Minnie Wang
May 9, 2024

Baidu PR head apologises after backlash sparked by controversial videos

In the wake of public outrage and a significant decline in share prices, Baidu refrained from commenting on the matter.

Jing Qu
Jing Qu

On Thursday (May 9) night, Cristina Jing Qu, vice president and head of the public relations department of Chinese search engine and tech giant Baidu, issued a statement on her WeChat Moments account, expressing an apology for the short videos she recently posted to Douyin that triggered an intense backlash on Chinese social media. 

Over the May Day holiday period, Qu shared four videos. In these videos, she expressed her approach to management, stating, “If you are not satisfied with your job, feel free to resign. I will approve it immediately.” She said that she has no obligation to “consider employees as family" because “I’m not your mother”.

She added in the videos: "If you work in public relations, don't expect weekends off. Keep your phone on 24 hours a day, always ready to respond." 

Her remarks on the toxic overworking culture prevalent among China’s tech giants startled the online community and precipitated a PR crisis for Baidu. On Tuesday, May 7, the second working day after the Chinese May Day holidays, the stock price of Baidu listed in Hong Kong dropped 2.17% or a loss of about HKD 6 billion (US$768 million) in value.  

Following the online backlash, the four videos from Qu’s account were removed. Rumours circulating on Wednesday suggested that Qu had been fired from the company. However, subsequent media reports confirmed that she is still working at Baidu.

As a brand, Baidu remained silent and did not respond to media inquiries or comments from Chinese netizens. Only Qu addressed the issue on her WeChat account in the evening. She stated, “I have meticulously read through the numerous criticisms, which are indeed valid, and I humbly accept and deeply reflect on them.” She further explained that she had not sought the company’s approval before posting the short videos, “which does not meet the relevant procedures”. She also clarified that her remarks “do not represent the company's position”.

Qu reportedly issued a directive before the holidays. Based on a screenshot that circulated online, she mandated that all Baidu’s PR team members had to create personal accounts on platforms such as Douyin, WeChat Channels, and Red or Xiaohongshu by May 2.

Qu is said to have gained 950,000 followers in five days following her controversial comments in these short videos. She was a former reporter from Xinhua News Agency, China's official state press agency. Before joining Baidu in 2021, she was vice president of Huawei's public and government affairs department and China's media affairs department.  

While this isn’t the first time Baidu has been embroiled in a PR crisis, it’s the first that a PR head from a major Chinese tech company has been the source of a brand’s troubles. 

In 2016, Baidu was under investigation by the Chinese internet regulatory authority following the death of Wei Zexi, a student who had undergone an experimental cancer treatment in a hospital listed at the top of Baidu’s search results, and which led to widespread public outrage.

Meanwhile, in 2018, Robin Li, the founder of Baidu, made a statement suggesting that Chinese internet users be prepared to trade their privacy for convenience. This remark ignited public discontent.

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