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China’s Censors Leap to Defense of Failed State-Run Search Engine

In China’s competitive search engine market, three of them are state-run products. Unfortunately for authorities, who want to control every aspect of what Chinese people consume and say on the web, netizens reckon that these search engines suck. That’s why one of them, Jike.com, is said to have a mere 0.0001 percent market share of all web searches in the country.

China Jike state-run search engine

Jike’s frontpage. Click to enlarge.

Authorities, who are effectively also China’s web censors, don’t want news of Jike’s failure getting out. Along with rumors of Jike – which is run by People’s Daily Online, which also publishes the Party mouthpiece newspaper, the People’s Daily – planning to lay off 100 workers, censors are putting pressure on websites and social sites not to cover the news. The small Chinese tech blog that broke the news, Huxiu.com, was forced to take down its article, but it lives on in English on the site’s repository of occasional translations.

Plus, it turns out the the Jike bad news was the reason for one of China’s top entrepreneurs and investors, Kaifu Lee, being suspended from Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo for three days. Lee’s temporary ban seems to have been caused by his criticism of Jike’s chairman, well-known Olympic table tennis champion Deng Yaping, for her failure to turn RMB 2 billion (US$318 million) of investment – presumably with taxpayer money – into anything other than a flop that’s used by pretty much nobody. Deng had little prior experience running a web company.

A waste of taxpayer’s money?

Let’s remember that all China’s search engines – except the renegade and oft-blocked Google.com.hk – already censor search results in line with the country’s increasingly heavy media monitoring and censoring. So the three state search sites – Jike, Panguso, and CCTV Search – just look like very expensive ways of cutting out the inconvenient middle-man (aka: the private sector) so as to streamline the Party angle on all news. Chinese consumers, however, have decided that they want to stick to the search engines – like Baidu (the market leader), Qihoo’s 360 Search, Soso, Apple’s Siri, and Google – that are already embedded in their web browsers and smartphones. And that won’t change unless the nation goes full-on North Korea.

As for Jike, it’s strongly denying that a quarter of its current 400-strong workforce is about to be laid off.

It appears that the media censors are defending state-run Jike. The Huxiu blog explained in English what happened to its controversial article:

In the noon of February 17, 2013, Huxiu.com received mail from the relevant departments that request us to delete the Jike Search article reports. Soon after, we found all the reprinted articles that on the Chinese Internet community within the scope were disappeared, at the same time, related information on weibo was also lost. That afternoon, Huxiu.com published another article try to analysis the gain and loss for Jike Search under Deng’s management. Again, Huxiu received another mail from the relevant departments that request to delete the article. Without any effect negotiations with the relevant departments after inconclusive, Huxiu is forced to remove this article.

This morning, in the midst of yet another messy and massively depressing media and censorship scandal – after last month’s huge blow-up over the Southern Weekend‘s spiked editorial – Kaifu Lee reaffirmed his belief in Chinese social media – though he had to do so on LinkedIn due to his ongoing Weibo ban. He defended the robustness of China’s social media landscape, and pointed out how he – and many others – had voiced their opinions online recently:

In the past three years, I’ve been one of the most vocal members of the Chinese social media, and have accumulated 30 million followers on Sina (and another 24 million on Tencent Weibo). I am not an activist and have no agenda. I am regarded as a moderate but direct microblogger. People follow me because of my content (covering parenting, leadership, personal growth, current events, high tech, investing, overseas news), my style (I tell it like it is, and work hard to tell a good story despite limited keystrokes), and my diligence (I tweet every day 10-20 times, except last few days!).

(Sources: Huxiu, Shanghaiist, and PandoDaily)

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