 2017. As of December 31, 2020, we had 197.2 million cumulative registered users, as well as more than 1,100 corporate customers.
 
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Our AI Teacher
Launched in July 2016, our AI teacher is powered by our proprietary deep learning and adaptive learning technologies. It enables us to provide users a personalized learning experience and real-time language proficiency assessment and feedback.
Through the application of knowledge tracing technology, whereby a machine models the knowledge of users as they interact with coursework, our AI teacher can predict how users would perform under different settings and create optimal study plans for every user. Our AI teacher can “hear” users’ English speech, evaluate such speech and provide real-time and personalized feedback to users, covering the core functions of a human teacher in the process of spoken English training.
 
   
Hearing
. Our AI teacher hears through a proprietary speech recognition and scoring engine based on deep learning technology. In converting speech into text, it is able to address uncertainties introduced by background noise, as well as different speaker accents and proficiency levels.
 
   
Evaluation
. Our AI teacher evaluates users’ English speech through our proprietary multi-dimension, multi-granularity speech evaluation engine. By leveraging our proprietary neuro-linguistic programming capabilities, or NLP capabilities, it can evaluate users’ speech based on several criteria, including pronunciation, vocabulary, grammar, fluency and coherence.
 
   
Feedback.
Based on the above evaluation, our AI teacher provides various forms of real-time personalized feedback to users through an intuitive user-friendly interface. It also identifies errors and provides suggestions to users on how to improve their spoken English.
We have a massive database of English spoken by Chinese, covering a broad range of geographic distribution and proficiency levels. As of December 31, 2020, we had recorded approximately 3.89 billion minutes of conversation and 52.4 billion sentences. Our AI teacher continuously reinforces and enhances itself by leveraging this large and growing amount of data.
Our AI teacher delivers learning content incorporating well-established language learning pedagogies. In particular, our DongNi English course was initially developed based on the Recursive Hierarchical Recognition (RHR) theory, which emphasizes a scientific approach of leveraging multi-modal inputs and short, frequent and systematic practices to develop learners’ pattern recognition and language chunking skills. We have also incorporated other renowned learning approaches into our platform and will continue to seek out other applicable pedagogies and methodologies. Our learning content covers a broad range of topics, such as everyday life, business, travel, academia and entertainment. Our
AI-based
algorithms capture user data through their interactions with our AI teacher, and further analyze and study user behavior in real time, which enables us to upgrade and optimize our content in a timely manner.
Our English Learning Products and Services
English Liulishuo
We launched our flagship app, “English Liulishuo” in 2013. “English Liulishuo” combines a comprehensive suite of our courses, including free courses for leisure learning, the paid personalized standard courses, DongNi English, and other paid courses such as Authentic Pronunciation. The app also has additional features designed to enhance the user experience and drive user engagement.
Free courses
. On the “English Liulishuo” app, we provide various free courses, such as English speaking courses and scenario-based simulation of English conversations. These courses incorporate gamified features and cover a variety of pop culture themes. The free courses are accessible to all our registered users. They motivate and engage our users, and help us strategically promote our paid courses to users.
DongNi English
. Users wishing to systematically improve their English proficiency can take DongNi English, including the
AI-powered
standard course and the supplemental DongNi Select premium services that provide online streaming courses with human English teachers.
 
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DongNi English is based on our eight internally designed language levels, from the lowest level LV1 to the highest level LV8. Our eight levels map to the six levels in the classic Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) with the lower four levels in CEFR divided into six levels of DongNi English to better fit the learning needs of Chinese English learners. Before commencing the course, each user is required to take a proprietary placement test, which gives the user a comprehensive assessment of English capabilities along several key dimensions, such as speaking, listening, reading, vocabulary and grammar, and determines the user’s English proficiency level. A series of personalized courses suitable for the user’s proficiency level is then generated for the user to learn at a customized pace.
Each level of the personalized courses is divided into two to three units, and each unit has four to five parts covering listening, vocabulary and dialogue, as well as gamified tests on the learning materials. For each part, users listen to recordings and read texts of English language materials, repeat and record their own speech and receive
AI-generated
real-time feedback on their speech, and respond to multi-choice and cloze questions. Once users have completed a part of the unit, they are graded on a scale of one to four stars. After a unit is completed, users can obtain a report on their performance covering several dimensions, such as pronunciation, rhythm, fluency and accuracy. Particular sentences, words and syllables that users can improve upon are also identified. A user can upgrade to the next higher level after completing all units at his current level. The recommended study time for each level is 50 to 80 hours, depending on specific proficiency level.
In supplement to the personalized learning path provided on the “English Liulishuo” app, users of DongNi English can participate in Weixin-based study groups led by our online study advisors (OSAs), who helps motivate and retain users. See “—Our Learning Community—OSAs and Study Groups.”
For users who would like to have more human touch in their learning experience, we also offer DongNi Select premium services to supplement the standard DongNi English course to meet these users’ needs. Users of our DongNi Select premium services have online streaming courses with contracted human teachers. We connect users with native speaking teachers experienced in teaching
non-native
speakers and improving their spoken and overall English proficiency. We have a rigorous screening and training process for contracted human teachers, and accept the top 5% of the applicants to teach in our DongNi Select premium services.
DongNi English A+
. “DongNi English A+,” formerly known as “Darwin English,” is an upgraded version of DongNi English standard courses with substantially similar product features that we launched in August 2019. Equipped with an enhanced adaptive learning engine, DongNi English A+, as compared to DongNi English standard course, is able to provide more intelligent and customized learning experience and further supplement the DongNi English product line.
Authentic Pronunciation
. This paid course is offered in the “English Liulishuo” app. It is focused on improving users’ English pronunciation. Users can watch videos of how English syllables are pronounced along with detailed explanations, practice pronouncing these syllables and receive real-time personalized feedback on their pronunciation provided by our AI algorithms. Users can also join Weixin-based study groups where our OSAs provide online instructions on systematically improving English pronunciations.
LiuLi Reading
In 2018, we launched a paid course called “LiuLi Reading,” which was previously offered in the “English Liulishuo” app. In November 2018, we launched a standalone “LiuLi Reading” mobile app with substantially the same functions and features. LiuLi Reading is designed to allow our users to read articles from reputable overseas publishers, supplemented by detailed learning tips and quizzes.
Kids Liulishuo
“Kids Liulishuo” is a mobile app we launched in December 2018, targeting kids of three to twelve years old. Phonics Course, the online course offered on Kids Liulishuo, is designed to incorporate the features from the free courses of our “English Liulishuo” and our “Authentic Pronunciation” in order to enhance the reading, hearing and speaking abilities of the kids. The course aims to increase interactions with our kids users and cultivate interests in English language study. Our new initiative, AIX course, is also available on Kids Liulishuo.
 
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Our New Initiatives
AI Native English Teacher Story-Based Course, or AIX course
In April 2020, we launched the AI Native English Teacher Story-Based Course for kids in the “Kids Liulishuo” app. We refer to such course as the AIX course. The AIX course is tailored to meet the characteristics of children of different ages through online learning content. Through the cultivation of children’s scenes under realistic themes and the utilization of “three teachers,” which are native English teacher, auto-assessment AI teacher and online study advisor (OSA), the AIX course is expected to develop children’s listening, speaking, reading and writing skills, while stimulating their curiosity and enhancing their imagination and creativity.
Enterprise learning services
We also provide learning services for corporate customers that desire to improve their employees’ English skills. Typically, a corporate customer purchases course packages from us on behalf of their employees, and the employees then use our courses with individual accounts. In addition to features available to individual users on the flagship app, we also regularly send employees’ detailed and personalized learning reports to our corporate customers, including hours studied and test scores, enabling our corporate customers to easily track the progress of their employees. Corporate customers can also use our platform to organize English fluency contests for their employees.
Our Users
As of December 31, 2020, we had 197.2 million cumulative registered users. We have experienced a downturn of user acquisition for the year ended December 31, 2020, primarily attributable to our stringent cost control in user acquisition expenditures. The number of our average MAUs was 8.2 million in 2018, 10.0 million in 2019 and 5.6 million in 2020. We began monetization in 2016. The number of paying users who purchased courses and services on our platform was approximately 2.5 million in 2018, approximately 3.0 million in 2019, and approximately 2.4 million in 2020. The decrease in paying users was primarily attributable to our stringent cost control in user acquisition expenditures.
Based on information provided by our active users in 2020, approximately 17.0%% of our users are college students, 39.9%% are students in
K-12
education, and another 40.0% are employed or working as freelancers. Females comprise the majority of our user base. More than 93.5% of our users are located in China, and the remainder are located in foreign countries.
As of December 31, 2020, we had more than 1,100 corporate customers, including leading Chinese and global companies.
Our Learning Community
OSAs and Study Groups
Our OSAs are full-time employees who are typically college graduates with good command of English and good communication skills. They play an important role in our sales and marketing efforts by making personalized recommendations to users on extending their courses or purchasing additional products and services from us. We had over 380 OSAs as of December 31, 2020.
Our OSAs also manage our Weixin-based study groups, which users of our products and mobile apps can join. They help motivate users and monitor their progress, and respond to users’ queries through the study groups they manage. Users can also interact with one another in these Weixin-based groups. As of December 31, 2020, we had over 505,000 users in our over 6,400 Weixin groups.
Our OSAs and study groups help maintain the human touch that keeps users disciplined and improves learning outcomes. To enhance our OSAs’ efficiency, we also apply our proprietary AI technologies to automate certain aspects of their work.
 
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Our Pricing Model
Our freemium model allows us to attract users with free services and convert them into paying users. On our “English Liulishuo” app, individual users can access a number of our courses and services for free, including free courses for leisure learning and the Vocabulary Notebook. We convert
non-paying
users to paying users through a variety of means. For example, after users have taken a free course or a placement test, we will provide a
three-day
free trial to our users, and our app prompts personalized suggestions on how users can improve their English skills with links to our paid courses.
The following table sets forth the fee scales of paid courses and services on our mobile apps. We also selectively offer performance-based or behavior-based refunds to motivate our users. For example, users who have purchased
6-month
access can get a refund by reaching a certain level within six months. Users who take our courses for a certain number of consecutive days can also get a refund. We also offer promotional activities for corporate customers purchasing DongNi English for their employees at a discounted price.
 
   
DongNi English
(standard subscription)
 
DongNi English A+
(standard subscription)
 
DongNi Select
(premium services)
 
Authentic
Pronunciation
 
LiuLi Reading
 
Kids Course
Fee Scale  
•  RMB99 for
30-day
access
 
•  RMB499 for
180-day access
 
•  up to RMB998 for
12-month
access
 
•  RMB698 for
180-day access
 
•  up to RMB1,298
for 12-month
access
 
•  RMB4,399 for
12-month access
 
•  RMB8,980 for
12-month
access
 
•  RMB1,688 for
180-day
access
 
•  up to RMB2,188 for
12-month
access
 
•  RMB199 for
100-day access
 
•  RMB388 for
180-day
access
 
•  RMB499 for
12-month
access
 
•  RMB798 for
12-month
access to Phonics Courses
 
•  RMB1,898 for
12-month
access to AIX courses
 
•  RMB3,898 for 24-month access to AIX courses
 
•  RMB5,198 for 36-month access to AIX courses
Learning Content Development and Management
Our learning content is a key component of our success.
We have developed our learning content based on well-established pedagogies. In particular, our DongNi English course was initially developed based on the Recursive Hierarchical Recognition (RHR) theory, which emphasizes a scientific approach of leveraging multi-modal inputs and short, frequent and systematic practices to build long-term memory. We designed DongNi English to introduce content incrementally in a methodical and systematic way, allowing users to make and feel meaningful progress in a relatively short period of time. We have also developed free learning materials tailored to various interests. We continually update them to address evolving user preferences and keep up with trends in pop culture. Our advanced
AI-based
algorithms capture user data through their interactions with our AI teacher, and further analyze and study user behavior in real time, which enables us to upgrade and optimize our content continuously.
Our
end-to-end
content management system provides a number of capabilities to enable content writers to create English learning content on our platform. For example, a content writer can use our script engine in our content management system to create content with different media formats such as texts, pictures, audio and videos. The script engine also provides convenient version control for content writers. Apart from being capable of conducting
end-to-end
automatic content checks to ensure we present the content correctly to our end users, our content management system is integrated with our big data infrastructure so that users’ learning data related to certain pieces of content can be easily explored by our content writers to improve upon the data. Furthermore, our content management system is integrated with our adaptive learning engine to help us provide a personalized learning experience for our users.
As of December 31, 2020, we had a dedicated content development team of 240 employees. In addition to the content we developed
in-house,
we also license quality content with reputable third-party content providers.
 
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Our Technologies
Artificial Intelligence
Speech recognition
We have developed our speech recognition engine based on deep learning technology to automatically convert spoken speech into text. It currently supports English and six other languages. We have a large and growing database of English spoken by Chinese, covering a broad range of accents and proficiency levels. In particular, our speech corpus includes a large volume of labeled speech data gathered from users reading aloud through our apps. Our database continually trains and improves the accuracy of our speech recognition engine, which further enables our other AI applications such as auto-scoring and feedback and spoken dialog system.
Automatic summative and formative assessment
Our auto-assessment engine, combined with our speech recognition engine, can evaluate users’ listening, reading, writing and speaking skills for both summative and formative purposes. Our algorithms can generate assessments in the form of test scores and provide feedback to users on their strengths and weaknesses, such as pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, fluency and coherence, to improve their English skills. Our auto-assessment engine utilizes many of our NLP capabilities developed
in-house,
including grammar error detection, pragmatic error detection, synonym analysis and semantic understanding.
Knowledge tracing and adaptive learning
Our AI teacher applies knowledge tracing technology in both placement test and personalized study plan recommendations for users, delivering personalized and adaptive learning for our users. Knowledge tracing technology models users’ knowledge over time such that we can predict how users will perform under different settings and the user data generated by our platform could train our knowledge tracing models. As a result, we can predict with approximately 90% accuracy whether users can answer certain questions correctly. Additionally, by applying knowledge tracing to model users’ learning behavior, our AI algorithm can run learning simulations and evaluate personalized learning paths without the need for continuous student assessment.
Data and Data Security
We utilize our rich user data to continuously improve our products and services, and we are committed to safeguarding the security of user data.
We have collected a vast amount of user data through our users’ language learning activities. We have built proprietary tools to collect user learning data in various formats, store such data in a single data lake, and ensure the quality of this data. We further process user data using various proprietary and open source tools to utilize the user data for a variety of purposes.
We are committed to protecting user data in our business and operations. We endeavor to manage and use the data collected in accordance with applicable laws and regulations, and make reasonable efforts to prevent the unauthorized use, loss or leak of user data. We have taken a number of measures to safeguard the security of user data. For example, we have encrypted sensitive user data in our storage systems and utilize data loss prevention solutions. We also limit and minimize authorized access to our system to protected user data through a variety of techniques, including network access authentication and division of network security domains. We continually improve and enhance our data and system security through regular security checks and timely system upgrades.
Technology Infrastructure
We have a scalable infrastructure that can support a large active mobile user base. Our users utilize our services by sending dynamic requests through their mobile apps. They typically generate peak traffic in evenings, which subsides after midnight. We utilize third-party cloud computing providers, such as Amazon Web Services, as well as our self-developed tools that are customized to better serve our needs. Such elastic infrastructure scales up and down our
back-end
capabilities according to our real-time traffic load.
 
