Communiqué # 5: When he’s not blogging or playing guitar in a heavy metal band, Kaiser Kuo is the front man for Baidu, Inc., the No. 1 search engine in China, the world’s largest Internet user population – with 564 million “netizens.”
“We get compared to Google a lot,” Kuo told a group of visiting journalists at the company’s headquarters in Beijing’s Haidian District, sometimes called China’s Silicon Valley. “It’s a fair comparison.”
Google, which pulled out of the People’s Republic of China over censorship concerns, left the field open to rival Baidu, which was formed in 2000 by American-educated Chinese Internet pioneers Robin Li and Eric Xu.
Kuo, a Chinese-American writer, brings an unbridled American sensibility to the restricted galaxy of Chinese cyberspace, which still enjoys a greater sense of free expression than the average American might think.
Within that space, Kuo told us, “we’re looking for the most equitable way for people to find what they’re looking for.”
Several other Chinese analysts have told us that the government worries less about what people search for on the Internet than what they say and do on social media sites, which is why it’s hard to get on Facebook, Youtube and Twitter in China.
But even behind China’s “Great Firewall,” Kuo, Baidu’s director of international communications, sees China growing in Internet sophistication and reach. The company seems to have no trouble attracting investors. For a while, even Google was in. In 2007, Baidu became the first Chinese company to be included in the NASDAQ-100 index.
Kuo, in a black T-shirt and shoulder-length hair, would not look out of place in any California Internet start-up. He’s tried to bring that same “aggressively flat” culture to China’s more formal, Confucian-influenced order. With its gleaming glass walls workers' igloo-like sleeping pods, Baidu’s corporate headquarters seem to take more from Silicon Valley than China’s state-owned enterprises.
Kuo says there are only two rules: No smoking and no pets. The average age in the office is 25. But American informality doesn’t necessarily translate to Chinese office culture. “I say you are all free to do what you want,” Kuo jokes. “And they all say together, ‘We are all free to do what we want.’”
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