Baidu’s PR head leaves company after toxic work culture video controversy · TechNode

Baidu’s PR head, Qu Jing, has left the search engine giant after her controversial remarks on work culture exploded on Chinese social media. The surfacing of a series of videos made by Qu has led to the public casting doubt on the company’s corporate values.

“I’m not even obligated to find out if you cried or had a quarrel [with your boyfriend or husband], which does not serve my concern as a supervisor. I’m not your mother-in-law, also not your mum,” Qu commented in one of a series of short videos posted on Douyin, China’s TikTok sibling. 

All four of Qu’s controversial videos on the platform have since been deleted, but clips can still be found on Chinese social platforms and her comments have sparked a firestorm of attention and debate. 

Why it matters: The incident has escalated into Baidu’s biggest PR crisis in years. The company, which is facing a declining search engine share and is seeking an AI-centric transformation, has looked to calm public outrage in the wake of Qu’s comments.

Details: News of Qu Jing’s departure was reported on Thursday night, just hours after she apologized in a post on WeChat Moments from her personal account.

  • That apology letter did not mention Qu’s impending exit from the company, but saw her clarify that the videos “do not represent Baidu’s stance.” It stated that Qu did not obtain consent from the company before making the videos public.
  • Qu Jing became the vice president and chief of communications at Baidu in 2021, after leading public and government affairs at Huawei and her previous work as a reporter for China’s state-backed Xinhua news agency, according to her  Wikipedia page. 
  • In one video, Qu criticized a Baidu employee who refused to take a 50-day business trip during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, when China imposed strict travel restrictions across the country. “How dare you tell me that your husband can’t stand it and needs you back [home]? I’m 10 or 20 years older than you and have two kids, [but] I feel neither bitter nor tired,” she said.
  • Another video that went viral late Wednesday added fuel to the fire of public opinion, and bringing into question Qu’s ability as a PR chief. In the short video, Qu was recorded smacking a small paper figure with the letters SCMP written on it, widely regarded as referring to the South China Morning Post. The incident is suspected to be Qu venting her anger over a January report published by the newspaper linking Baidu’s ChatGPT rival ERNIE Bot with China’s military. However, TechNode has not been able to independently verify when the video was taken.

Context: Baidu, along with other major tech companies in China, has faced repeated scrutiny and criticism over its so-called wolf work culture in recent years. In one of the most notable examples, in 2019, Alibaba founder Jack Ma came under fire after he referred to the practice of “996”, working from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. six days a week, as a “huge blessing”.

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