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Intellectual Property
We seek to protect our technology, including our proprietary AI technology and technology infrastructure, through a combination of copyrights, patents, trademarks, trade secrets and confidentiality agreements. As of March 31, 2021, we have registered approximately 100 software copyrights, over 280 written work copyrights, over 140 patents and over 920 trademarks in China. We intend to protect our technology and proprietary rights vigorously, but there can be no assurance that our efforts will be successful. Even if our efforts are successful, we may incur significant costs in defending our rights. From time to time, third parties may initiate litigations against us, alleging infringement of their proprietary rights or declaring their
non-infringement
of our intellectual property rights. See “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors—Risks Relating to Our Business—We may face intellectual property infringement claims and other claims of third-party rights, which may be expensive to defend and may disrupt our business and operations.” In addition, we have entered into intellectual property licensing agreements with third-party content providers, including royalty agreements with Lance Knowles pursuant to which we have obtained rights to publish certain content developed by Lance Knowles through our mobile apps.
Branding, Marketing and Sales
We position ourselves as a leading AI company in China that creates and delivers products and services to popularize English learning. We have relied on and will continue
word-of-mouth
promotions, and we believe that the improvements in our services and user experience will result in a better brand image as an effective and efficient English learning platform, which will allow us to attract and retain more users. We were named on the list of “The 100 Most Promising Private AI Companies in the World” for 2018 by CB Insights, one of the seven companies from China and one of the only two education companies globally. We were also named on the list of “50 Most Innovative Companies” for 2018 by Forbes China. Since January 2017, “English Liulishuo” has consistently ranked among the top education apps in the Apple app store and the major Android app stores. In 2019, we were named on the “Technology Companies of the Year” by
T-EDGE,
one of China’s most influential technology conferences. Our Authentic Pronunciation course was named on the list of “Top 30 AI Cases in 2019” by CSDN, one of China’s largest internet forums on technology. In June 2020, we were awarded the “2020 China Golden Fingertips—Best Online Education App” at a technology conference hosted by iMedia Research, the leading data mining and analysis institution for new economy industry. In addition, we were named as the “Top 20 Chinese AI+ Education Enterprises” at the 2020 World Artificial Intelligence Conference, one of the most highly recognized events in the AI industry.
Our brand image is further promoted as our technologies, especially our proprietary AI technologies, receive more recognition. We were selected as the official language training provider to the 2016 G20 Summit held in Hangzhou, China. We are also the only company from China to be a corporate member of the Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution of the World Economic Forum, a distinction we have held since June 2017. We also engage in brand advertising to promote our brand.
We have initiated various marketing activities to generate traffic to our platform and grow our user base. Our sales and marketing channels include Apple and Android app stores, search engines, social media, as well as offline events such as
on-campus
events at universities.
We utilize our Weixin official accounts to attract users, promote our products and services and communicate with our users. We provide users with timely updates about our services and useful English learning tips, as well as hyperlinks to our apps.
Our free services and features help us promote our paid courses among
non-paying
users. Our OSAs play an important role in our marketing efforts by making personalized recommendations to users on signing up for a paid course, extending their existing courses or purchasing additional products and services from us. We also have a team dedicated to sales to corporate customers and catering to their needs.
Social Responsibility
We have partnered with a number of
non-profit
organizations to implement various social responsibility initiatives.
 
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Smart Cloud Classroom
In June 2016, we provided a series of AI English courses for free to a welfare school in a remote rural area in northwest China that provides free education to orphans. After one year of study, the average score of students’ High School Entrance Examination on English subject has significantly improved. 27% of the students improved one level on our “English Liulishuo” app. From 2017 to 2020, we continued the Smart Cloud Classroom project across the country, supporting more than 21,000 students in 115 schools as of March 31, 2021.
Rural Teachers Support Plan
We have provided online AI English courses to rural teachers for free to help them improve their teaching skills. In July 2017, the first recruited group of nearly 100 village teachers started their studies. The Rural Teachers Support Plan has provided online AI English courses to over 7,800 rural teachers as of March 31, 2021. In addition to the AI English courses, we also invited teaching experts to give rural teachers offline training sessions.
AI Empowering Program
Cooperating with nonprofit organizations, we started our AI Empowering Program to provide free English courses to college students in need in 2018. As of March 31, 2021, the program has provided courses to over 4,000 students from about 600 universities across China.
Competition
Our business is characterized by innovation, rapid change and disruptive AI, big data and mobile internet technologies. As we operate at the intersection of the technology and education industries, we potentially could face competition not only from providers of online and offline education services, but also from technology and internet players, especially those actively developing AI technology.
We believe the principal competitive factors include, but are not limited to, our ability to improve users’ learning efficiency and effectiveness, provide quality learning content and promote our brand. Technology and internet players that are larger than us may devote more resources to research and development, introduce new technology faster than us or have capabilities more advanced than ours. We also compete with them for talent with technological expertise, which is critical to the sustained development of our technology and products and services.
Insurance
We do not maintain insurance policies covering damages to our network infrastructures or information technology systems. We also do not maintain business interruption insurance or general third-party liability insurance, nor do we maintain product liability insurance or key personnel insurance. We consider our insurance coverage to be in line with that of other companies of similar size and business nature in China. See “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors—Risks Relating to Our Business—We have limited insurance coverage of our operations, which may expose us to significant costs and business disruption.”
Regulations
This section sets forth a summary of the most significant rules and regulations that affect our business activities in China.
Regulation Related to Online Services
Regulation Related to Foreign Investment Restrictions
Investments in China by foreign investors and foreign-invested enterprises were previously regulated by the Catalogue of Industries for Guiding Foreign Investment, repealed by the Special Management Measures (Negative List) for the Access of Foreign Investment (2020 Version), or the Negative List, and the Catalogue of Industries for Encouraging Foreign Investment (2020 Version), or the Encouraging Catalogue, which were promulgated by the National Development and Reform Commission, or the NDRC, and the Ministry of Commerce on December 27, 2020, and became effective on January 27, 2021. Pursuant to the Encouraging Catalogue and the Negative List, foreign investments are categorized as encouraged, restricted and prohibited. Foreign investments that are not listed in the Negative List or Encouraging Catalogue are permitted categories. According to the Negative List, foreign investors are prohibited from holding more than 50% of equity interests in an enterprise which provides value-added telecommunications services (except for
e-commerce
business, domestic multi-party communications services, store and forward services and call center services).
 
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The Regulations on Administration of Foreign-Invested Telecommunications Enterprises, or the FITE Regulations, which took effect on January 1, 2002 and last amended on February 6, 2016, are the key regulations for foreign direct investment in telecommunications companies in China. The FITE Regulations stipulate that the foreign investor of a telecommunications enterprise is prohibited from holding more than 50% of the equity interests in a foreign-invested enterprise that provides value-added telecommunications services. In addition, for a foreign investor to acquire any equity interest in a business providing value-added telecommunications services in China, it must demonstrate a positive track record and experience in providing such services.
On July 13, 2006, the MIIT issued the Circular on Strengthening the Administration of Foreign Investment in Value-added Telecommunications Services, or the MIIT Circular 2006, which requires that (i) foreign investors can only operate a telecommunications business in China through establishing a telecommunications enterprise with a valid telecommunications business operation license; (ii) domestic license holders are prohibited from leasing, transferring or selling telecommunications business operation licenses to foreign investors in any form, or providing any resource, sites or facilities to foreign investors to facilitate the unlicensed operation of telecommunications business in China; (iii) value-added telecommunications services providers or their shareholders must directly own the domain names and registered trademarks they use in their daily operations; (iv) each value-added telecommunications services provider must have the necessary facilities for its approved business operations and maintain such facilities in the geographic regions covered by its license; and (v) all value-added telecommunications services providers should improve network and information security, enact relevant information safety administration regulations and set up emergency plans to ensure network and information safety. The provincial communications administration bureaus, as local authorities in charge of regulating telecommunications services, may revoke the value-added telecommunications business operation licenses of those who fail to comply with the above requirements or fail to rectify such noncompliance within specified time limits. Due to the lack of any additional interpretation from the regulatory authorities, it remains unclear what impact MIIT Circular 2006 will have on us or the other PRC internet companies with similar corporate structures and contractual arrangements.
In light of the above restrictions and requirements, we conduct our value-added telecommunications businesses through our VIE, Shanghai Liulishuo.
Regulation related to Foreign Investment
On March 15, 2019, the PRC National People’s Congress, or the NPC, approved the Foreign Investment Law, which took effect on January 1, 2020 and replaces three existing laws on foreign investments in China, namely, the PRC Equity Joint Venture Law, the PRC Cooperative Joint Venture Law and the Wholly Foreign-owned Enterprise Law, together with their implementation rules and ancillary regulations. The Foreign Investment Law embodies an expected PRC regulatory trend to rationalize its foreign investment regulatory regime in line with prevailing international practice and the legislative efforts to unify the corporate legal requirements for both foreign and domestic invested enterprises in China. The Foreign Investment Law establishes the basic framework for the access to, and the promotion, protection and administration of foreign investments in view of investment protection and fair competition.
According to the Foreign Investment Law, “foreign investment” refer to investment activities directly or indirectly conducted by one or more natural persons, business entities, or otherwise organizations of a foreign country (collectively referred to as “foreign investor”) within mainland China, and the investment activities include the following situations: (i) a foreign investor, individually or collectively with other investors, establishes a foreign-invested enterprise within mainland China; (ii) a foreign investor acquires stock shares, equity shares, shares in assets, or other like rights and interests of an enterprise within mainland China; (iii) a foreign investor, individually or collectively with other investors, invests in a new project within mainland China; and (iv) investments in other means as provided by laws, administrative regulations, or the State Council.
 
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The Foreign Investment Law grants national treatment to foreign invested entities, except for those foreign invested entities that operate in industries deemed to be either “restricted” or “prohibited” in the Negative List. The Foreign Investment Law provides that foreign invested entities operating in foreign restricted or prohibited industries will require market entry clearance and other approvals from relevant PRC governmental authorities.
Furthermore, the Foreign Investment Law provides that foreign invested enterprises established according to the existing laws regulating foreign investment may maintain their structure and corporate governance within five years after the implementing of the Foreign Investment Law, while the structure and corporate governance of newly established foreign invested enterprises should be in line with those requirements applicable to domestic invested enterprises in China.
In addition, the Foreign Investment Law also provides several protective rules and principles for foreign investors and their investments in the PRC, including, among others, that local governments shall abide by their commitments to the foreign investors; foreign-invested enterprises are allowed to issue stocks and corporate bonds; except for special circumstances, in which case statutory procedures shall be followed and fair and reasonable compensation shall be made in a timely manner, expropriation or requisition of the investment of foreign investors is prohibited; mandatory technology transfer is prohibited; and the capital contributions, profits, capital gains, proceeds out of asset disposal, licensing fees of intellectual property rights, indemnity or compensation legally obtained, or proceeds received upon settlement by foreign investors within China, may be freely remitted inward and outward in Renminbi or a foreign currency. Also, foreign investors or the foreign investment enterprise should be imposed legal liabilities for failing to report investment information in accordance with the requirements.
On December 26, 2019, the State Council promulgated the Implementation Regulations on the Foreign Investment Law, or the New Implementation Regulations, which came into effect on January 1, 2020. The New Implementation Regulations require that foreign-invested enterprises and domestic enterprises shall be treated equally with respect to policy making and implementation, and provide more detailed measures to strengthen the protection, promotion and administration of foreign investments in China. Pursuant to the New Implementation Regulations, the Ministry of Commerce and NDRC shall jointly promulgate the negative list. The latest Negative List was jointly promulgated by the Ministry of Commerce and NDRC on June 23, 2020, which took effect on July 23, 2020. In addition, the New Implementation Regulations provide that existing foreign-invested enterprises may adjust their organizational forms and institutions pursuant to PRC Company Law or PRC Partnership Law and amend their registrations accordingly within five years after the effectiveness of the Foreign Investment Law. If the existing foreign-invested enterprises fail to change their original organizational forms and institutions as of January 1, 2025, the competent market regulation departments will not process other registration matters for these enterprises, and may disclose relevant corporate information to the public.
On December 30, 2019, the Ministry of Commerce and the SAMR (formerly known as State Administration for Industry and Commerce) jointly promulgated the Measures for Reporting of Foreign Investment Information, or the Foreign Investment Reporting Measures, which came into effect on January 1, 2020 and replaced the Interim Administrative Measures for the Record-filing of the Establishment and Modification of Foreign-invested Enterprises. The Foreign Investment Reporting Measures establish an online reporting system for foreign investment instead of the previous requirement of the Ministry of Commerce filing and/or approval procedures. Pursuant to the Foreign Investment Reporting Measures, for foreign investors carrying out investment activities directly or indirectly within the mainland China, foreign investors or foreign-invested enterprises shall submit investment information for establishments, modifications and dissolution and annual reports of the foreign-invested enterprises on the online system.
Regulations Related to Value-added Telecommunications Services
On September 25, 2000, the State Council issued the PRC Regulations on Telecommunications, or the Telecommunications Regulations, as amended on February 6, 2016, to regulate telecommunications activities in China. The Telecommunications Regulations divided the telecommunications services into two categories, namely “infrastructure telecommunications services” and “value-added telecommunications services.” Pursuant to the Telecommunications Regulations, operators of VATS must first obtain a VATS License, from the MIIT, or its provincial level counterparts. On March 1, 2009, the MIIT promulgated the Administrative Measures on Telecommunications Business Operating Licenses, as amended on July 3, 2017, which set forth more specific provisions regarding the types of licenses required to operate VATS, the qualifications and procedures for obtaining such licenses and the administration and supervision of such licenses.
 
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According to the Classified Catalog of Telecommunications Services (2003 Version), information service, categorized as a type of VATS, was defined as “the voice information services (telephone information services) or online information and data retrieval and other information services directly provided for end users through the fixed networks, mobile networks or internet and other public communications networks by means of information gathering, development, processing and the construction of the information platform.” The 2016 MIIT Catalog, effective from March 2016 and most recently amended on June 6, 2019, continued to classify information service as a category of VATS, and revised the definition of information services as “the information services provided for users through public communications networks or internet by means of information gathering, development, processing and the construction of the information platform.” Moreover, information services are clarified to include information release and delivery services, information search and query services, information community platform services, information real-time interactive services, and information protection and processing services by the 2016 MIIT Catalog. The Administrative Measures on Internet Information Services, or ICP Measures, promulgated by the PRC State Council on September 25, 2000 and most recently amended on January 8, 2011, set forth more specific rules on the provision of internet information services. According to ICP Measures, any company that engages in the provision of commercial internet information services shall obtain an ICP License from the relevant government authorities before providing any commercial internet information services within China. When the internet information services involve areas of news, publication, education, medical treatment, health, pharmaceuticals and medical equipment, and if required by law or relevant regulations, specific approval from the respective regulatory authorities must be obtained prior to the application for an ICP License from the MIIT or its provincial level counterpart. Pursuant to the above-mentioned regulations, “commercial internet information services” generally refers to provision of specific information content, online advertising, web page construction and other online application services through internet for profit making purpose.
In addition to the Telecommunications Regulations and the other regulations discussed above, the provision of commercial internet information services on mobile internet applications is regulated by the Administrative Provisions on Mobile Internet Applications Information Services, which was promulgated by CAC in June 2016. The providers of mobile internet applications are subject to requirements under these provisions, including acquiring the qualifications and complying with other requirements provided by laws and regulations and being responsible for information security.
Regulation Related to Online Transmission of Audio-Visual Programs
The Measures for the Administration of Publication of Audio-Visual Programs through Internet or Other Information Network, or the Audio-Visual Measures, promulgated by the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, or the SAPPRFT (currently known as the State Administration of Radio and Television), on July 6, 2004 and put into effect on October 11, 2004, apply to the activities relating to the opening, broadcasting, integration, transmission or download of audio-visual programs using internet or other information network. Under the Audio-Visual Measures, to engage in the business of transmitting audio-visual programs, a license issued by the SAPPRFT is required, and “audio-visual programs (including audio-visual products of films and televisions)” is defined under the Audio-Visual Measures as the audio-visual programs consisting of movable pictures or sounds that can be listened to continuously, which are shot and recorded using video cameras, vidicons, recorders and other audio-visual equipment for producing programs. Foreign invested enterprises are not allowed to carry out such business. On April 13, 2005, the State Council promulgated the Certain Decisions on the Entry of the
Non-state-owned
Capital into the Cultural Industry. On July 6, 2005, five PRC governmental authorities, including the SAPPRFT, jointly adopted the Several Opinions on Canvassing Foreign Investment into the Cultural Sector. According to these regulations,
non-state-owned
capital and foreign investors are not allowed to engage in the business of transmitting audio-visual programs through information networks. However, the Audio-Visual Measures was repealed according to the Administrative Provisions on Audio-Visual Program Service through Special Network and Directed Transmission that was promulgated by the SAPPRFT on April 25, 2016, effective as of June 1, 2016.
 
