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PR executive reportedly departs China's Baidu after comments glorifying overwork draw backlash

ZEN SOO
May 09, 2024

HONG KONG (AP) -- A top Baidu public relations executive has reportedly departed the Chinese technology company after she drew public outcry over her comments that were seen as glorifying a culture of overwork.

Baidu's head of communications Qu Jing had implied in a series of videos that she was not concerned about her employees as she was "not their mom" and said she only cared about results. She also said that the relationship between her and her subordinates was purely an "employer-employee relationship."

The backlash was swift, with many on social media platforms like Weibo saying Qu lacked empathy.

Chinese online media outlet 36Kr first reported late Thursday that Qu had left her position at Baidu, citing unnamed sources. Internal systems showed Qu is no longer with the firm, according to a Baidu employee who asked not to be named as they were not authorized to provide that information to media.

Qu had earlier posted an apology Thursday on her private WeChat account, where she "sincerely apologized to all netizens" and clarified that she had not sought Baidu's permission before posting the videos.

Qu said her videos did not represent Baidu's stance. Baidu operates China's dominant search engine as well as Ernie Bot, an artificial intelligence service similar to ChatGPT.

"Many of the criticisms are very pertinent, I am reflecting deeply and humbly accept them," she said. "There are many inappropriate (things said) in the video that caused external misunderstandings about the company's values and corporate culture, causing serious harm. I sincerely apologize."

Qu also pledged to improve her communication and management style and care more for her colleagues.

Her comments came at a time when many young people in China are pushing back against a culture of competition and grueling hours in the workplace.

Qu had also been criticized for other comments she made in the series of short videos on Douyin that have since been removed.

In the series, she threatened to ruin the careers of employees who sent hundreds of complaint letters against her to the office, by ensuring they could not find another job in the industry.

She also criticized an employee who refused to go on a 50-day business trip during the COVID-19 pandemic -- a time when China severely restricted movement and required weeks of quarantine for travelers.

"Why should I take into consideration my employee's family? I'm not her mother-in law," Qu said, adding that if employees refused to go on such business trips then they would not get salary raises or job promotions.

Chinese technology firms have long been criticized for their long working hours.

A public debate was sparked in recent years over the "996" work culture, where employees in technology firms were expected to work from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week. The issue was also spotlighted after the deaths of two employees of Chinese e-commerce platform Pinduoduo, one of whom collapsed suddenly on the street on her way home from work.

Jack Ma, co-founder of Alibaba, also faced criticism in 2019 for endorsing the 12-hour workday culture, saying that those who enjoyed their work would not find the "996" practice to be a problem.

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