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After he was doused with water, Baidu’s CEO is the butt of China’s internet jokes

A hit.
A hit.
Image: Reuters
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On China’s severely censored internet these days, there are few opportunities for internet users to freely express themselves and have some fun without the fear of repercussions. They saw a chance to do just that after an incident involving the CEO of Baidu, China’s largest search engine.

Robin Li was doused by an intruder while giving a speech at Baidu’s AI conference yesterday (July 3) in Beijing. After he was soaked, Li asked the man in English”What’s your problem?” and continued with his presentation. The attacker, surnamed Cheng, was arrested (link in Chinese) for “picking quarrels” will be jailed for five days, according to Beijing police today (July 4). His motives remain unknown.

Internet users were ready to jump on the opportunity to make fun of Li, as many have long harbored dissatisfaction over the company. Many are frustrated with Baidu’s market dominance as alternatives such as Google and Bing are shut out, while others worry over the company’s commitment to privacy. Other events have further exacerbated people’s ill will toward Baidu, including an incident in 2016 when a Chinese university student died of cancer after receiving subpar treatment at a hospital advertised on the site. Critics of the company accused it of accepting ads from shady companies without vetting their claims. Earlier this year, a veteran journalist’s essay criticizing Baidu as being a place to search for the company’s internal content rather than an internet search engine was widely read.

“See, even Li himself seems to know that it’s more reliable to ask questions that he does not know the answer to in English. He too knows Chinese language search engines are not trustworthy!” one user on social network Weibo wrote (link in Chinese), referring to Li’s outburst after he was doused. The phrase quickly gained popularity in China, with some outlets on e-commerce platform Taobao now selling t-shirts printed with “What’s your problem?” above a cartoon of Li and the intruder.

“What kind of trash is Robin? Wet, dry, or harmful?” A user on social network Weibo asked (link in Chinese), a reference to newly implemented household-garbage sorting rules in Shanghai. In another post, a user joked (link in Chinese) that Li was so incensed with the intruder that he decided to report the case to the highest ranked police station that surfaced on Baidu.