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To further regulate the provision of audio-visual program services to the public via the internet, including through mobile networks, within the territory of China, the SAPPRFT and the MIIT jointly promulgated the Administrative Provisions on Internet Audio-Visual Program Service, or the Audio-Visual Program Provisions, on December 20, 2007, which came into effect on January 31, 2008 and was last amended on August 28, 2015. Under the Audio-Visual Program Provisions, “internet audio-visual program services” is defined as activities of producing, redacting and integrating audio-visual programs, providing them to the general public via internet, and providing service for other people to upload and transmit audio-visual programs, and providers of internet audio-visual program services are required to obtain a License for Online Transmission of Audio-Visual Programs issued by the SAPPRFT, or complete certain registration procedures with the SAPPRFT. In general, providers of internet audio-visual program services must be either state-owned or state-controlled entities, and the business to be carried out by such providers must satisfy the overall planning and guidance catalog for internet audio-visual program service determined by the SAPPRFT. On April 8, 2008, SAPPRFT issued a Notice on Relevant Issues Concerning Application and Approval of License for the Online Transmission of Audio-Visual Programs, as amended on August 28, 2015, which sets out detailed provisions concerning the application and approval process regarding the License for Online Transmission of Audio-Visual Programs. According to the above regulations, providers of internet audio-visual program services that engaged in such services prior to the promulgation of the Audio-Visual Program Provisions are eligible to apply for the license so long as those providers did not violate the relevant laws and regulations in the past or their violation of the laws and regulations is minor in scope and can be rectified in a timely manner and they have no records of violation during the last three months prior to the promulgation of the Audio-Visual Program Provisions. Further, on March 31, 2009, SAPPRFT promulgated the Notice on Strengthening the Administration of the Content of Internet Audio-Visual Programs, which reiterates the
pre-approval
requirements for the audio-visual programs transmitted via the internet, including through mobile networks, where applicable, and prohibits certain types of internet audio-visual programs containing violence, pornography, gambling, terrorism, superstition or other similarly prohibited elements.
On March 17, 2010, the SAPPRFT promulgated Tentative Categories of Internet Audio-Visual Program Services, or the Categories, which clarified the scope of internet audio-visual programs services, which was amended on March 10, 2017. According to the Categories, there are four categories of internet audio-visual program services which are further divided into seventeen
sub-categories.
The third
sub-category
to the second category covers the making and editing of certain specialized audio-visual programs concerning, among other things, educational content, and broadcasting such content to the general public online. However, there are still significant uncertainties relating to the interpretation and implementation of the Audio-Visual Program Provisions, in particular, the scope of “internet audio-visual programs.”
On March 16, 2018, the SAPPRFT promulgated the Notice on Further Regulating the Transmission Order of Internet Audio-Visual Program Services, providing that the classic literary works, radio, film and television programs, internet original audio-visual programs shall not be
re-edited,
re-dubbed,
re-subtitled
or partly captured and consolidated as a new program without authorizations and providers of internet audio-visual program services shall strictly manage and supervise such
re-edited
programs uploaded by the internet users and shall not provide any transmission channel for those internet audio-visual programs which have political orientation issues, copyright issues or content issues.
Regulation Related to Internet Live Streaming Services
On September 2, 2016, the SAPPRFT promulgated the Notice on Strengthening the Administration of Live Streaming Services of Internet Audio-Visual Program, which provided that any company without a License for Online Transmission of Audio-Visual Programs shall not operate audio-visual live streaming business and the live streaming programs provided by the qualified company shall not contain any content forbidden by laws and regulations.
On November 4, 2016, the CAC promulgated the Provisions on the Administration of Internet Live Streaming Services, or the Internet Live Streaming Provisions, effective December 1, 2016. “Internet live streaming service” is defined in the Internet Live Stream Provisions as the activities of continuously releasing real-time information to the public based on the internet in such forms as videos, audios, images and texts and the “internet live streaming service provider” is defined therein as an entity providing internet live streaming platform services. The Internet Live Streaming Provisions provide that internet live streaming service providers shall examine the true identity information of each internet live-streaming issuer, and complete the filing with local counterparts of the CAC.
 
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On July 12, 2017, the CAC issued a Notice on Development of the Filing Work for Enterprises providing Internet Live Streaming Services, which provided that all the companies providing internet live streaming services shall complete the filing procedure with its local authority since July 15, 2017, otherwise the CAC or its local counterparts may impose administrative sanctions on such company.
Regulation Related to Internet Culture Activities
On February 17, 2011, the Ministry of Culture, or MOC (currently known as the Ministry of Culture and Tourism), promulgated the Interim Administrative Provisions on Internet Culture, or the Internet Culture Provisions, which became effective on April 1, 2011 and was amended on December 15, 2017. The Internet Culture Provisions require ICP services providers engaging in commercial “internet culture activities” to obtain an Internet Culture Business Operating License from the MOC. “Internet cultural activity” is defined in the Internet Culture Provisions as an act of provision of internet cultural products and related services, which includes (i) the production, duplication, importation, and broadcasting of the internet cultural products; (ii) the online dissemination whereby cultural products are posted on the internet or transmitted via the internet to
end-users,
such as computers, fixed-line telephones, mobile phones, television sets and games machines, for online users’ browsing, use or downloading; and (iii) the exhibition and comparison of the internet cultural products. In addition, “internet cultural products” is defined in the Internet Culture Provisions as cultural products produced, broadcast and disseminated via the internet, which mainly include internet cultural products specially produced for the internet, such as online music entertainment, online games, online shows and plays (programs), online performances, online works of art and online cartoons, and internet cultural products produced from cultural products such as music entertainment, games, shows and plays (programs), performances, works of art, and cartoons through certain techniques and duplicating those to internet for dissemination.
Regulation Related to Online Publishing
On June 27, 2002, the General Administration of Press and Publication (currently known as the SAPPRFT) and the MIIT jointly promulgated the Tentative Internet Publishing Administrative Measures, or the Internet Publishing Measures, which took effect on August 1, 2002. The Internet Publishing Measures require entities that engage in internet publishing to obtain an Internet Publishing License for engaging in internet publishing from the SAPPRFT. Pursuant to the Internet Publishing Measures, the definition of “internet publishing” is broad and refers to the act by ICP services providers to select, edit and process works created by themselves or others and subsequently post such works on the internet or transmit such works to the users’ end through internet for the public to browse. The “works” as defined under the Internet Publishing Measures include (i) contents from books, newspapers, periodicals, audio-visual products, electronic publications that have already been formally published or works that have been made public in other media, and (ii) all other edited or processed works of literatures, art, natural science, social science, engineering technology, etc.
On February 4, 2016, the SAPPRFT and the MIIT jointly issued the Administrative Provisions on Online Publishing Services, or the Online Publishing Provisions. The Online Publishing Provisions, taking effect on March 10, 2016, superseded the Internet Publishing Measures. Compared with the Internet Publishing Measures, the Online Publishing Provisions set out more detailed provisions for online publishing activities, which mainly cover issues such as defining online publishing services, licensing and approvals, the administrative and supervisory regime and legal liabilities. According to the Online Publishing Provisions, all online publishing services provided within the territory of China are subject to the Online Publishing Provisions, and an online publishing services permit shall be obtained to provide online publishing services. Pursuant to the Online Publishing Provisions, “online publishing services” refer to providing online publications to the public through information networks; and “online publications” refer to digital works with publishing features such as having been edited, produced or processed and are made available to the public through information networks, including: (i) written works, pictures, maps, games, cartoons, audio/video reading materials and other original digital works containing useful knowledge or ideas in the field of literature, art, science or other fields; (ii) digital works of which the content is identical to that of any published book, newspaper, periodical, audio/video product, electronic publication or the like; (iii) network literature databases or other digital works, derived from any of the aforesaid works by selection, arrangement, collection or other means; and (iv) other types of digital works as may be determined by the SAPPRFT. As the scope of online publication is broad, certain contents we post on our website, such as video-audio clips and course materials, may be deemed as online publications.
 
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Regulations Related to Internet Information Security and Privacy Protection
PRC government authorities have enacted laws and regulations with respect to internet information security and protection of personal information from any abuse or unauthorized disclosure. Internet information in China is regulated and restricted from a national security standpoint. The Decisions on Maintaining Internet Security which was enacted by the Standing Committee of the PRC National People’s Congress, or the SCNPC in December 2000 and amended in August 2009, may subject violators to criminal punishment in China for any effort to: (i) gain improper entry into a computer or system of strategic importance; (ii) disseminate politically disruptive information; (iii) leak state secrets; (iv) spread false commercial information; or (v) infringe intellectual property rights. The Ministry of Public Security has promulgated measures that prohibit use of the internet in ways which, among other things, result in a leakage of state secrets or a spread of socially destabilizing content. If an information service provider violates these measures, the Ministry of Public Security and the local security bureaus may revoke its operating license and shut down its websites.
Pursuant to the Decision on Strengthening the Protection of Online Information issued by the SCNPC in December 2012, any collection and use of user personal information must be subject to the consent of the user, abide by the principles of legality, rationality and necessity and in accordance with the specified purposes, methods and scopes. Any entity collecting personal information must also keep such information strictly confidential, and is further prohibited from divulging, tampering or destroying any such information, or selling or providing such information to other parties, and is required to take technical and other measures to prevent the collected personal information from any unauthorized disclosure, damage or loss. Any violation of these laws and regulations may subject the entity collecting personal information to warnings, fines, confiscation of illegal gains, revocation of licenses, cancellation of filings, closedown of websites or even criminal liabilities.
Pursuant to the Notice of the Supreme People’s Court, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate and the Ministry of Public Security on Legally Punishing Criminal Activities Infringing upon the Personal Information of Citizens, issued in 2013, and the Interpretation of the Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate on Several Issues regarding Legal Application in Criminal Cases Infringing upon the Personal Information of Citizens, which was issued on May 8, 2017 and took effect on June 1, 2017, the following activities may constitute the crime of infringing upon a citizen’s personal information: (i) providing a citizen’s personal information to specified persons or releasing a citizen’s personal information online or through other methods in violation of relevant national provisions; (ii) providing legitimately collected information relating to a citizen to others without such citizen’s consent (unless the information is processed, not traceable to a specific person and not recoverable); (iii) collecting a citizen’s personal information in violation of applicable rules and regulations when performing a duty or providing services; or (iv) collecting a citizen’s personal information by purchasing, accepting or exchanging such information in violation of applicable rules and regulations.
Pursuant to the Order for the Protection of Telecommunication and Internet User Personal Information issued by the MIIT on July 16, 2013, which became effective from September 1, 2013, any collection and use of user personal information must be subject to the consent of the user, abide by the principles of legality, rationality and necessity and be within the specified purposes, methods and scopes. “Personal information” is defined as information that identifies a citizen, the time or location for his/her use of telecommunication and internet services, or involves privacy of any citizen such as his/her birth date, ID card number, and address. An internet information service provider must also keep information collected strictly confidential, and is further prohibited from divulging, tampering or destroying of any such information, or selling or providing such information to other parties. Any violation of the above decision or order may subject the internet information service provider to warnings, fines, confiscation of illegal gains, revocation of licenses, cancellation of filings, closedown of websites or even criminal liabilities.
Pursuant to the Ninth Amendment to the Criminal Law issued by the SCNPC in August 2015, which became effective in November 2015, any person or entity that fails to fulfill the obligations related to internet information security administration as required by applicable laws and refuses to rectify upon orders is subject to criminal penalty for the result of (i) any dissemination of illegal information in large scale; (ii) any severe effect due to the leakage of the client’s information; (iii) any serious loss of criminal evidence; or (iv) other severe situation, and any individual or entity that (i) sells or provides personal information to others in a way violating the applicable law, or (ii) steals or illegally obtain any personal information is subject to criminal penalty in severe situation.
 
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Pursuant to the PRC Cyber Security Law issued by the SCNPC in November 2016, effective June 2017, personal information refers to all kinds of information recorded by electronic or otherwise that can be used to independently identify or be combined with other information to identify natural persons’ personal information including but not limited to: natural persons’ names, dates of birth, ID numbers, biologically identified personal information, addresses and telephone numbers, etc. The Cyber Security Law also provides that: (i) to collect and use personal information, network operators shall follow the principles of legitimacy, rightfulness and necessity, disclose their rules of data collection and use, clearly express the purposes, means and scope of collecting and using the information, and obtain the consent of the persons whose data is gathered; (ii) network operators shall neither gather personal information unrelated to the services they provide, nor gather or use personal information in violation of the provisions of laws and administrative regulations or the scopes of consent given by the persons whose data is gathered; and shall dispose of personal information they have saved in accordance with the provisions of laws and administrative regulations and agreements reached with users; (iii) network operators shall not divulge, tamper with or damage the personal information they have collected, and shall not provide the personal information to others without the consent of the persons whose data is collected. However, if the information has been processed and cannot be recovered and thus it is impossible to match such information with specific persons, such circumstance is an exception.
Pursuant to the Provisions on Online Protection of Children’s Personal Information issued by the CAC on August 22, 2019, effective from October 1, 2019, network operators, who collect, store, use, transfer and disclose personal information of children under the age of 14, or the Children, via the internet shall establish special rules and user agreements, designate specific personnel to take charge of the protection of Children’s personal information, inform the Children’s guardians in a noticeable and clear manner, and obtain the consent of the Children’s guardians. When obtaining the consent of the Children’s guardians, network operators shall explicitly inform several matters, including but not limited to the purposes, methods and scope of collection, storage, use, transfer and disclosure of the personal information of Children, and methods for correcting and deleting Children’s personal information. The Provisions on Online Protection of Children’s Personal Information also requires that the network operators shall comply with certain regulatory requirements, including without limitation, that network operators shall collect Children’s personal information that is only related to the services they provide, and shall adopt and strictly implement minimal authorization principal with respect to their staff’s access authority to the Children’s personal information.
In addition, the Identification Method of Illegal Collection and Use of Personal Information Through Apps jointly promulgated by the Secretary Bureau of the CAC, the General Office of the MIIT, the General Office of the Ministry of Public Security and the General Office of the SAMR in November 2019 provides guidance for the regulatory authorities to identify the illegal collection and use of personal information through mobile apps, and for the app operators to conduct self-examination and self-correction and for other participants to voluntarily monitor compliance. The Identification Method of Illegal Collection and Use of Personal Information Through Apps lists six types of acts conducted by app operators through app which may be identified as illegal, including, (i) failure to make public the rules of collection and use of personal information, (ii) failure to explicitly inform the purposes, methods and scope of collection and use of personal information; (iii) failure to obtain users’ consent to collect and use their personal information; (iv) collection of personal information which is irrelevant to the services the app provides against the principle of necessity; (v) failure to obtain users’ prior consent before providing users’ personal information to the third parties; and (vi) failure to provide the function of deleting or correcting personal information in accordance with the laws and regulations, or failure to publish information such as ways for complaint and whistle-blowing.
On May 28, 2020, the National People’s Congress promulgated the PRC Civil Code, which regulates the legal relationships between private parties. The Civil Code took effect on January 1, 2021. Among other provisions, the Civil Code provides that personal information of individuals is protected under the laws, and the collection, storage, use, processing, transmission, provision and disclosure of personal information shall observe the principles of legitimacy, rightfulness and necessity. In October 2020, the SCNPC published a draft for comment of the Law for Protection of Personal Information, which aims to introduce rules and legal requirements relating to the collection, use, processing, and cross-border transfer of personal information, as well as the rights of individuals and obligations of personal information processors relating to the handling of personal information. The draft Law for Protection of Personal Information is subject to revision and has yet to be formally promulgated. On March 12, 2021, the Secretary Bureau of the CAC, the General Office of the MIIT, the General Office of the Ministry of Public Security and the General Office of the SAMR jointly promulgated the Provisions on the Scope of Necessary Personal Information for Common Types of Mobile Internet Applications, which will become effective from May 1, 2021. By promulgating the Provisions on the Scope of Necessary Personal Information for Common Types of Mobile Internet Applications, the PRC governmental authorities reiterate the principle of necessity in collection of personal information and the restrictions that network operators shall not collect personal information unrelated to the services they provide, and further stipulates that the scope of necessary personal information for education apps is limited to the user’s mobile phone numbers, and the operator of education app shall not refuse to provide the app’s fundamental functions, which is online training, to users who refuse to provide personal information beyond the scope of the necessary personal information.
 
