The BAIDU Google Complex
"If something is omitted, you have no way of knowing it has been omitted." --Howard Zinn
More search engines for the world, please
BEIJING – Baidu (百度), the Chinese search engine, is still largely unknown in the West; and it is certainly less technologically advanced and thorough than its US rival and the global monopoly: Google (some of Baidu's search features are legal imitations of Google’s; others not so much).
However, from a frequent user's point of view (your author writes a lot about China-related topics and also under a Chinese pen name -裴德思), Google can be very limited, almost annoyingly so with far too many US 'junk-sites' floating on top of most search inquiries. Few people realize that Google is universally biased against Chinese (and other foreign) content.
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United States, Empire, Google
US pages, brands, names, and individuals are all privileged in Google's search results, and so are Google’s subsidies such as Wikipedia, Youtube, and Google+. In addition, Google is naturally favoring its US peers, mostly internet monopolies in their own categories. Your author is referring, of course, to US social networks and web-services such as Facebook, Amazon, Academia, Ebay, Wikihow, GoogleBooks, YahooAnswers, IMD, Linkedin, Flickr, BigThink, Huffington Post, Tumblr, Vimeo, Instagram, and the rest of the American hoi polloi. The result is that other cultures and foreign sites are marginalized, suppressed, or else delegated to the bottom of your search results anyway.
People (and governments) often don’t realize how biased and pro-USA Google truly is -until it is too late. Critics of the hegemon's iron grip on 'Search' and its obsession with collecting data from its users are often silenced. That Google is capable of changing the perspective of entire countries and even rig elections is no secret anymore, as the late Robert Epstein, psychologist and former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today, once warned:
"Google can determine the outcome of close elections by biasing search rankings to favor certain candidates."
Even Google Germany (processing 90% of all search inquiries in that country), no matter how culture-sensitive it pretends to be, in practice will always offer you links to US websites; even for German search terms –by default, because the US by definition feels it is the universal culture, and claims to know what will be good for its subjects to know. The Germans have a word for it: Gleichschaltung -"forced coordination."
When the Europeans finally woke up to their digital subjugation to US-corporations disguised as benign European 'public services', the outrage and braying was predictably loud but quite embarrassing -a confession of Europe's digital dependency and learned helplessness.
Access to China Knowledge
Therefore, it is refreshing to (at least) have this option of using an alternative Chinese search engine that may be limited and biased in its own rights (it is certainly censoring and thus largely free of porn and Bloomberg news), alright, but still it also spares us a good amount of US junk. In fact, your author would always recommend anyone working on China to regularly use Baidu –especially if searching for Chinese people, brands, information, and news.
That said, Baidu is successful mostly because a) the Chinese people are so many (600 million of them are online already), and b) the government banned or restricted Google and most of the above-mentioned US internet monopolies in the People's Republic. The Far Easterners have noble reasons for this: The authorities hope to limit US influence on world knowledge and how it is presented.
One search engine to fit all nations?
To be true, a quick search on Baidu thankfully omits (most of) the US-spam and reveals some amazingly helpful Chinese websites that are (sadly) mostly completely unheard of in the West -sites like Baike, Tieba, Wenku, Douban, Zhidao, 163, Wenwen, Docin, Sina, Aisixiang and many more. Frankly, it is fascinating to peep at a world not yet perverted by Imperial stars and stripes. [Example: 杜维明] [Example: 诺姆·乔姆斯基]
China's resistance to a US sovereignty over Sinitic knowledge is bold, relevant, and of global significance. It is also highly ideological and geopolitical -a textbook case for historians and social scientists. If successful, it may inspire India, Russia, Iran, Brazil, and even Europe to try and do something similar. After all, we all prefer diversity and the division of power -which is clearly not the case with Google and the internet.
So, while planning to expand into South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brazil, Argentina, and Egypt, in a typical Chinese understatement, the web giant keeps tactfully eluding any stand-off against mighty Google that it couldn't possibly win in the global 'Battle for Search', certainly not within the paradigms of the current international pecking order.
So far, it seems, Baidu is doing everything right.
Image credits: Twin Design/Shutterstock.com
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