Minnie Wang
May 10, 2024

Baidu PR head departs company following controversial videos

Baidu's former PR head, Jing Qu, has left the tech giant after a series of short videos which led to intense backlash on social media.

Jing Qu
Jing Qu

According to Chinese media, Cristina Jing Qu, vice president and head of the public relations department of Chinese search engine and tech giant Baidu, has left the company following a series of controversial videos that led to social-media backlash. Attempts to contact Qu for comments were unsuccessful. She did not issue any personal statement regarding the matter. Furthermore, the title of Baidu VP has been removed from Qu’s Douyin account, which has about one million followers. 

At present, Baidu has not released any official statement about the incident. An exclusive report by AI Lightyear, a news team under Tencent News, revealed that Robin Li, the founder of Baidu, and the head of human resources, joined an internal meeting on Thursday afternoon. During this meeting, Li reportedly made comments about Qu’s situation. Li commended the employees of Baidu, stating, “You are the ones who represent Baidu, you are the ones who represent the most authentic Baidu, you are the most real representatives of Baidu". 

Meanwhile, on Sina Weibo, media revealed that Qu had created a new company this April in Shenzhen, and that her post announcing it has become a trendy topic. Qu is the leader of Wakawaka Culture Ltd and holds 90% of shares. The remaining 10% of shares are owned by her assistant when she was working at Baidu. 

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.  

Qu released a statement on her WeChat Moments account at midnight on Thursday, apologising for the recent short videos posted on Douyin that triggered an intense backlash on Chinese social media. Following the online backlash, the four videos from Qu’s account were removed.  

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 also reportedly issued a directive before the holidays. Based on a screenshot that circulated online, she mandated that 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 gained over 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.

Campaign Asia

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