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Regulation Related to Private Education
The laws and regulations governing foreign investments in private education institutions in China are complex and have been developing. Pursuant to the Catalog, which is the principal regulation governing foreign investment activities in China, foreign investments in
pre-school
education institutions, ordinary senior high schools and institutions of higher education fall within the foreign restricted category (limited to the form of sino-foreign cooperative joint ventures), and foreign investments in compulsory education institutions are prohibited. The Catalog does not provide specific restrictions on foreign investments in institutions like us that provide English learning products and services to the public. Besides, pursuant to the PRC Regulations on Sino-foreign Cooperative Education (2019 Revision) and other education-related laws and regulations in China, foreign education institutions and other foreign organizations or individuals may not by themselves alone establish schools or other education institutions within China which mainly enroll Chinese citizens, and sino-foreign cooperative education institutions shall have corresponding qualifications and relatively high education quality.
Education Law of China
On March 18, 1995, the PRC National People’s Congress promulgated the PRC Education Law, or the Education Law. The Education Law stipulates that the government formulates plans for the development of education, establishes and operates schools and other types of educational institutions, and in principle, enterprises, institutions, social organizations and individuals are encouraged to operate schools and other types of educational organizations. It is provided in the Education Law that no organization or individual may establish or operate a school or any other educational institution for commercial purposes. On December 27, 2015, the SCNPC published the Decision on Amendment of the Education Law, which took effect on June 1, 2016. The SCNPC narrowed the provision prohibiting the establishment or operation of schools or other educational institutions for commercial purposes to only restricting a school or other educational institution founded with governmental funds or donated assets in the amended Education Law.
The Law for Promoting Private Education and its Implementing Rules
On December 28, 2002, the SCNPC promulgated the Law for Promoting Private Education, or the Private Education Law and was last amended on December 29, 2018. On March 5, 2004, the PRC State Council promulgated the Implementation Rules for the Law for Promoting Private Education, which became effective on April 1, 2004, or the PE Implementation Rules. The Private Education Law and the PE Implementation Rules provide rules for social organizations or individuals, other than state-owned entities, to establish schools or other educational organizations using
non-government
funds in China, such schools or educational organizations established using
non-government
funds are referred to as “private schools.”
According to the amended Private Education Law, establishment of private schools for academic education,
pre-school
education, self-taught examination support and other cultural education shall be subject to approval by the authorities in charge of education, while establishment of private schools for vocational qualification training and vocational skill training shall be subject to approvals from the authorities in charge of labor and social welfare. A duly approved private school will be granted a private school operating permit, and shall be registered with the Ministry of Civil Affairs, or MCA, or its local counterparts as a private
non-enterprise
institution. Entities and individuals may choose to establish
non-profit
private schools or
for-profit
private schools at their own discretion. Nonetheless,
for-profit
private schools that are engaged in compulsory education are not allowed.
 
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On December 30, 2016, the MOE, the SAIC and the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Welfare jointly issued the Implementation Rules on the Supervision and Administration of
For-profit
Private Schools. Pursuant such rules, the establishment, division, merger and other material changes of a
for-profit
private school shall first be approved by the education authorities or the authorities in charge of labor and social welfare, and then be registered with the competent branch of SAIC. In addition, it also provides that
for-profit
private training institutes shall be analogically governed by these Implementation Rules on the Supervision and Administration of
For-profit
Private Schools.
On August 31, 2017, SAIC and MOE jointly promulgated the Notice of the State Administration for Industry and Commerce and the Ministry of Education on the Work Concerning the Administration of the Name Registration for
For-profit
Private Schools, which came into effect on September 1, 2017. Such notice provides that the industry expression in the name of the private culture education institutions shall typically include “training school /center,” such as “curriculum training school/center,” “extra-class education school/center,” “self-learning school/center,” “tutorship school/center,” “extra tutoring for examinations school/center” and “extra tutoring school/center” and such industry expression is allowed to embody the disciplines and characteristics of such education institution, such as “English training school.”
In August 2018, the State Council issued the New Opinion, which primarily regulates extracurricular training institutions targeting
K-12
students. The New Opinion reiterates prior guidance that extracurricular training institutions must obtain a private school operating permit, and further requires such institutions to meet certain minimum requirements; for example, extracurricular training institutions are required to (i) have a fixed training premise that conforms to specified safety criteria, with an average area per student of no less than 3 square meters during the applicable training period; (ii) comply with relevant fire safety, environmental protection, hygiene, food operation and other specified requirements; (iii) purchase personal safety insurance for students to reduce safety risks; and (iv) not hire any teachers who are working concurrently in primary or secondary schools. Extracurricular training institutions are prohibited from carrying out exam-oriented training, training that goes beyond the school syllabus, training in advance of the corresponding school schedule and any training activities associated with student admission. The training content of extracurricular training institutions is not to exceed the corresponding national curricular standards and training progress is not to be more accelerated than the corresponding progress of local schools. According to the New Opinion, extracurricular training institutions are also required to disclose relevant information regarding the institution, including their training content, schedule, targeted students and school timetable to the relevant education authority, and their training classes may not end later than 20:30 each day. Tuition can only be collected for courses in three months or a shorter installment. Additionally, the New Opinion requests that competent local authorities formulate relevant local standards for extracurricular training institutions within their administrative area. On December 28, 2018, nine PRC governmental authorities, including the MOE, jointly promulgated the Notice on Measures for Alleviating the Burdens on
K-12
students, which reiterates the above requirements.
Regulation Related to Online and Distance Education
Pursuant to the Interim Administrative Regulations on Educational Websites and Online and Distance Education Schools issued by the MOE, on July 5, 2000, educational websites may provide educational services in relation to higher education, elementary education,
pre-school
education, teaching education, occupational education, adult education, other education and public educational information services. “Educational websites” refer to organizations providing education or education-related information services to website visitors by means of a database or online education platform connected via the internet or an educational television station through an internet service provider. Setting up education websites is subject to approval from relevant education authorities, depending on the specific types of education. Any educational website shall, upon the receipt of approval, indicate on its website such approval information as well as the approval date and file number.
On June 29, 2004, the State Council promulgated the Decision on Setting Down Administrative Licenses for the Administrative Examination and Approval Items Really Necessary to Be Retained, pursuant to which the administrative license for “educational websites” was not retained.
On February 3, 2016, the State Council promulgated the Decision on canceling the Second Batch of 152 Items Subject to Administrative Examination and Approval by Local Governments Designated by the Central Government, further explicitly withdrew the approval requirements for operating educational websites as provided by the Administrative Regulations on Educational Websites and Online Education Schools, and reiterated the principle that administrative approval requirements may only be imposed in accordance with the PRC Administrative Licensing Law.
 
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In December 2017, Shanghai Municipal Government promulgated the Management Methods of Classified Registration of Private Schools, the Setting Standards for Private Training Institutions of Shanghai, the Management Measures for the
For-profit
Private Training Institutions of Shanghai, and the Management Methods for the
Non-Profit
Private Training Institutions of Shanghai (collectively, the “Shanghai Implementation Regulations”). Pursuant to the Shanghai Implementation Regulations, any management measures and regulations applied to the institutions that provide training services only through internet will be further promulgated separately. On February 24, 2020, Shanghai Municipal Education Commission, together with six other Shanghai authorities, jointly promulgated the Rules of Shanghai for Filings of Extracurricular Online Training, which came into effect on April 1, 2020. Such rules aim at regulating the school-curriculum-related training provided to
K-12
students and require the online training institution providing the school-curriculum-related training service to make filing through the management platform of Shanghai training institutions, in respect to the training class content, training class schedule, recruitment target, operational management and information management in such online training institution and require the online training institution to make subsequent filing of statement of changes and other materials in case of any changes with respect to the filed information. In August 2020, Shanghai Municipal Government published the draft for comments of the Measures of Shanghai Municipality for Implementation of Establishment and Management of Private Training Institutions, according to which, a private training institution that provides school-curriculum-related training, or language training to
K-12
students shall obtain the permission from competent authority before its establishment. The draft Measures have yet to be formally promulgated and come into effect.
On November 20, 2018, the MOE, the SAIC and the Ministry of Emergency Management of the PRC, jointly promulgated the Notice on Several Work Mechanisms for Strengthening Special Administration and Rectification of Extracurricular Training Institutions, or the New Notice. The New Notice provides certain requirements relating to the online training services, which mainly include that: (i) the competent authorities shall strengthen the supervision on the online training institution targeting on
K-12
students in accordance with the policies and requirements applied to the offline training institutions, (ii) the online training institution providing the school-curriculum-related training service is required to make filing with the competent authorities in respect to the name of the curriculum-related training class, training class content, recruitment target, training class schedule and training time, and (iii) name, photos, class and qualification number of teachers in such online training institution providing the school-curriculum-related training service shall be disclosed on its website. On July 12, 2019, the MOE, together with other five PRC authorities, joint promulgated the Implementation Opinions on the Regulation of Extracurricular Online Training, which reinstate the filing requirement of extracurricular online training institution and provides that the education authorities at provincial level should review the application documents submitted by extracurricular online training institution and approve the filing applications submitted by qualified training institution and disclose such qualified training institution to the public. In case of any change to the filing information, the extracurricular online training institution will be required to make filing of such updated information.
On August 10, 2019, the MOE, together with other seven PRC authorities, jointly promulgated the Opinions on the Guidance and Regulation of Healthy and Orderly Development of Education Mobile Internet Applications, or the Education APP Opinions. The Education APP Opinions define the education mobile internet application as a mobile internet application mainly targeting at teachers, students and parents, taking education and study as main application scenarios, and serving for school education and management, students’ study and life, and home-school interaction purpose. It is also provided that all the companies providing the education mobile internet applications shall make filing with the competent education authority at provincial level and register their basic corporate information and details of education mobile internet applications. On November 11, 2019, the MOE promulgated the Administrative Measures on the Filing of Education Mobile Internet Applications, which further elaborated the provisions of the filing requirements and procedures.
On September 19, 2019, the MOE, together with other nine PRC authorities, jointly promulgated the Opinions on the Promotion of Healthy Development of Online Education, which embody an expected PRC regulatory trend to strengthen the supervision of online education, such as improving online education access system, formulating negative list for online education access, establishing filing and review system for online education resources, and protecting personal information security of teachers and students.
 
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Regulations Related to Intellectual Property Rights
Copyright and Software Registration
The SCNPC, the State Council and the National Copyright Administration, or the NCAC, have promulgated various rules and regulations relating to the protection of software in China, including without limitation the PRC Copyright Law, adopted in 1990 and revised in 2001, 2010 and 2020, with the latest revision in 2020 taking effect on June 1, 2021. The implementation rules of the Copyright Law were adopted in 1991 and revised in 2002, 2011 and 2013 respectively. The amended Copyright Law and its implementation rules extend copyright protection to internet activities, products disseminated over the internet and software products. In addition, there is a voluntary registration system administered by the China Copyright Protection Center. To address the problem of copyright infringement related to the content posted or transmitted over the internet, the NCAC and the MIIT jointly promulgated the Measures for Administrative Protection of Copyright Related to Internet on April 29, 2005, which became effective on May 30, 2005.
On December 20, 2001, the State Council promulgated Computer Software Protection Regulations which came into effect on January 1, 2002 and was later amended on January 8, 2011 and January 30, 2013. These regulations are formulated for protecting the rights and interests of computer software copyright owners, encouraging the development and application of computer software and promoting the development of software business. In order to further implement the Computer Software Protection Regulations, the NCAC issued the Computer Software Copyright Registration Procedures on February 20, 2002, which apply to software copyright registration, license contract registration and transfer contract registration.
Under these rules and regulations, software owners, licensees and transferees may register their rights in software with the NCAC or its local branches and obtain software copyright registration certificates. Although such registration is not mandatory under PRC laws, software owners, licensees and transferees are encouraged to go through the registration process to enjoy the better protections afforded to registered software rights.
Patents
The SCNPC adopted the Patent Law of the People’s Republic of China in 1984 and amended it in 1992, 2000, 2008 and 2020 respectively. The latest revision in 2020 will become effective from June 1, 2021. A patentable invention, utility model or design must meet three conditions, namely novelty, inventiveness and practical applicability. Patents cannot be granted for scientific discoveries, rules and methods for intellectual activities, methods used to diagnose or treat diseases, animal and plant breeds or substances obtained by means of nuclear transformation. The Patent Office under the State Intellectual Property Office is responsible for receiving, examining and approving patent applications. A patent is valid for a twenty-year term for an invention and a
ten-year
term for a utility model or design, both starting from the application date. Except under certain specific circumstances provided by law, any third-party user must obtain consent or a proper license from the patent owner to use the patent, otherwise the use will constitute an infringement of the rights of the patent holder.
Trademark
The PRC Trademark Law, adopted in 1982 and revised in 1993, 2001, 2013 and 2019 respectively, with its implementation rules adopted in 2002 and revised in 2014, protects registered trademarks. The PRC Trademark Office of the State Administration for Industry and Commerce, currently known as PRC State Intellectual Property Office of the State Administration for Market Regulation, or the Trademark Office, handles trademark registrations and grants a protection term of ten years to registered trademarks which may be renewed for consecutive
ten-year
periods upon request by the trademark owner. The PRC Trademark Law has adopted a
“first-to-file”
principle with respect to trademark registration. Where a trademark for which a registration has been made is identical or similar to another trademark which has already been registered or been subject to a preliminary examination and approval for use on the same kind of or similar commodities or services, the application for registration of such trademark may be rejected. Any person applying for the registration of a trademark may not prejudice the existing right first obtained by others, nor may any person register in advance a trademark that has already been used by another party and has already gained a “sufficient degree of reputation” through such party’s use.
 
