Baidu executive tells staff: ‘I’m not your mum’


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The head of public relations at Chinese search giant Baidu has created her own PR crisis after posting several videos on social media demeaning staff, in the latest example of the sometimes brutal workplace practices in China’s tech sector.

“I can make you jobless in this industry,” said Baidu vice-president Qu Jing in one video. She added she needed employees dedicated enough to do 50 straight days of business travel at her side and did not care if it affected their personal lives. “I’m not your mum,” she said. “I only care about results.”

Qu also said she was so devoted to Baidu that she was unaware of her son’s class year at school.

The executive posted the videos on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, intending the clips to serve as examples to her team of how to use social media to promote Baidu. Instead, they have reignited criticism of the workplace culture at Chinese tech companies.

“Employees will never feel at home at a company that doesn’t have even a little bit of warmth,” wrote one user on the social media platform Weibo, on which Qu’s comments are trending.

As of Thursday, the discussion had drawn 150mn views and a former employee said Qu was no longer with the company, echoing reporting in Chinese media outlets. Baidu did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“She wanted to create an ‘iron lady’ image, but the context has changed,” said independent tech columnist Wang Qingrui. “Now people don’t agree with the logic of those in power.

“She is not only representing herself in the videos, but also Baidu’s culture and values,” he added. “This deepens Baidu’s image problems.”

Qu’s comments have also revived concerns over working conditions. The long hours often expected of tech employees are known as “996” — meaning they start work at 9am, leave at 9pm and work six days a week.

While there was some improvement after Beijing cracked down on the country’s tech giants in 2021, Qu indicated she still demanded long hours from her staff. In one video, she said PR employees needed to be available 24 hours a day and could never go on holiday.

Many employees in the industry have reported the recent tech sector slowdown and large-scale job cuts had revived lengthy hours amid intense competition. In other instances of tough practices, PDD Holdings has tracked and sued former employees who violate non-compete agreements, while social media group Kuaishou has begun to push out staff above the age of 35.

Baidu has been struggling to reinvent itself as its search advert business has stalled and bets on other business lines have come up short. The group has recently gone all in on artificial intelligence, vying to be China’s answer to OpenAI.

By Thursday, Qu had removed the videos from her Douyin account and apologised, saying she had “earnestly read peoples’ opinions and criticisms” and would “deeply reflect” on them.

“I sincerely apologise that my videos have caused external misunderstandings about Baidu’s values and culture,” she wrote on social media.

Amid the controversy, another video spread on Chinese social media showing Qu dealing with a negative article from the South China Morning Post newspaper.

The clip shows a paper doll hung up in Baidu’s offices with four red knives pointed at “SCMP” written across its chest. Qu is seen whipping the doll with a rope.


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