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Domain Name
The MIIT promulgated its Administrative Measures on Internet Domain Names in 2017. According to these measures, the MIIT is in charge of the overall administration of domain names in China. The registration of domain names in China is on a “first-apply-first-registration” basis. A domain name applicant will become the domain name holder upon the completion of the application procedure.
Regulations Related to Employment
On June 29, 2007, the SCNPC, adopted the Labor Contract Law, which became effective as of January 1, 2008 and was revised in 2012. The Labor Contract Law requires employers to enter into written contracts with their employees, restricts the use of temporary workers and aims to give employees long-term job security. Pursuant to the Labor Contract Law, employment contracts lawfully executed prior to the implementation of the Labor Contract Law and continuing as of the date of its implementation will continue to be performed. Where an employment relationship was established prior to the implementation of the Labor Contract Law but no written employment contract was concluded, a contract must be concluded within one month after the Labor Contract Law’s implementation. All PRC enterprises are generally required to implement a standard working time system of eight hours a day and forty hours a week, and if the implementation of such standard working time system is not appropriate due to the nature of the job or the characteristics of business operation, the enterprise may implement a flexible working time system or comprehensive working time system after obtaining approvals from the relevant authorities. According to the Social Insurance Law which was promulgated by SCNPC and effective from July 1, 2011 and was amended in 2018, the Regulation of Insurance for Work-Related Injury, the Provisional Measures on Insurance for Maternity of Employees, Regulation of Unemployment Insurance, the Decision of the State Council on Setting Up Basic Medical Insurance System for Staff Members and Workers in Cities and Towns, and the Interim Regulation on the Collection and Payment of Social Insurance Premiums, an employer is required to contribute the social insurance for its employees in China, including the basic pension insurance, basic medical insurance, unemployment insurance, maternity insurance and injury insurance. Under the Regulations on the Administration of Housing Funds, promulgated by the State Council on April 3, 1999 and as latest amended on March 24, 2019, an employer is required to make contributions to a housing fund for its employees.
Regulations Related to Foreign Exchange
Regulations on Foreign Currency Exchange
The principal regulations governing foreign currency exchange in China are the Foreign Exchange Administration Regulations, as last amended in August 2008. Under the PRC foreign exchange regulations, payments of current account items, such as profit distributions, interest payments and trade and service-related foreign exchange transactions, can be made in foreign currencies without prior approval from State Administration of Foreign Exchange, or SAFE, by complying with certain procedural requirements. By contrast, approval from or registration with appropriate government authorities is required where Renminbi is to be converted into foreign currency and remitted out of China to pay capital account items, such as direct investments, repayment of foreign currency-denominated loans, repatriation of investments and investments in securities outside of China.
In November 2012, SAFE promulgated the Circular of Further Improving and Adjusting Foreign Exchange Administration Policies on Foreign Direct Investment, as amended on May 4, 2015, October 10, 2018 and December 30, 2019 respectively, which substantially amends and simplifies the
pre-existing
foreign exchange procedure. Pursuant to this Circular, the opening of various special purpose foreign exchange accounts, such as
pre-establishment
expenses accounts, foreign exchange capital accounts and guarantee accounts, the reinvestment of Renminbi proceeds derived by foreign investors in China, and remittance of foreign exchange profits and dividends by a foreign-invested enterprise to its foreign shareholders no longer require the approval or verification of SAFE, and multiple capital accounts for the same entity may be opened in different provinces, which was not possible previously. In addition, SAFE promulgated the Provisions on Foreign Exchange Administration over Direct Investment Made by Foreign Investors in China in May 2013, which specifies that the administration by SAFE or its local branches over direct investment by foreign investors in China must be conducted by way of registration and banks must process foreign exchange business relating to the direct investment in China based on the registration information provided by SAFE and its branches. On February 28, 2015, SAFE promulgated the Notice on Further Simplifying and Improving the Administration of the Foreign Exchange Concerning Direct Investment, or SAFE Notice 13. After SAFE Notice 13 became effective on June 1, 2015, instead of applying for approvals regarding foreign exchange registrations of foreign direct investment and overseas direct investment from SAFE, entities and individuals may apply for such foreign exchange registrations from qualified banks. The qualified banks, under the supervision of SAFE, may directly review the applications and conduct the registration.
 
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On March 30, 2015, SAFE promulgated the Circular of the SAFE on Reforming the Management Approach regarding the Settlement of Foreign Capital of Foreign-invested Enterprise, or Circular 19, which expands a pilot reform of the administration of the settlement of the foreign exchange capitals of foreign-invested enterprises nationwide. Circular 19, which came into force on June 1, 2015, replaced both the Circular of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange on Issues Relating to the Improvement of Business Operations with Respect to the Administration of Foreign Exchange Capital Payment and Settlement of Foreign-invested Enterprises, or Circular 142 and the Circular of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange on Issues concerning the Pilot Reform of the Administrative Approach Regarding the Settlement of the Foreign Exchange Capitals of Foreign-invested Enterprises in Certain Areas, or Circular 36. Circular 19 allows foreign-invested enterprises established in China whose main business is investment to use their foreign exchange capitals to make equity investment and removes certain other restrictions had been provided in Circular 142. However, Circular 19 continues to prohibit foreign-invested enterprises from, among other things, using Renminbi fund converted from its foreign exchange capitals for expenditure beyond its business scope and providing entrusted loans or repaying loans between
non-financial
enterprises. Subsequent to the issuance of Circular 19, SAFE promulgated the Notice of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange on Reforming and Standardizing the Foreign Exchange Settlement Management Policy of Capital Account, or Circular 16, which took effect in June 2016. Circular 16 reiterates some of the rules set forth in Circular 19, but compared to Circular 19, Circular 16 provides that discretionary foreign exchange settlement applies to foreign exchange capital, foreign debt offering proceeds and remitted foreign listing proceeds, and the corresponding Renminbi capital converted from foreign exchange are not restricted from extending loans to related parties or repaying the inter-company loans (including advances by third parties). SAFE further promulgated Notice of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange on Further Facilitating Cross-border Trade and Investment, or Circular 28, effective from January 2020, which allows all foreign-invested enterprises to make domestic equity investments using their foreign exchange capitals or Renminbi fund converted from its foreign exchange capitals with limited preconditions. On April 10, 2020, SAFE promulgated the Notice on Optimizing Foreign Exchange Administration to Support the Development of Foreign-related Business, or Circular 8. According to Circular 8, under the condition that the use of funds is genuine and compliant with current administrative provisions on use of capital account incomes, enterprises are allowed to use incomes under the capital account, such as capital funds and foreign debts and proceeds from overseas listings, for domestic payments, without the need to submit materials evidencing the veracity of such payments to the banks before every single transaction. However, there exist substantial uncertainties with respect to the interpretation and implementation in practice with respect to Circular 16 of 2016, Circular 28 of 2020, Circular 8 of 2020 and other laws and regulations related to foreign currency exchange. Circular 19 of 2015, Circular 16 of 2016, Circular 28 of 2020, Circular 8 of 2020 and other related regulations may delay or limit us from using the proceeds of offshore offerings to make additional capital contributions or loans to our PRC subsidiaries and any violations of these circulars could result in severe monetary or other penalties.
In January 2017, SAFE promulgated the Circular on Further Improving Reform of Foreign Exchange Administration and Optimizing Genuineness and Compliance Verification, or Circular 3, which stipulates several capital control measures with respect to the outbound remittance of profit from domestic entities to offshore entities, including (i) under the principle of genuine transaction, banks shall check board resolutions regarding profit distribution, the original version of tax filing records and audited financial statements; and (ii) domestic entities shall hold income to account for previous years’ losses before remitting the profits. Moreover, pursuant to Circular 3, domestic entities shall make detailed explanations of the sources of capital and utilization arrangements, and provide board resolutions, contracts and other proof when completing the registration procedures in connection with an outbound investment.
 
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Regulations on Foreign Debt
A loan made by a foreign entity as direct or indirect shareholder in a foreign-invested enterprise is considered to be foreign debt in China and is regulated by various laws and regulations, including the Regulation of the People’s Republic of China on Foreign Exchange Administration, the Interim Provisions on the Management of Foreign Debts, the Statistical Monitoring of Foreign Debts Tentative Provisions, the Detailed Rules for the Implementation of Provisional Regulations on Statistics and Supervision of Foreign Debts, and the Administrative Measures for Registration of Foreign Debts. Under these rules and regulations, a shareholder loan in the form of foreign debt made to a PRC entity does not require the prior approval of SAFE. However, such foreign debt must be registered with and recorded by SAFE or its local branches within 15 business days after entering into each foreign debt contract. Pursuant to these rules and regulations, the maximum amount of the aggregate of (i) the outstanding balance of foreign debts with a term not longer than one year, and (ii) the accumulated amount of foreign debts with a term longer than one year, of a foreign-invested enterprise shall not exceed the difference between its registered total investment and its registered capital, or Total Investment and Registered Capital Balance. In addition, on January 11, 2017, the People’s Bank of China, or PBOC, promulgated the Notice of the People’s Bank of China on Full-coverage Macro-prudent Management of Cross-border Financing, or PBOC Circular 9, which sets forth an upper limit for PRC entities, including foreign-invested enterprises and domestic-invested enterprises, regarding their foreign debts. Pursuant to PBOC Circular 9, the limit of foreign debts for enterprises shall be calculated based on the following formula: the limit of foreign debt = net assets * cross-border financing leverage ratio * macro-prudent regulation parameter. Net assets is calculated as the net assets value stated in the relevant entity’s latest audited financial statement. The cross-border financing leverage ratio for enterprises is two (2). The macro-prudent regulation parameter is one (1). The PBOC Circular 9 does not supersede the Interim Provisions on the Management of Foreign Debts, but rather serves as a supplement to it. PBOC Circular 9 provided for a
one-year
transitional period, or the Transitional Period, from its promulgation date for foreign-invested enterprises, during which period foreign-invested enterprise could choose to calculate their maximum amount of foreign debt based on either (i) the Total Investment and Registered Capital Balance, or (ii) the Net Assets Limit. After the Transition Period, the maximum amount applicable to foreign-invested enterprises is to be determined by PBOC and SAFE separately. However, although the Transitional Period ended on January 10, 2018, as of the date of this annual report, neither PBOC nor SAFE has issued any new regulations regarding the appropriate means of calculating the maximum amount of foreign debt for foreign-invested enterprises. Domestic-invested enterprises, have only been subject to the Net Assets Limit in calculating the maximum amount of foreign debt they may hold from the date of promulgation of PBOC Circular 9. Further, Circular 28, effective from January 2020, establishes a pilot program that a
non-financial
enterprise in pilot regions may register foreign debts up to two times of its net assets with local branch of SAFE, and it then may borrow several tranches of foreign debts within the registered amount, without registration of each foreign debt. The macro-prudent regulation parameter, which was first introduced in Circular 9, has also been adjusted by later regulations. However, the Notice on Adjustment of Macro-prudent Regulation Parameter Cross-border Financing, promulgated by PBOC and SAFE on January 7, 2021 and currently in force,
re-adjusts
the parameter to one (1).
Regulations on Foreign Exchange Registration of Overseas Investment by PRC Residents
SAFE issued SAFE Circular on Relevant Issues Relating to Domestic Resident’s Investment and Financing and Roundtrip Investment through Special Purpose Vehicles, or SAFE Circular 37, which became effective in July 2014, replacing the Circular of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange on Issues Concerning the Regulation of Foreign Exchange in Equity Finance and Return Investments by Domestic Residents through Offshore Special Purpose Vehicles, or SAFE Circular 75. SAFE Circular 37 regulates foreign exchange matters in relation to the use of special purpose vehicles, or SPVs, by PRC residents or entities to seek offshore investment and financing or conduct round trip investment in China. Under SAFE Circular 37, an SPV refers to an offshore entity established or controlled, directly or indirectly, by PRC residents (including individuals and entities) for the purpose of seeking offshore financing or making offshore investment, using legitimate onshore or offshore assets or interests, while “round trip investment” refers to direct investment in China by PRC residents through SPVs, namely, establishing foreign-invested enterprises to obtain the ownership, control rights and management rights. SAFE Circular 37 provides that, before making contribution into an SPV, PRC residents are required to complete foreign exchange registration with SAFE or its local branch. SAFE promulgated the Notice on Further Simplifying and Improving the Administration of the Foreign Exchange Concerning Direct Investment in February 2015, which took effect on June 1, 2015. This notice has amended SAFE Circular 37 requiring PRC residents or entities to register with qualified banks rather than SAFE or its local branch in connection with their establishment or control of an offshore entity established for the purpose of overseas investment or financing.
 
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PRC residents who had contributed legitimate onshore or offshore interests or assets to SPVs but had not obtained registration as required before the implementation of the SAFE Circular 37 must register their ownership interests or control in the SPVs with qualified banks. An amendment to the registration is required if there is a material change with respect to the SPV registered, such as any change of basic information (including change of the PRC residents, name and operation term), increases or decreases in investment amount, transfers or exchanges of shares, and mergers or divisions. Failure to comply with the registration procedures set forth in SAFE Circular 37 and the subsequent notice, or making misrepresentation on or failure to disclose controllers of the foreign-invested enterprise that is established through round-trip investment, may result in restrictions being imposed on the foreign exchange activities of the relevant foreign-invested enterprise, including payment of dividends and other distributions, such as proceeds from any reduction in capital, share transfer or liquidation, to its offshore parent or affiliate, and the capital inflow from the offshore parent, and may also subject relevant PRC residents or entities to penalties under PRC foreign exchange administration regulations.
Regulations Related to Stock Incentive Plans
SAFE promulgated the Circular of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange on Issues concerning the Administration of Foreign Exchange Used for Domestic Individuals’ Participation in Equity Incentive Plans of Companies Listed Overseas, or the Stock Option Rules in February 2012, replacing the previous rules issued by SAFE in March 2007. Under the Stock Option Rules and other relevant rules and regulations, PRC residents as defined therein who participate in stock incentive plan in an overseas publicly-listed company are required to register with SAFE or its local branches and complete certain other procedures. Participants of a stock incentive plan who are PRC residents must retain a qualified PRC agent, which could be a PRC subsidiary of the overseas publicly listed company or another qualified institution selected by the PRC subsidiary, to conduct the SAFE registration and other procedures with respect to the stock incentive plan on behalf of the participants. In addition, the PRC agent is required to amend the SAFE registration with respect to the stock incentive plan if there is any material change to the stock incentive plan, the PRC agent or other material changes. The PRC agent must, on behalf of the PRC residents who have the right to exercise the employee share options, apply to SAFE or its local branches for an annual quota for the payment of foreign currencies in connection with the PRC residents’ exercise of the employee share options. The foreign exchange proceeds received by the PRC residents from the sale of shares under the stock incentive plans granted and dividends distributed by the overseas listed companies must be remitted into the bank accounts in China opened by the PRC agents before distribution to such PRC residents.
In addition, the State Administration of Taxation, or the SAT, has issued certain circulars concerning employee share options or restricted shares. Under these circulars, the employees working in China who exercise share options or are granted restricted shares will be subject to PRC individual income tax. The PRC subsidiaries of such overseas listed company have obligations to file documents related to employee share options or restricted shares with relevant tax authorities and to withhold individual income taxes of those employees who exercise their share options. If the employees fail to pay or the PRC subsidiaries fail to withhold their income taxes according to relevant laws and regulations, the PRC subsidiaries may face sanctions imposed by the tax authorities or other PRC government authorities.
Regulations Related to Dividend Distribution
The principal regulations governing distribution of dividends of foreign holding companies include the PRC Company Law that was promulgated in 1993 and latest amended in 2018, and the Foreign Investment Law that was effective from January 1, 2020. Under these regulations, foreign investment enterprises in China may pay dividends only out of their accumulated profits, if any, determined in accordance with PRC accounting standards and regulations. In addition, foreign investment enterprises in China are required to set aside as statutory reserve funds at least 10% of its
after-tax
profit, until the cumulative amount of such reserve funds reaches 50% of its registered capital. A PRC company is not permitted to distribute any profits until any losses from prior fiscal years have been offset. Profits retained from prior fiscal years may be distributed together with distributable profits from the current fiscal year.
 
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Regulations Related to Taxation
Enterprise Income Tax
In March 2007, the National People’s Congress enacted the Enterprise Income Tax Law, and in December 2007, the State Council promulgated the Implementing Rules of the Enterprise Income Tax Law, or the Implementing Rules, both of which became effective on January 1, 2008, while the Enterprise Income Tax Law was further amended by SCNPC on February 24, 2017 and on December 29, 2018, and the Implementing Rules was last amended on April 23, 2019. The Enterprise Income Tax Law (i) reduces the top rate of enterprise income tax from 33% to a uniform 25% rate applicable to both foreign-invested enterprises and domestic enterprises and eliminates many of the preferential tax policies afforded to foreign investors, (ii) permits companies to continue to enjoy their existing tax incentives, subject to certain transitional
phase-out
rules and (iii) introduces new tax incentives, subject to various qualification criteria. Enterprises qualified as “High-Tech Enterprises” are entitled to a 15% enterprise income tax rate rather than the 25% uniform statutory tax rate. The preferential tax treatment continues as long as an enterprise can retain its “High-Tech Enterprise” status.
The Enterprise Income Tax Law also provides that enterprises organized under the laws of jurisdictions outside China with their “de facto management bodies” located within China may be considered PRC resident enterprises and therefore be subject to PRC enterprise income tax at the rate of 25% on their worldwide income. The Implementing Rules further define the term “de facto management body” as the management body that exercises substantial and overall management and control over the production and operations, personnel, accounts and properties of an enterprise. If an enterprise organized under the laws of jurisdiction outside China is considered a PRC resident enterprise for PRC enterprise income tax purposes, a number of unfavorable PRC tax consequences could follow. First, it would be subject to the PRC enterprise income tax at the rate of 25% on its worldwide income. Second, a 10% withholding tax would be imposed on dividends it pays to its
non-PRC
enterprise shareholders and a 10% tax would apply with respect to gains derived by its
non-PRC
enterprise shareholders from transfer of its shares. In addition,
non-PRC
resident enterprises without any branches in China are subject to enterprise income tax in connection with their gains from PRC source at a rate of 10%.
According to the Enterprise Income Tax Law, dividends generated after January 1, 2008 and payable by a foreign-invested enterprise in China to its foreign enterprise investors are subject to a 10% withholding tax, unless any such foreign investor’s jurisdiction of incorporation has a tax treaty with China that provides for a preferential withholding arrangement. Pursuant to the Notice of the State Administration of Taxation on Negotiated Reduction of Dividends and Interest Rates, which was issued on January 29, 2008 and supplemented and revised on February 29, 2008, and the Arrangement between Mainland China and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region for the Avoidance of Double Taxation and Prevention of Fiscal Evasion with Respect to Taxes on Income, which became effective on December 8, 2006 and applies to income derived in any year of assessment commencing on or after April 1, 2007 in Hong Kong and in any year commencing on or after January 1, 2007 in China, such withholding tax rate may be lowered to 5% if a Hong Kong enterprise is deemed the beneficial owner of any dividend paid by a PRC subsidiary by PRC tax authorities and holds at least 25% of the equity interests in that particular PRC subsidiary at all times within the
12-month
period immediately before distribution of the dividends. The SAT issued the Announcement of the State Administration of Taxation on Issues concerning “Beneficial Owners” in Tax Treaties, or SAT Announcement 9, which became effective from April 1 2018, replacing Notice on the Interpretation and Recognition of Beneficial Owners in Tax Treaties, or SAT Notice 601, SAT Announcement 9 stipulates that in determining whether a
non-resident
enterprise has the status as a beneficial owner, comprehensive analysis shall be conducted based on the factors listed therein and the actual circumstances of the specific case shall be taken into consideration. Specifically, it expressly excludes an agent or a designated payee from being considered as a “beneficial owner.” Pursuant to the Notice of the State Administration of Taxation on the Issues concerning the Application of the Dividend Clauses of Tax Agreements, or SAT Circular 81, a Hong Kong resident enterprise must meet the following conditions, among others, in order to apply the reduced withholding tax rate: (i) it must be a company; (ii) it must directly own the required percentage of equity interests and voting rights in the PRC resident enterprise; and (iii) it must have directly owned such required percentage in the PRC resident enterprise throughout the 12 months prior to receiving the dividends. In August 2015, the State Administration of Taxation promulgated the Administrative Measures for
Non-resident
Taxpayers to Enjoy Treatment under Tax Treaties, or SAT Circular 60, which became effective on November 1, 2015. SAT Circular 60 provides that
non-resident
enterprises are not required to
obtain pre-approval from
the relevant tax authority in order to enjoy the reduced withholding tax. Instead,
non-resident
enterprises and their withholding agents may, by self-assessment and on confirmation that the prescribed criteria to enjoy the tax treaty benefits are met, directly apply the reduced withholding tax rate, and file necessary forms and supporting documents when performing tax filings, which will be subject
to post-tax filing
examinations by the relevant tax authorities. The State Administration of Taxation promulgated the Administrative Measures for
Non-resident
Taxpayers to Enjoy Treatment under Treaties, or SAT Circular 35, which became effective on January 1, 2020 and replaced the Circular 60. SAT Circular 35 reiterates that that
non-resident
enterprises are not required to
obtain pre-approval from
the relevant tax authority in order to enjoy the reduced withholding tax and may apply the reduced withholding tax rate upon self-assessment. Comparing to the SAT Circular 60, the SAT Circular 35 does not require the
non-resident
enterprises to file the supporting documents when performing tax filing, instead, the
non-resident
enterprises are required to retain the supporting documents for the
post-tax
filing examinations by the relevant tax authorities. Accordingly, LingoChamp (HK) Limited may be able to benefit from the 5% withholding tax rate for the dividends it receives from Yuguan, Yuling and Shenzhen Yuguan, if it satisfies the conditions prescribed under SAT Circular 81 and other relevant tax rules and regulations. However, according to SAT Circular 81 and SAT Circular 35, if the relevant tax authorities consider the transactions or arrangements we have are for the primary purpose of enjoying a favorable tax treatment, the relevant tax authorities may adjust the favorable withholding tax in the future.
 
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In January 2009, the SAT promulgated the Provisional Measures for the Administration of Withholding of Enterprise Income Tax for
Non-resident
Enterprises, or the
Non-resident
Enterprises Measures, pursuant to which entities that have direct obligation to make certain payments to a
non-resident
enterprise shall be the relevant tax withholders for such
non-resident
enterprise. Further, the
Non-resident
Enterprises Measures provides that, in case of an equity transfer between two
non-resident
enterprises which occurs outside China, the
non-resident
enterprise which receives the equity transfer payment shall, by itself or engage an agent to, file a tax declaration with the PRC tax authority located at the place of the PRC company whose equity has been transferred, and the PRC company whose equity has been transferred shall assist the tax authorities to collect taxes from the relevant
non-resident
enterprise. On April 30, 2009, the Ministry of Finance and the SAT jointly issued the Notice on Issues Concerning Process of Enterprise Income Tax in Enterprise Restructuring Business, or Circular 59. On December 10, 2009, the SAT issued the Notice on Strengthening the Administration of the Enterprise Income Tax concerning Proceeds from Equity Transfers by
Non-resident
Enterprises, or Circular 698. Both Circular 59 and Circular 698 became effective retroactively as of January 1, 2008. By promulgating and implementing these two circulars, the PRC tax authorities have enhanced their scrutiny over the direct or indirect transfer of equity interests in a PRC resident enterprise by a
non-resident
enterprise.
On February 3, 2015, the SAT issued the Announcement of the State Administration of Taxation on Several Issues Concerning the Enterprise Income Tax on Indirect Property Transfer by
Non-resident
Enterprises, or SAT Bulletin 7, to supersede the provisions in relation to the Indirect Transfer as set forth in Circular 698. SAT Bulletin 7 introduces a new tax regime that is significantly different from that under Circular 698. Public Notice extends its tax jurisdiction to capture not only Indirect Transfer as set forth under Circular 698 but also transactions involving transfer of immovable property in China and assets held under the establishment and place in China of a foreign company through the offshore transfer of a foreign intermediate holding company. SAT Bulletin 7 also addresses transfer of the equity interests in a foreign intermediate holding company widely.
In addition, SAT Bulletin 7 provides clearer criteria than Circular 698 on how to assess reasonable commercial purposes and introduces safe harbor scenarios applicable to internal group restructurings. However, it also brings challenges to both the foreign transferor and transferee of the Indirect Transfer as set forth in Circular 698 as they have to make self-assessment on whether the transaction should be subject to PRC tax and to file or withhold the PRC tax accordingly.
On October 17, 2017, the SAT issued the Announcement of the State Administration of Taxation on Issues Concerning the Withholding of
Non-resident
Enterprise Income Tax at Source, or SAT Bulletin 37, which came into effect and superseded Circular 698 on December 1, 2017. The SAT Bulletin 37 further clarifies the practice and procedure of the withholding of
non-resident
enterprise income tax. Among other things, the SAT Bulletin 37 provides that:
 
   
for the income from equity investment assets, the competent tax authority for the income tax of the invested enterprise shall be the competent tax authority, while for the income from the dividends, extra dividends and other equity investment, the competent tax authority for the income tax of the enterprise distributing the income shall be the competent tax authority;
 
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the withholding obligator shall declare and pay the withheld tax to the competent tax authority in the place where such withholding obligator is located within 7 days from the date of occurrence of the withholding obligation;
 
   
where the income obtained by the withholding obligator and required to be withheld at source is in the form of dividends, extra dividends or any other equity investment gains, the date of occurrence of the obligation for withholding relevant payable tax is the date of actual payment of the dividends, extra dividends or other equity investment gains;
 
   
for the income tax required to be withheld under Article 37 of the Enterprise Income Tax Law, if the withholding obligator fails to withhold in accordance with the law or is unable to perform withholding obligation, the
non-resident
enterprise obtaining the income shall declare and pay the tax not withheld to the competent tax authority of the place of the occurrence of the income in accordance with Article 39 of the Enterprise Income Tax Law and complete the Form of Report on Withholding of Enterprise Income Tax of the People’s Republic of China; where the
non-resident
enterprise fails to declare and pay tax in accordance with Article 39 of the Enterprise Income Tax Law, the tax authority may order it to pay the tax within a specified time limit and the
non-resident
enterprise shall declare and pay the tax within the time limit determined by the tax authority; the
non-resident
enterprise that declares and pays the tax voluntarily before the tax authority orders it to pay tax within a specified time limit shall be deemed as having paid tax as scheduled;
 
   
the competent tax authority may require the taxpayer, withholding obligator and relevant parties with knowledge of relevant information to provide the contracts and other relevant materials relating to the withholding of tax;
 
   
where the withholding obligator fails to withhold the tax required to be withheld under Article 37 of the Enterprise Income Tax Law, the competent tax authority of the place where the withholding agent is located shall order the withholding obligator to make up for the withholding of tax in accordance with Article 23 of the Administrative Punishment Law of the People’s Republic of China and hold the withholding agent liable in accordance with the law; if recovery of tax payment from the taxpayer is necessary, the competent tax authority of the place where the income occurs shall implement the recovery in accordance with the law. If the place where the withholding obligator is located is different from the place where the income occurs, the competent tax authority of the place of occurrence of the income that is responsible for recovering the tax payment shall give notice to the competent tax authority of the place where the withholding obligator is located for verifying relevant information. The competent tax authority of the place where the withholding agent is located shall, within 5 working days from the date.
Value-Added Tax and Business Tax
Pursuant to applicable PRC tax regulations, any entity or individual conducting business in the service industry was generally required to pay a business tax at the rate of 5% on the revenues generated from providing such services. However, if the services provided are related to technology development and transfer, such business tax may be exempted subject to approval by the relevant tax authorities. Whereas, pursuant to the Provisional Regulations on PRC Value-Added Tax and its implementation regulations, unless otherwise specified by relevant laws and regulations, any entity or individual engaged in the sales of goods, provision of processing, repairs and replacement services and importation of goods into China is generally required to pay a value-added tax, or VAT, for revenues generated from sales of products, while qualified input VAT paid on taxable purchase can be offset against such output VAT.
In November 2011, the Ministry of Finance and the State Administration of Taxation promulgated the Pilot Plan for Imposition of Value-Added Tax to Replace Business Tax. In March 2016, the Ministry of Finance and the State Administration of Taxation further promulgated the Notice on Fully Promoting the Pilot Plan for Replacing Business Tax by Value-Added Tax, which became effective on May 1, 2016 and was subsequently amended on July 11, 2017 and March 20, 2019. Pursuant to the pilot plan and relevant notices, VAT is generally imposed in lieu of business tax in the modern service industries, including the value-added telecommunications services, on a nationwide basis. VAT of a rate of 6% applies to revenue derived from the provision of some modern services. Unlike business tax, a taxpayer is allowed to offset the qualified input VAT paid on taxable purchases against the output VAT chargeable on the modern services provided.
 
71

Regulations Related to M&A and Overseas Listings
On August 8, 2006, six PRC regulatory agencies, including the Ministry of Commerce, the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission, the SAT, the SAIC, the CSRC, and SAFE, jointly issued the M&A Rules, which became effective on September 8, 2006 and was amended on June 22, 2009. The M&A Rules, among other things, require that (i) PRC entities or individuals obtain the Ministry of Commerce approval before they establish or control an SPV overseas, provided that they intend to use the SPV to acquire their equity interests in a PRC company at the consideration of newly issued share of the SPV, or Share Swap, and list their equity interests in the PRC company overseas by listing the SPV in an overseas market; (ii) the SPV obtains the Ministry of Commerce’s approval before it acquires the equity interests held by the PRC entities or PRC individual in the PRC company by Share Swap; and (iii) the SPV obtains CSRC approval before it lists overseas.
The Anti-Monopoly Law promulgated by the SCNPC on August 30, 2007 and effective on August 1, 2008 requires that transactions which are deemed concentrations and involve parties with specified turnover thresholds must be cleared by the Ministry of Commerce before they can be completed. In addition, on February 3, 2011, the General Office of the State Council promulgated a Notice on Establishing the Security Review System for Mergers and Acquisitions of Domestic Enterprises by Foreign Investors, or Circular 6, which officially established a security review system for mergers and acquisitions of domestic enterprises by foreign investors. Further, on August 25, 2011, the Ministry of Commerce promulgated the Regulations on Implementation of Security Review System for the Merger and Acquisition of Domestic Enterprises by Foreign Investors, or the Ministry of Commerce Security Review Regulations, which became effective on September 1, 2011, to implement Circular 6. Under Circular 6, a security review is required for mergers and acquisitions by foreign investors having “national defense and security” concerns and mergers and acquisitions by which foreign investors may acquire the “de facto control” of domestic enterprises with “national security” concerns. Under the Ministry of Commerce Security Review Regulations, the Ministry of Commerce will focus on the substance and actual impact of the transaction when deciding whether a specific merger or acquisition is subject to security review. If the Ministry of Commerce decides that a specific merger or acquisition is subject to security review, it will submit it to the Inter-Ministerial Panel, an authority established under the Circular 6 led by the NDRC, and the Ministry of Commerce under the leadership of the State Council, to carry out the security review. The regulations prohibit foreign investors from bypassing the security review by structuring transactions through trusts, indirect investments, leases, loans, control through contractual arrangements or offshore transactions. The Foreign Investment Law, promulgated by the SCNPC on March 15, 2019 and effective from January 1, 2020, reiterates that China establishes a foreign investment security review system to conduct a security review of foreign investment that impacts or may impact the national security. Further, on December 19, 2020, the NDRC and the Ministry of Commerce promulgated the Measures for Security Review of Foreign Investment, or the Foreign Investment Security Review Measures, which took effect on January 18, 2021. Under the Foreign Investment Security Review Measures, foreign investment in certain key areas, including products and services of key information technology and internet, that results in acquiring the actual control of the investee, is required to obtain approval from designated governmental authorities in advance.
 
72

C.
Organizational Structure
The chart below summarizes our corporate legal structure and identifies our significant subsidiaries and other entities that are material to our business as of the date of this annual report:
 

 
Notes:
(1)
As of the date of this annual report, Dr. Yi Wang, Mr. Zheren Hu and Dr. Hui Lin collectively hold a majority of the equity interests in Shanghai Liulishuo and Shanghai Mengfan, respectively.
(2)
As of the date of this annual report, Dr. Yi Wang, Mr. Zheren Hu and Dr. Hui Lin collectively hold all of the equity interests in Mengfan Education.
Contractual Arrangements with our VIEs and Their Respective Shareholders
The following is a summary of the currently effective contractual arrangements by and among our wholly-owned subsidiary, Yuguan (our WFOE), our VIEs and their respective shareholders. Terms contained in each set of contractual arrangements with our VIEs and their respective shareholders are substantially similar. These contractual arrangements enable us to (i) exercise effective control over our VIEs; (ii) receive substantially all of the economic benefits of our VIEs; and (iii) have an exclusive call option to purchase all or part of the equity interests in and assets of our VIEs when and to the extent permitted by PRC law.
Proxy Agreements
.
Pursuant to the proxy agreements among Yuguan, our VIEs and their respective shareholders, each shareholder of our VIEs irrevocably undertakes to appoint a PRC citizen designated by Yuguan as his/its
attorney-in-fact
to exercise all of his/its rights as a shareholder of our VIEs, including, but not limited to, the right to convene and attend shareholders’ meeting, vote on any resolution that requires a shareholder vote, such as appoint or remove directors and other senior management, other voting rights pursuant to the then-effective articles of association (subject to the amendments) of our VIEs, and execute relevant equity transfer agreements and other instruments and obtain necessary governmental approval, registration or filing on behalf of the shareholders when the equity interests held by such shareholders are transferred pursuant to the exclusive call option agreements. Each proxy agreement has an initial term of 30 years and shall be automatically renewed unless otherwise notified by our WFOE.
 
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Equity Pledge Agreements.
Pursuant to the equity pledge agreements among Yuguan, our VIEs and their respective shareholders, shareholders of our VIEs shall pledge all of their respective equity interests in our VIEs to Yuguan to guarantee their and our VIEs’ performance of their and our VIEs’ obligations under the exclusive technology service agreements, the proxy agreements, the exclusive call option agreements, the equity pledge agreements and the loan agreement in relation to Mengfan Education. As of the date of this annual report, we have registered the equity pledges for Shanghai Liulishuo, Shanghai Mengfan and Mengfan Education with the local branch of the SAMR in accordance with PRC laws to perfect their respective equity pledges. After the completion of the equity pledge registrations, in the event of a breach by our VIEs or their shareholders of contractual obligations under these agreements, Yuguan, as pledgee, will have the right to dispose of the pledged equity interests in our VIEs. The shareholders of our VIEs also undertake that, during the term of the equity pledge agreement, unless otherwise approved by Yuguan in writing, they will not transfer the pledged equity interests or create or allow any new pledge or other encumbrance on the pledged equity interests.
Spousal Consent Letters.
Pursuant to the spousal consent letters, each of the spouses of the individual shareholders of our VIEs unconditionally and irrevocably agrees that the equity interests in our VIEs held by and registered in the name of her respective spouse will be disposed of pursuant to the relevant equity pledge agreement, the exclusive call option agreement and the proxy agreement, without her consent. In addition, each of them agrees not to assert any rights over the equity interests in our VIEs held by her respective spouse. In addition, in the event that any of them obtains any equity interests in our VIEs held by her respective spouse for any reason, such spouse agrees to be bound by similar obligations and agreed to enter into similar contractual arrangements.
Exclusive Technology Service Agreements.
Pursuant to the exclusive technology service agreements between Yuguan and our VIEs, respectively, Yuguan has the exclusive right to provide to our VIEs services related to, among other things, technology, internet support, operation consulting, intellectual property licensing and product development. Yuguan has the exclusive ownership of intellectual property rights created as a result of the performance of this agreement. Each of our VIEs agrees to pay Yuguan a service fee every year, at an amount reasonably determined by Yuguan considering relevant VIE’s revenue and other circumstances. This agreement will remain effective for an initial
30-year
term and will be renewed automatically except that Yuguan is entitled to terminate the agreement upon the expiration of such
30-year
term as long as a
30-day
prior written termination notice is provided to our VIEs.
Exclusive Call Option Agreements.
Pursuant to the exclusive call option agreements among Yuguan, our VIEs and their respective shareholders, the shareholders of our VIEs irrevocably grant Yuguan an exclusive option to purchase, or have its designated person to purchase, at its discretion, to the extent permitted under PRC law, all or part of their equity interests and/or assets in our VIEs, and the purchase price shall be the higher of capital contribution amount for their equity interests or net book value of such assets, as the case may be, or the lowest price permitted by applicable PRC law. The shareholders further undertake to pay to Yuguan any purchase price or other distributions they receive in relation to the equity interests they held in the VIEs, to the extent permitted by PRC law. The shareholders of our VIEs undertake that, without prior written consent of Yuguan, they will not create any pledge or encumbrance on their equity interests in our VIEs, approve any transfer or in any manner disposal of their equity interests, dispose of or cause our company management to dispose of any material assets (other than those occurring in the ordinary course of business). The shareholders of each of our VIEs agree, among other things, without prior written consent of Yuguan, not to cause the relevant VIE to merge with any other entities, increase or decrease its registered capital, declare or distribute dividends, amend its articles of association, terminate any material contract or enter into any other contract which is in conflict with any existing material contract, appoint or remove its directors, supervisors or other management, be terminated, liquidated or dissolved, lend or borrow money or provide guarantee, or undertake any substantial obligation other than those occurred during the ordinary course of business. This agreement will remain effective till all of the equity interests and other assets of the relevant VIE have been transferred to Yuguan and/or its designated person.
 
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Loan Agreement.
The equity interests holders of Mengfan Education and Yuguan also entered into a loan agreement. Pursuant to the loan agreement, Yuguan has agreed to extend an interest-free loan in an aggregate amount of RMB1.0 million to the shareholders of Mengfan Education solely for the capitalization of Mengfan Education. Pursuant to the loan agreements, Yuguan has the right to require repayment of the loans upon delivery of
thirty-day’s
prior notice to the shareholders, and the shareholders shall repay the loans by sale of their equity interests in Mengfan Education to Yuguan or its designated person(s) if required by Yuguan, or other methods as determined by the board of Yuguan.
In the opinions of Fangda Partners, our PRC legal counsel:
 
   
the ownership structures of Yuguan and our VIEs do not violate applicable PRC laws or regulations currently in effect; and
 
   
the contractual arrangements among Yuguan, our VIEs and their respective shareholders governed by PRC law are valid and binding, and do not violate applicable PRC laws or regulations currently in effect.
However, we have been further advised by our PRC legal counsel that there are substantial uncertainties regarding the interpretation and application of current and future PRC laws, regulations and rules. Accordingly, the PRC regulatory authorities may in the future take a view that is contrary to or otherwise different from the above opinions of our PRC legal counsel. If the PRC government finds that the agreements that establish the structure for operating our education business do not comply with PRC government restrictions on foreign investment in our businesses, we could be subject to severe penalties including being prohibited from continuing operations. See “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors—Risks Relating to Our Corporate Structure—We rely on contractual arrangements with our VIEs and their respective shareholders to exercise control over a significant part of our business, which may not be as effective as direct ownership in providing operational control.” And “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors—Risks Relating to Doing Business in China—Our failure to obtain, maintain or renew other licenses, approvals, permits, registrations or filings necessary to conduct our operations in China could have a material adverse impact on our business, financial conditions and results of operations.”
 
D.
Property, Plant and Equipment
Our headquarters is located in Shanghai, where we lease and occupy office space with an aggregate floor area of approximately 18,000 square meters. A substantial majority of our employees are based at our headquarters in Shanghai. We also lease and occupy office space located in Beijing and Hangzhou of China with insignificant floor area. For operational efficiency purpose, in the year ended December 31, 2020 and up to the date of this annual report, we terminated several long-term leases before the end of their terms with respect to an aggregate floor are of approximately 18,500 square meters of our office space at our headquarters and our office space in Beijing and Wuhan.
 
ITEM 4A.
UNRESOLVED STAFF COMMENTS
None.
 
ITEM 5.
OPERATING AND FINANCIAL REVIEW AND PROSPECTS
You should read the following discussion together with our consolidated financial statements and the related notes included elsewhere in this annual report on Form
20-F.
This discussion contains forward-looking statements that involve risks and uncertainties. Our actual results may differ materially from those we currently anticipate as a result of various factors, include those we describe under “Item 3. Key Information
D. Risk Factors” and elsewhere in this annual report on Form
20-F.
See “Forward-Looking Statements.”
 
A.
Operating Results
We generate our revenue primarily from providing English learning services. Our revenues were RMB637.2 million in 2018, RMB1,023.2 million in 2019, and RMB972.6 million (US$149.1 million) in 2020. We incurred net losses of RMB488.1 million in 2018, RMB574.8 million in 2019, and RMB394.8 million (US$60.5 million) in 2020.
 
75

Key Factors Affecting Our Results of Operations
Our results of operations and financial condition are affected by the general factors driving China’s private education industry. We have benefited from the rapid economic growth, significant urbanization, and higher per capita disposable income of urban households in China, which has allowed many in China to spend more disposable income on education, a category of great importance given the considerable value Chinese culture traditionally places on education. We anticipate that the demand for education will continue to grow. We have also benefited from the increasing mobile internet penetration in China. While our business is influenced by factors affecting the private education industry in China generally, we believe that our results of operations are more directly affected by company-specific factors, including the following factors.
Market acceptance of
AI-powered
educational products and services
Our products and services are primarily
AI-driven,
with AI technologies built into the core of our courses, transforming the traditional approach to education. We operate our courses and services on the mobile platform, whereas it is customary in the education industry to have
in-person
teaching in physical classrooms. The market recognition and acceptance of the concept of learning on a mobile app and from an AI teacher affects the growth of our business and revenues. Our ability to educate and show existing and potential users the value and the effectiveness of our innovative approach is and will continue to be crucial for our business growth, financial performance and prospects. Our success in competing against other education services, including English learning services and mobile-enabled education services, is primarily dependent on our ability to improve users’ learning efficiency and effectiveness, provide quality learning content and promote our brand and products and services.
Our ability to grow net revenues and gross billings
We currently derive substantially all of our net revenues from fees that we charge our users for providing online English learning services. In addition to net revenues, we consider gross billings an important indicator of the health of our business as it measures cash received from providing online English learning services, net of cash refunds paid to users. Through gross billings, we can better understand and evaluate our business performance and gain visibility of future revenues. Our net revenues and gross billings are driven by the number of our paying users and the average revenues per paying user. The growth of our paying user base is driven primarily by the growth of the number of active users and our ability to convert a greater portion of our active users into paying users. Our average revenue per paying user is primarily affected by the pricing of our courses and services and our revenue mix.
We analyze the following financial and operating metrics to evaluate our business results and operating performance, and make business plans and strategic decisions.
 
    
2018
    
2019
    
2020
 
Gross billings
     RMB986.6 million        RMB1,294.3 million        RMB1,087.1 million  
Net revenues
     RMB637.2 million        RMB1,023.2 million        RMB972.6 million  
Paying users
     2.5 million        3.0 million        2.4 million  
We plan to expand into new markets and countries with high growth potential by increasing customer acquisition channels and developing new curriculum contents. In terms of enterprise learning services, we plan to utilize AI technology to provide corporate customers with customized solutions and professional talent training systems tailored to specific industries.
Our ability to manage our cost of revenues
Our ability to manage cost of revenues directly affects our profitability. We had cost of revenues of RMB174.7 million, RMB273.5 million and RMB277.2 million (US$42.5 million) in 2018, 2019 and 2020, respectively. Our cost of revenues mainly consist of IT service cost, content-related cost and service fees paid to contracted human teachers for our DongNi Select premium services. We expect to continue to optimize our spending on IT service cost, streamline our staffing and improve our productivity and efficiency, aiming to gradually reduce our cost as a percentage of our revenues.
 
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Our ability to improve sales and marketing efficiency
Sales and marketing is critical to our business as we need to educate the market about the benefits of our
AI-powered
learning products and services as well as grow our user base. We had sales and marketing expenses of RMB705.4 million, RMB969.4 million and RMB801.4 million (US$122.8 million) in 2018, 2019 and 2020, respectively. Our sales and marketing expenses have become a significant majority of our total operating expenses. Our ability to lower such expenses as a percentage of net revenues depends on our ability to improve sales and marketing efficiency, such as acquiring users in a cost-effective manner, automating certain tasks performed by OSAs, and leveraging existing brand value and
word-of-mouth
promotions. We expect our sales and marketing expenses as a percentage of our revenues to gradually decrease as we continue to enhance our brand image and grow our user base, reduce our user acquisition costs through diversifying our means of user acquisition, and increase the productivity of our OSAs through more effective and optimized management.
Our ability to develop and leverage our AI capabilities in a cost-effective manner
We have developed proprietary AI technologies and built a team of AI experts. Our ability to leverage our AI capabilities to develop and enhance our products and services in a cost-effective manner affects our revenues and results of operations. Our research and development expenses were RMB155.2 million, RMB213.9 million and RMB190.7 million (US$29.2 million) in 2018, 2019 and 2020, respectively. As we continue to develop and enhance our AI technologies, products and services, big data capabilities and technology infrastructure, we expect to continue our investments in the research and development of these areas.
Impact of
COVID-19
on Our Operations
Our results of operations and financial condition may be affected by the spread of
COVID-19.
Although China had substantially controlled the spread of
COVID-19
by the end of 2020, the extent to which
COVID-19
impacts our results of operations will depend on the future developments of the outbreak which are highly uncertain.
In response to the initial spread of
COVID-19,
the Chinese government has taken a number of actions, which included compulsory quarantining arrangement, travel restrictions, remote work arrangement and public activities restrictions, among others.
COVID-19
also resulted in temporary closure of many corporate offices, retail stores, manufacturing facilities and factories across China and around the world. We have also taken a series of measures in response to the initial outbreak, including, among others, remote working arrangements for some of our employees and temporary closure of our offices from late January to late February 2020. These measures have temporarily reduced the capacity and efficiency of our operations, which negatively affected our results of operations. The measures and timing for business resumption varied across different localities in the PRC, and we gradually resumed normal operation in February 2020. We have taken measures to reduce the impact of the
COVID-19
pandemic, including strictly implementing self-quarantine and disinfection measures at our headquarters in accordance with government-issued protocols. Other than that, we have not experienced material disruption or adverse impact caused by
COVID-19
to our business, results of operation or financial condition.
Key Components of Results of Operations
Net revenues
Our revenues are generated from providing online English learning services. We primarily offer two types of course packages, namely prepaid standard courses and prepaid multiple course packages. Prepaid standard courses, such as DongNi English, DongNi English A+ and Kids Course, allow users to purchase courses to be consumed over a certain period of time. Our DongNi Select premium services are provided in the form of prepaid multiple course packages, including prepaid standard courses, and course credits for online streaming courses with contracted human teachers. Such packages allow users to purchase multiple courses for use before a certain expiration date. Our paying users purchase the services by subscribing to our course packages directly from our platform or through online commerce platform partners. Subscription fees are generally paid in advance, initially recorded as deferred revenues and recognized as revenues when revenue recognition criteria are met. In 2018, 2019 and 2020, we generated net revenues of RMB637.2 million, RMB1,023.2 million and RMB972.6 million (US$149.1 million), respectively. As of December 31, 2018, 2019 and 2020, we had RMB477.6 million RMB696.0 million and RMB746.2 million (US$114.4 million) of deferred revenues and long-term deferred revenue, respectively.
 
77

Cost of revenues
Our cost of revenues primarily consist of expenditures incurred in the generation of our revenue, mainly consisting of IT service cost, service fees paid to contracted human teachers for our DongNi Select premium services, rental expenses and content-related cost. We had cost of revenues of RMB174.7 million, RMB273.5 million and RMB277.2 million (US$42.5 million) in 2018, 2019 and 2020, respectively.
Operating expenses
The following table sets forth the components of our operating expenses by amounts and percentages of net revenues for the periods presented:
 
    
Year Ended December 31,
 
    
2018
   
2019
   
2020
 
    
RMB
   
%
   
RMB
   
%
   
RMB
   
US$
   
%
 
    
(in thousands, except for percentages)
 
Operating expenses:
              
Sales and marketing expenses
     (705,414     (110.7     (969,401     (94.7     (801,362     (122,814     (82.4
Research and development expenses
     (155,154     (24.3     (213,866     (20.9     (190,711     (29,228     (19.6
General and administrative expenses
     (65,423     (10.3     (153,507     (15.0     (111,004     (17,012     (11.4
  
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
 
Total operating expenses
  
 
(925,991
 
 
(145.3
 
 
(1,336,774
 
 
(130.6
 
 
(1,103,077
 
 
(169,054
 
 
(113.4
Our sales and marketing expenses consist primarily of (i) branding and marketing expenses, (ii) salaries and benefits for sales and marketing personnel including OSAs, (iii) commissions to online commerce platform partners for operations of our
e-stores
on their platforms and commissions to distribution channels (app stores), (iv) payment processing expenses, (v) rewards to users related to our user incentive programs (vi) reward to registered users related to incentive programs and (vii) rental expenses associated with sales and marketing personnel. We had sales and marketing expenses of RMB705.4 million, RMB969.4 million and RMB801.4 million (US$122.8 million) in 2018, 2019 and 2020, respectively. We expect our sales and marketing expenses as a percentage of our revenues to gradually decrease as we continue to enhance our brand image and grow our user base, reduce our user acquisition costs through diversifying our means of user acquisition, and increase the productivity of our OSAs through more effective and optimized management.
Our research and development expenses consist primarily of (i) salaries and benefits for research and development personnel, (ii) rental expenses associated with research and development personnel and (iii) depreciation of office premise and servers utilized by research and development personnel. Our research and development expenses were RMB155.2 million, RMB213.9 million and RMB190.7 million (US$29.2 million) in 2018, 2019 and 2020, respectively. As we continue to develop and enhance our AI technologies, products and services, big data capabilities and technology infrastructure, we expect to continue our investments in the research and development of these areas.
Our general and administrative expenses consist primarily of (i) salaries and benefits for general and administrative personnel, (ii) rental expenses associated with general and administrative personnel, (iii) general office expenses and (iv) professional service fees. Our general and administrative expenses were RMB65.4 million, RMB153.5 million and RMB111.0 million (US$17.0 million) in 2018, 2019 and 2020, respectively. We expect our general and administrative expenses as a percentage to our revenues to gradually decrease as we continue to improve the efficiency of our operational management.
Taxation
We are subject to various rates of income tax under different jurisdictions. The following summarizes major factors affecting our applicable tax rates in the Cayman Islands, Hong Kong, the United States and the PRC.
 
78

Cayman Islands
According to Maples and Calder (Hong Kong) LLP, our Cayman Islands counsel, the Cayman Islands currently levies no taxes on individuals or corporations based upon profits, income, gains or appreciation and there is no taxation in the nature of inheritance tax or estate duty. There are no other taxes likely to be material to us levied by the government of the Cayman Islands except for stamp duties which may be applicable on instruments executed in, or after execution, brought within the jurisdiction of the Cayman Islands. In addition, the Cayman Islands does not impose withholding tax on dividend payments.
Hong Kong
Our subsidiary in Hong Kong is subject to Hong Kong profits tax rate of 16.5% on its estimated assessable profit for its activities conducted in Hong Kong. Dividends income received from subsidiaries in China are not subject to Hong Kong profits tax.
United States
Our subsidiary incorporated in Delaware, LingoChamp US Inc., is subject to U.S. corporate income tax on its taxable income at a rate of up to 21% for taxable years beginning after December 31, 2017 and U.S. corporate income tax on its taxable income of up to 35% for prior tax years.
PRC
Generally, our PRC subsidiaries and VIEs are subject to enterprise income tax on their taxable income at a statutory rate of 25% in China. The enterprise income tax is calculated based on the entity’s global income as determined under PRC tax laws and accounting standards. Yuguan and Shanghai Liulishuo each obtained its certificate of “High and New Technology Enterprises,” or HNTE, with a valid period of three years in 2017. Each is therefore eligible to enjoy a preferential tax rate of 15% from 2017 to 2019 to the extent it has taxable income under the PRC Enterprise Income Tax Law, as long as it maintains the HNTE qualification and duly conducts relevant enterprise income tax filing procedures with the relevant tax authority. Yuguan and Shanghai Liulishuo each renewed its HNTE qualification in 2020 with a valid period of three years from 2020 to 2022. Certain PRC subsidiary and VIE are entitled to a preferential tax treatment as a “Small-scaled Enterprise” and thus enjoy a reduced tax rate of 20% on 50% of its taxable income in 2017. In 2018 and 2019, such subsidiary and VIE did not meet the standards of “Small-scaled Enterprise” and were subject to tax rate of 25% of its taxable income. In 2020, certain PRC subsidiary and VIEs of our company are entitled to a preferential tax treatment as a “Small and Thin Profit Enterprise” and enjoyed a reduced tax rate of 20% on 25% or 50% of its taxable income, as appropriate, in 2020.
We are subject to value-added tax at a rate of 6%, less any deductible value-added tax we have already paid or borne. We are also subject to surcharges on value-added tax payments in accordance with PRC law. Besides, certain PRC subsidiaries and VIEs of our company are small-scale taxpayers, which are subject to 3% VAT rate (1% VAT rate from March 1, 2020 to December 31, 2020) without deductible VAT.
Dividends paid by our wholly foreign-owned subsidiaries in China to our intermediary holding company in Hong Kong will be subject to a withholding tax rate of 10%, unless the relevant Hong Kong entity satisfies all the requirements under the Arrangement between China and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region on the Avoidance of Double Taxation and Prevention of Fiscal Evasion with respect to Taxes on Income and Capital and receives approval from the relevant tax authority. If our Hong Kong subsidiary satisfies all the requirements under the tax arrangement and receives approval from the relevant tax authority, then the dividends paid to the Hong Kong subsidiary would be subject to withholding tax at the standard rate of 5%. Effective from November 1, 2015, the above mentioned approval requirement has been abolished, but a Hong Kong entity is still required to file an application package with the relevant tax authority, and settle the overdue taxes if the preferential 5% tax rate is denied based on the subsequent review of the application package by the relevant tax authority. See “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors—Risks Relating to Our Corporate Structure—We may not be able to obtain certain benefits under the relevant tax arrangement for dividends paid by our PRC subsidiaries to us through our Hong Kong subsidiary.”
If our holding company in the Cayman Islands or any of our subsidiaries outside of China were deemed to be a “resident enterprise” under the PRC Enterprise Income Tax Law, it would be subject to enterprise income tax on its worldwide income at a rate of 25%. See “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors—Risks Relating to Doing Business in China—If we are classified as a PRC resident enterprise for PRC income tax purposes or gains realized with respect to our ADSs or shares are deemed to be from PRC sources, we and our
non-PRC
shareholders or ADS holders could be subject to unfavorable tax consequences.”
 
79

Critical Accounting Policies and Management Estimates
An accounting policy is considered critical if it requires an accounting estimate to be made based on assumptions about matters that are highly uncertain at the time such estimate is made, and if different accounting estimates that reasonably could have been used, or changes in the accounting estimates that are reasonably likely to occur periodically, could materially impact the consolidated financial statements.
We prepare our financial statements in conformity with U.S. GAAP, which requires us to make judgments, estimates and assumptions. We continually evaluate these estimates and assumptions based on the most recently available information, our own historical experience and various other assumptions that we believe to be reasonable under the circumstances. Since the use of estimates is an integral component of the financial reporting process, actual results could differ from our expectations as a result of changes in our estimates. Some of our accounting policies require a higher degree of judgment than others in their application and require us to make significant accounting estimates.
The following descriptions of critical accounting policies, judgments and estimates should be read in conjunction with our consolidated financial statements and accompanying notes and other disclosures included in this annual report. When reviewing our financial statements, you should consider (i) our selection of critical accounting policies, (ii) the judgments and other uncertainties affecting the application of such policies and (iii) the sensitivity of reported results to changes in conditions and assumptions.
Consolidation of VIEs
Our consolidated financial statements include the financial statements of LAIX Inc. (formerly known as LingoChamp Inc.), its subsidiaries and its VIEs. All profits, transactions and balances among the foregoing entities have been eliminated upon consolidation.
PRC laws and regulations restrict foreign ownership in value-added telecommunication services and other internet-related business. Due to these restrictions, we conduct substantially all of our operations in China through contractual arrangements among our WFOE, our VIEs and the shareholders of our VIEs. As a result of these contractual arrangements, the shareholders of our VIEs irrevocably granted our WFOE the power to exercise all voting rights to which they were entitled. In addition, our WFOE has the option to acquire all of the equity interests in the VIEs, to the extent permitted by then-effective PRC laws and regulations, for
pre-agreed
consideration, who shall in turn pay such consideration back to our WFOE. Finally, our WFOE is entitled to receive service fees for certain services to be provided to the VIEs in an amount at our WFOE’s discretion. We therefore concluded that we are the primary beneficiary of our VIEs. As such, we consolidate the results of operations of the VIEs in our consolidated financial statements.
Revenue recognition
We primarily offer two types of prepaid course packages, namely prepaid standard courses and prepaid multiple course packages. Our DongNi English standard courses, DongNi English A+ and Kids Course allow users to purchase courses to be consumed over a certain period of time. Our DongNi Select premium services are provided in the form of prepaid multiple course packages, including prepaid standard courses and course credits for online streaming courses with contracted human teachers. Such packages allow users to purchase multiple courses for their use before a certain expiration date. Our users purchase the courses by subscribing to them either directly from our platform or through our online commerce platform partners. Subscription fees are generally paid in advance and are initially recorded as deferred revenue.
For users who withdraw from contracts with us, we refund subscription fees corresponding to any remaining undelivered learning services. Withdrawals are recorded as reductions of the deferred revenue related to subscription fees received in advance and have no impact on recognized revenue.
 
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We have assessed all variable considerations identified when determining the transaction price, taking into account the various forms that such variable considerations may take. We selectively offer performance-based or behavior-based refunds to incentivize our registered users to purchase prepaid course packages. The amount of refund is fixed and
pre-determined
which may be larger than the subscription fee. In the case that refund amount is larger than customer’s individual cumulative revenue basis, we recognize such negative revenue as selling expenses. We have two types of revenue models—the
non-refundable
course model and the refundable course model. Revenues for the
non-refundable
course model are recognized ratably over the contractual course period as services are provided. Under the refundable course model, a user is eligible to obtain a refund if the user achieves certain agreed performance goals or behavior goals, including completing a minimum number of learning hours within a set period of time, sharing a minimum number of courses on social media within the contractual course period, achieving various measures of learning efficiency and receiving a certain overall score for each course in the package. Based on our historical records of performance-based or behavior-based refunds, we estimate a refund rate that constitutes a reduction of the transaction price when recognizing revenues ratably as services are provided over the contractual course period we review and supervise the refund rate on a periodic basis. By adjusting the difficulty level of the exams in the packages, we are able to maintain a stable performance-based refund rate, which constitutes a reasonable and reliable basis for us to estimate and calculate the amount of the refund. When there are no sufficient historical records for our estimation on behavior-based funds rate, revenue will not be recognized until uncertainty associated with the variable considerations is resolved. Except for the aforementioned performance-based or behavior-based refunds to our customers, no other circumstance causes variability in the consideration promised in the online courses offered by us.
We recognize revenue on a gross basis as we meet the standard of a principal having control over the service or directing the service.
Prepaid standard courses
Prepaid standard courses range from 30 days to 1,080 days. A user can access the standard courses without limit within such user’s fixed contract period. Revenue is recognized on a straight-line basis over the contractual course period.
Prepaid multiple course packages
Prepaid multiple course packages typically range from 180 days to 360 days. Each type of course is a separate unit of accounting, as each type has a distinct nature with different patterns and measurements of transfer to users.
We determine the standalone selling price for each type of course in the package and allocate the transaction price based on the relative value of each type of course in the arrangement, if applicable. The best evidence of standalone selling price is the price we charge for a certain type of course when we sell it separately under similar circumstances to similar users. For a type of course that is not being sold separately, we determine the value of each type based on its cost plus an expected margin.
For the standard courses included in prepaid multiple course packages, revenue is recognized on a straight-line basis over the contractual course period. For those online streaming courses, revenue is recognized when the course credit is consumed with estimates for breakage from unconsumed courses at contract expiration. The expected breakage amount is recognized as revenue in proportion to the pattern of course credits consumed by the customers based on actual breakage data we have accumulated. The expected breakage amount is updated on a periodic basis.
Other courses
We also provide other courses, such as Authentic Pronunciation and IELTS speaking practice tests. Revenues are recognized ratably over a fixed term of the agreement or an estimated viewership period as services are provided.
 
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User Incentive Program
We have incentive programs for our registered users to enhance user stickiness and to incentivize users. We offer points to registered users who refer new users to our platform, or when they participate in various activities in our mobile app. Users can redeem the points for free gifts. The estimated incremental costs related to free gifts are recognized as sales and marketing expenses.
Share-based compensation
Share-based compensation expenses arise from share-based awards, including share options for the purchase of ordinary shares. We account for share-based awards granted to employees in accordance with ASC 718 Stock Compensation. For share options for the purchase of ordinary shares granted to employees classified as equity awards, the related share-based compensation expenses are recognized in the consolidated financial statements based on the fair value of the awards on the grant date, which is calculated using the binomial option pricing model. The determination of the fair value is affected by the share price as well as assumptions regarding a number of complex and subjective variables, including the expected share price volatility, actual and projected employee share option exercise behavior, risk-free interest rates and expected dividends. The fair value of the ordinary shares is assessed using the income approach/discounted cash flow method, with a discount for lack of marketability, given that the shares underlying the awards were not publicly traded at the time of grant. Share-based compensation expenses are recorded net of estimated forfeitures using straight-line method in accordance with the service period requirement, such that expenses are recorded only for those share-based awards that are expected to ultimately vest. The details of these share-based awards and the respective terms and conditions are described in “Share-based compensation” in Note 16 to our audited consolidated financial statements for the years ended December 31, 2018, 2019 and 2020, which are included elsewhere in this annual report on Form
20-F.
As of December 31, 2020, there were RMB59.3 million of unrecognized share-based compensation expenses related to share options granted to the employees and directors, which were expected to be recognized over a weighted-average vesting period of 2.08 years.
In 2020, we recorded compensation expenses of RMB29.0 million for the share options granted to our employees and directors under the 2014 Plan and 2018 Plan.
Fair value of our ordinary shares
We are a public company listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Subsequent to the completion of our initial public offering, fair value of the ordinary shares is the price of our publicly traded shares.
The following table sets forth the fair value of our ordinary shares estimated prior to the completion of our initial public offering, taking into account independent valuation advice: