Digital Media in China

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China Infographic

China or also known as the People's Republic of China is the most populous country on the planet with an estimated 1.349 billion people.[1] Located in East Asia, it is a single-party state governed by the Communist Party of China (CPC).[2]

In the early 20th centuries, the country was beset by civil unrest, major famines, military defeats, and foreign occupation. After World War II, the Communists under Mao Zedong established an autocratic socialist system that, while ensuring China's sovereignty, imposed strict controls over everyday life and cost the lives of millions of people. In 1978, Mao's successor Deng Xiaoping focused on market-oriented economic development and by 2000 output had quadrupled. For much of the population, living standards have improved dramatically and the room for personal choice has expanded, yet political controls remain tight. Since the early 1990s, China has increased its global outreach and participation in international organizations.[3]

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For a primer on social media in China, see this report from McKinsey Download
Another great introduction comes from We Are Social.

Digital Literacy


Demographics, Behaviour and Penetration

There are 513 million netizens living in China. The number, which is 38.4% of the world’s total netizens, is estimated to grow to 711.6 million by 2016. About half of internet users are using social media and the numbers will reach 414 million by 2014. [4]
Chinese netizens spend an average of 150 minutes everyday online and 41% of their time online are spent on social media sites. [5]

The structure of education background tends to change towards lower end. Until June 2011, the net citizens with the background below primary school and junior middle school have amounted to 8.7% and 33.9% of the overall net citizens and their increase rate has exceeded the overall net citizens. The proportion of net citizens with the background of professional training college and the above has remained to be decreased to 23.3%.

There is a wide range of activities that Chinese netizens engage in but the most popular activity is gaining access to and downloading music. Baidu, which is China’s largest search engine has a section dedicated to online music search. Digital entertainment is the main activity of China’s internet users and this is followed by information acquisition such as reading blogs and news websites.[6][7][8]

Social Techngraphics Profile of China

Forrester's Social Technographics® classifies netizens into 7 overlapping levels of online participation (a new rung, "Conversationalists" was formed in 2010). This classification enables companies to segment its consumers into the appropriate levels before developing their social media strategy.
40% of Chinese Netizen's are 'Content Curators', that's more than twice the rate in the USA. [9]

Find out more about Social Technographics® from Josh Bernoff's SlideShare deck entitled "Social Techngraphics Defined 2010"

Rural-Urban Digital Divide

China’s Internet penetration rate (IPR) is 34.3%, higher than the world Internet penetration rate. Provinces with IPR higher than 34.3% are classified as Tier 1.[10] China provinces with IPR between 28.7% and 34.3% are Tier 2 provinces. Those lower than the world average are in tier 3. According to the World Internet Stats, world wide Internet users reached almost 2 billion by 30th June 2010. There were about 1,966,514,816 online users, with the Chinese making up half of this figure and with a penetration rate of 28.7%. [11]

Tier 1 Provinces Tier 2 Provinces Tier 3 Provinces
1) Beijing
2) Shanghai
3) Guangdong
4) Zhejiang
5) Tianjin
6) Fujian
7) Liaoning
8) Xinjiang
9) Shanxi
10) Shandong
11) Hainan
12) Chongqing
13) Shaanxi
1) Qinghai
2) Hubei
3) Jilin
4) Hebei
5) Inner Mongolia
6) Heilongjiang

1) Ningxia
2) Xizang
3) Hunan
4) Guangxi
5) Henan
6) Gansu
7) Sichuan
8) Anhui
9) Yunnan
10) Jiangxi
11) Guizhou

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Demographics, Behaviour and Mobile Market Value

China is the world's largest mobile device market with almost 1 billion mobile subscribers to date and 136 million 3G mobile subscribers. [12] 38% of mobile users only use their mobile phones to access the internet, with 74% of them consisting of males.

When looking at the mobile market in China, there is an almost equal distribution between males and females. Also, majority of users are from the 25-34 (23%) and the 35-44 year old (23%) age groups. According to ResearchinChina, smart phone are growing in popularity in China due to its multi-functional features among which quick internet access ability is most popular among young people. Amongst the top internet activities that mobile users engage in, web browsing, reading e-books and communicating are the top 3. Other activities include playing games, business and sports.[13]

Comparison with EU, U.S. and Metropolitan India[14]

Comparison with EU, U.S. and Metropolitan India

According to Forrester's Research, mobile usage in U.S. is lagging behind China, in almost every mobile usage trend. In metropolitan China, 46% of people access the mobile Internet, 57% listen to music, 36% play games on their mobile devices and about 33% access social networks. In contrast, near 25% of U.S. mobile consumers use their devices for social networking. Only 11% of European users have accessed social networks through their devices. [15] Overall, Forrester says that China has the higher incidence of what they call "super connecteds" - users that "access the Internet at least once a week from their phones and make use of advanced services and applications

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Digital Media Platforms

Source: Resonance China

Digital Media is transforming how the Chinese people are reading news, playing games, watching movies, shopping, expressing themselves or even relating to others. This trend is gaining momentum with the Internet reaching an increasing number of people in China. Internet penetration in China is expected to rise from its current 29 percent to 50 percent by 2015. These calls for an understanding on the usage and types of digital media platforms in China for all who wants to engage with the Chinese internet users.[16]

The infographic on the right shows some of the most popular digital media platforms used by the Chinese people. The international platforms are on the outer ring while the equivalent platforms used in China are on the inner ring.[17]

Link to section on Top 5 Internet Personalities in China


As at 2009, China ranks above the daily global average in reading and writing blogs.[18] In 2010, 40 percent of the Chinese internet users publish a blog.[19]

Chinese blogs are hosted on many websites; some are by big internet companies in China like NetEase, Sina, Sohu and Tencent. In addition to those, there are Bokee and some new upcoming ones like While most blogs are written in Mandarin, there are aggregator sites available like Chinabloglist and Chinalyst that gathers China related blogs written in English. A popular free blog hosting service, by Blogger, is sometimes blocked in China. However, it is very common for the young Chinese people to use VPN to cross the block.

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Weibo is China’s equivalent of micro-blogging. As of Q3 2011, Tencent Weibo is China’s leading micro-blogging site – with a user base of more than 300 million users. Following behind is Sina Weibo, the first Weibo website to be setup in China after the Chinese government blocked Twitter in June 2009. [20]

Weibos are similar to Twitter in many ways. For example, users may post with a 140-character limit, and may mention or talk to other people with the “@UserName” format. Also, it supports hashtags with “#Hashtag” format and RTs with a “RT @UserName” format.

Perhaps the greatest trigger for weibo's popularity was the 2011 train tragedy. Following this event, public responses on weibo surged and today some would say that weibo has become China's first dominant social media channel. More and more organizations want to be on this channel so they can speak with credibility to a large segment of the population. You can read more at NYT or at The Atlantic.

However, unlike Twitter, all of China-based weibo services today are restricted by various forms of self-censorship policies.[21]

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Social Networking Sites

The Chinese people are actively engaging in their home-grown social media platforms, like Renren, Douban, Kaixin001 and QZone. These platforms are similar to Facebook but not entirely. That is, Facebook gathers people of all demographics; however, the social media platforms in China consist of a handful of social networking sites that caters to different segments of the Chinese people.[22]

On the right is an infographic that highlights the different social networking sites in China and the different target audiences they attract.


Facebook is currently blocked in China. However, the Chinese have a similar platform known as Renren. Frequent users are university students. They use Renren to connect, interact, and upload videos and photos of their activities. The site is mainly organized around users’ school and graduation class.[23]

In Mandarin, Renren is known as ??? - "everyone network".


Douban is a more specialized social networking site as compared to Renren or Facebook. The target group is the art students; those that have a passion for literature, culture, music and the like. Douban users connect based on their interests and often organize offline activities, e.g. trips to local art exhibitions.[24]


Kaixin001 is meant for the mature young professionals. It is highly dominated by white collar workers from Beijing, Guangzhou, Guangdong, Shanghai and second-tier cities. Users do not upload personal information but rather share information they find on topics relating to health, relationships, and professional advancement.[25]



QZone was the first and largest social networking site in China, attracting youths from teens to young adults of about 25 years old, often from second- and third-tier cities. A bulk of those using QZone is migrant workers, many of whom share personal diaries in a blog-like format.[26]

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Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) / Forums


In contrast to many countries, the Bulletin Board System (BBS) or online forum is extremely popular in China. The Chinese netizens use BBS to get comments about products and services like that of clothes, cosmetics and cars.[27] Tianya is currently the largest BBS site in China with 6 million registered users and 200,000 online users daily. Other forums used are Douban, Baidu Tieba, and

As early as 1997, BBS was around in China. This led to the BBS being one of the most recognizable internet applications to a new Chinese netizen. In addition, the popularity of BBS in China is largely due to the anonymity of postings. Though the Chinese people are rather quiet and reserved in real life, they show little inhibition in expressing themselves online. Also, BBS users also tend to be more mature, in the 20-40 age brackets from various professional backgrounds.[28]

According to statistic from iResearch, 60 percent of users visit at least 3 BBS sites more than 3 times each week. 98 percent of the online users have contributed to a BBS by publishing articles, replying to posts, participating in polls etc. More than 96 percent of the Chinese online users spent an hour or more on BBS sites and has accumulated 1.6 billion page views per day.

According to a report by iResearch Consulting Group, 36.3 percent of users spend 1-3 hours on BBS, about 44.7 percent of users spend 3-8 hours and 15.1 percent of users are even on BBS for more than 8 hours a day. Over 60 percent of users will view at least three BBS at least three times a week.

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Instant Messaging


QQ is the most popular free Instant Messaging (IM) platform in China. As of 30 September 2011, Tencent QQ messenger network had 711.7 million active user accounts. In comparison to Skype (200+ million users), QQ has 3.5x more users than the former. Since the total number of Internet users in China is approx. 485 million, each Chinese netizen is estimated to have an average of 1.5 QQ accounts. In February 2011, is ranked 10th overall in the Alexa Internet rankings. Since its inception, QQ has emerged as a modern cultural phenomenon. Today, QQ has incorporated several sub-features such as games, ringtone downloads, blogs, etc. [29]

Convenience and cost-effectiveness are the main reasons why the Chinese people use QQ so frequently. As QQ service is free, school-age users use QQ as one of their key ways for building and maintaining friendship networks among their peers.

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Video-Sharing Websites

In 2008, China ranks above daily global average in uploading and watching videos.[30]

In 2010, China had the highest usage rates for online videos. This is mainly due to the large availability of media online that resulted from the weak enforcement of intellectual-property laws in China. Nonetheless, now, some of these platforms license content as well. Another major reason for the popularity of video-sharing websites is due to consumers' preference on viewing online content at their convenience.[31]

YouTube is currently blocked in China. However, there are home-grown video-sharing websites like that of Tudou and Youku. There is a difference on how Chinese netizens use the online video platforms versus the Americans. Tudou and Youku have longer content, with about 70 percent professionally produced. YouTube however consists of many short videos uploaded mainly by the mass audiences. Furthermore, Chinese Internet users spend about one hour on these sites as compared to fifteen minutes by the Americans on YouTube.[32]



Tudou, which started in April 2005, is the very first online video platform introduced in China. Through which, users are able to upload, view and share video clips. Tudou has user-generated videos and premium licensed contents. As at September 2010, Tudou hosts over 40 million videos, serves 200 million visitors a month and works with 2500 content partners.[33]



As at 2011, Youku has become the largest Chinese video entity, with 270 million monthly unique visitors. An average user spends about one hour on the site.[34] Youku started later than Tudou, in December 2006. It has licensed professional videos, user-generated videos and self-produced web videos.[35]

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Search Engines



Baidu, Baidu remains as China’s most popular search engine since its launch in 2000. It retains a firm market share of 77.7% (Q3 2011). As of 2011, Chinese Netizens had conducted more than 77.5 billion search queries on Baidu. Like Google, Baidu provides additional features such as Baidu Hi(similar to Myspace), Baidu Zhidao(similar to Yahoo Answers), Baidu Tieba(similar to Google Groups).


Social Media Equivalents

In China's decision to block major social media platforms such as both Facebook and Twitter, the Chinese government also made way for China’s own social networking sites to fill in the void and become popular. The country now possesses many successful social media clones. [36]

Major social media clones

Source: Thomas Crampton‎

The following table allows for an easier comparison between China's social media clones and its international counterparts.

Type of Platforms International Platforms Chinese Platforms
Microblogging Twitter Weibo
SNS Facebook Renren, DouBan
Check-In Foursquare Jiepang,, Qieke, Sifang
Deal-of-the-day Groupon Manzuo, Meituan, Gaopeng
Mobile Chat WhatsApp Feixin
Online Trade eBay Taobao, 360buy
Professional SNS LinkedIn Ushi
Photo-Sharing Flickr Bababian, Babidou
Wikis Wikipedia Baidu Baike, Hudong

Web Analytics in China

5 Popular Web Analytics Providers in China


CNZZ is the largest web analytics tool provider in China to gather data. In 4th May 2011, CNZZ was acquired by Alibaba Group. [37]

The beauty of CNZZ lies in the offering of most recent data from 15 minutes earlier, as well as in being widely used by independent webmasters. An Introduction to CNZZ Web Analytics in China


Baidu Tongji provides detailed analytics by offering webmasters the choice of segmenting their website's visits according to the different provinces or regions within China. [38].

It features an additional advantage over CNZZ in that it provides Conversion analysis as a metric. This additional feature adds value to webmasters by providing them with an insight that goes beyond site traffic and page views.

3. Tencent

Tencent is one of China’s most utilized internet services portal. It encompasses a wide range of products and services such as instant messaging, gaming service QQ to e-commerce.

Refer to Tencent SNS Analysis (Infographic) for interesting statistics compiled by Edelman China.

4. Google Analytics

Google Analytics allows users to track their site traffic and page views from all sources, ranging from pay-per-click networks to popular search engines in China such as Baidu and Sogou.

According to Kissmetrics, websites based in China have the highest global bounce rates at 58%.

5. Omniture

Omniture is a web analytic business unit owned by Adobe Systems. The strategic partnership between China's Inc. and Omniture in 5 March 2008 [39] provide advertisers a direct access to China's largest Internet search engine.

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E-Commerce: China Taobao Online Purchase

Transactions per day: 11 MILLION
The site boasts more than 800 million online products
Transactions per minute: 48,000

Taobao is a Chinese language web site for online shopping, similar to eBay, Rakuten and Amazon, operated in the People's Republic of China by Alibaba Group. Founded by Alibaba Group in May 2003, Taobao facilitates business-to-consumer (B2C) and consumer-to-consumer (C2C) retail by providing a platform for businesses and individual entrepreneurs to open online retail stores that mainly cater to consumers in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. [40]

Taobao Dominates China Online Purchase

85% of the online shoppers choose C2C shopping sites as their first choice when they are planning for purchasing something. Seen from the above graph we can have a clear view that Taobao has owned a large chunk of the online shopping market in China.

Taobao reported more than 370 million registered users as of the end of 2010 and currently hosts more than 800 million product listings. In May 2011, Taobao ranked 15th overall in Alexa's internet rankings.

According to the research findings by Boston Consulting Group [41], E-commerce in China will rise in retail value from 3.3% of China's total retail value in 2011 to 7.4% in 2015. In the next five years, China's online shoppers will double their spending to spend an average of 6,220 yuan annually, as compared to 2011.

China will have more e-shoppers than U.S. by 2015.
China now has 145 million online shoppers—second only to the U.S., with 170 million e-shoppers. Online spending in China is expected to surge over the next five years as personal incomes and comfort with online shopping increase, and the increase in internet penetration. [42]

3 Factors accounting for the huge boom in E-Commerce on Taobao:

1. Taobao’s seller-credibility rating system

Due to the credit rating system on Taobao, it allows buyers to rate and post feedback about vendors. In turn, these reviews created a pool of resource for other buyers to check up prior their shopping experience on Taobao. As such, a high level of trust regarding the products sold by various vendors was created, leading to positive word-of-mouth for the site.

2. Low cost shipping

The cost of shipping from China's sellers' warehouse to shoppers' homes is relatively low. As such, the low shipping cost gives E-commerce on an ongoing boost. For example, it costs $1 on average to ship a 1-kilogram parcel, versus $6 in the U.S.

3. E-Commerce offers China's shoppers a combination of the following elements:

  • UNIQUE products that are unavailable in physical stores
  • REASSURANCE of better customer service
  • DISCOVERY of new items on sale

Source: BCG

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Social Gaming

In the latest report released by Pearl Research [43], China's social gaming market is booming and the research firm projected the industry's revenue to exceed US$9.2 billion by 2014, an increase of almost US$3 billion from the year 2011. A key growth factor in China's social gaming market would be Web games, which is projected to command at least US$1 billion in 2012, an increase of US$200 million from the year 2011.

Source: iResearch

Indeed, similar speculations about China's social gaming market has been very positive. According to the release of information at the 2011 China Game Industry Annual Conference [44], the market value of China's online gaming sector (a combination of MMOS, casual games and social games) is highly valued, exceeding 42.85 billion yuan. This increment of 32.4% in a mere one year period is definitely something the industry can boast of.

It will be in the next few years before the world see a convergence between social games and 3G mobile gaming. Referencing to the report by Analysis International [45], China mobile gaming market were estimated to generate 370 million yuan in the fourth quarter of 2011, with a database of 30.28 million registered mobile gamers. One factor for driving this market growth can be attributed to the proliferation of smartphones, feature phones and the emergence of many mobile applications.

As of 2012, Reckoo is now the largest market player in the Chinese social gaming industry. [46]

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Traditional Media Platforms

Traditional media platforms in China include newspapers, television stations, radio stations and magazines. All newspapers, TV and radio stations are owned by the government. This limits the information available in China. Magazines are the only exception; however, magazines tend to focus only on entertainment, sports and lifestyle topics.[47]

A report from GroupM has predicted that till the end of 2011, ad cost in China will be up to 347.47 billion RMB, the amount is 15.2% more than that of last year. Among all the ad cost, traditional media occupies 87%, and TV ad has been up to as much as 58% of the total amount. The Internet ad cost is estimated to be 46.8 million which is 13% of the total amount. Though Internet grows faster in China, it remains weaker than TV. [48]

However, there are limitation and restriction to the contents that can be posted on the traditional media. The Chinese writers and journalists have to refrain from the following topics:

  • Criticism of the government and the Communist Party
  • Calls for more democracy, free elections or a multi-party state
  • Independence for Tibet or Xinjiang
  • Taiwan Independence
  • The banned Falun Gong spiritual movement
  • The 1989 Tiananmen incident[49]

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Impacts of Digital Media

The growing use of digital media in China presents an interesting landscape for all involved - the masses, businesses, government and economy. Here we will explore how businesses should reach out to China’s consumers, some of the interesting effects of digital media on China’s society, government and economy on the whole and the effects of digital media on China’s environment as well.

One major impact of digital media in China has aided the masses in mobilizing their human rights and giving them an alternative channel to vent their frustrations. Published images and images are examples of the rising impact which social media has on China.

How Social Media can help Businesses in China

More people in China are integrating and using digital media in their daily lives. In fact, there are currently 420 million net citizens in China, an increase of 36 million as compared to end of 2009 . As such, it is becoming a mainstream media. Businesses would be at risk if they were to ignore digital media as a medium to reach out to the consumers.

Consumer Engagement

The penetration of digital media in China means that consumers are no longer just passive consumers. Each consumer now has the ability to voice their opinions about companies and brands. More importantly, a high percentage of people in China are engaged with brands through various ways.

China's Online Brand Engagement.png

As such, businesses need to find a way to ‘engage’ with their consumers so as to utilise this increasing important communication tool.

Link to Top 5 Strategies for Businesses in China

Conduct Consumer Research

Companies can now use social media as a tool to gather qualitative feedback from consumers. In a way, social media mining for data is representative of a large focus group for companies. Not only is social media mining cost effective, it is able to generate a large sample size. By collecting, gathering and sieving out representative data and comments, companies can effectively revamp their brand image, strengthen their brand associations and even shift their brand preferences.

Social media like giant focus group to marketers

Monitor Online Conversations to manage crises

With the speed of information dissemination across various social media platforms, there is virtually no control over the comments, feedback which consumers will write about a brand or company. Hence, it is imperative for companies to invest its time, effort, money in social media, and constantly monitor its social media conversations with consumers on a daily basis. Consider a company ignoring a general complaint. The company might risk escalating the complaint into a nasty public relations issue in just a few hours. A quick and efficient follow-up to such negative complaint can minimize the harm done to the companies with real-time online monitoring. In fact, daily online social media monitoring of conversations can be a crucial crisis management tool to alert companies on critical customer service issues.

Points to note:

- Leverage on positive comments

- DO not ignore negative comments! Rather, convert negative comments into neutral or positive comments

Impact on Job Scopes

Consumers are now able to quickly and loudly proclaim their love/hate for a particular company. Chinese consumers are also more likely to share negative rather than positive reviews of products online[50] . As such, businesses need to ensure that someone is always on the lookout for feedback or comments from consumers, so as to rectify/respond to the situation before it gets out of hand. At the same time, there should be people working to update and fill the company’s digital ecosystem with new content.

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How Businesses in China uses Social Media


Online Dating

China is a society in transition, dealing with a sea change in the social fabric of the country and 27 years of economic reforms. Aiding and abetting this transformation has been the enormous rise of the Internet, which has spawned a revolution, challenging long held norms associated with dating, sex, love and marriage. According to the Chinese Government, the number of internet users in China stood at 111 million as of January 2006, making it the second largest internet user base after the USA. Sixty percent of these nouveau ‘netizens’ are unmarried and under 30. Small wonder, “Net Love” is getting more popular among young Chinese. Synovate Business Consulting estimates the online dating market in China to grow from USD 16mn in 2004 to USD 250mn in 2010. A near 1,500% increase.

Popular online dating websites include Baihe and shijijiayuan (both websites claim to each have about 30 million registered users).

Online Addiction

China is facing a growing problem of online addiction with over 2 million teenage Internet addicts[51]. China has also recently released new guidelines for online video game operators to comply with by 1 March 2011. These guidelines include allowing parents to monitor and restrict their children’s playtime on internet games.[52]

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Government & Regulations

Government officials are also adopting social media so as not to fall behind. According to Sina, there are more than 1,300 verified government related accounts, of which 692 are from the police force and 426 are government officials.[53]

Censorship China’s government holds tight reins over internet content. Their opaque and powerful system of censorship restricts proper information flow among Chinese netizens.

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China has been spending more on the IT industry. Also, digital media seems to be fueling growth in the e-commerce market.

According to iResearch findings, in the last quarter of 2010, China’s Internet economy reached 45.67 billion Yuan. The figure was 9.9% ahead from Q3 2010.[54] Also, the number of online orders in China’s e-commerce market reached a whopping 560 million in Q4 2010, up 45.8% from Q3 2010. The quarter-to-quarter growth is slightly higher than in Q4 2009.[55]

Scale and Growth of China's Internet Economy.png

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Chinese residents protesting against the construction of an incineration plant] [56]


China’s activists are learning to harness the power of digital media to aid their cause.

  • Case study: Guangzhou waste incinerator
A plan to build an industrial waste incinerator was put on hold when residents protested against it. More than1000 people gathered on the streets and more people joined after word spread through Twitter and mobile phones.[57]
“...and rarely has a local Chinese demonstration been so conspicuous online, where activists posted photos and comments about events as they unfolded.” - Austin Ramzy / Beijing, TIME[58]


Golden Shield Poject

Commonly referred to as ‘The Great Firewall of China’, where Chinese government regulates Internet content, thus preventing Chinese people from browsing the internet freely.

Targeted platforms

According to a Harvard study, at least 18,000 websites are blocked from within mainland China.[59] Out of the Top 100 Global Websites, 12 are currently blocked in mainland China.[60] According to the PRC-sponsored news agency, Xinhua, stated that censorship targets only "superstitious, pornographic, violence-related, gambling and other harmful information."[61] On the other hand, websites centered on the following political topics are often censored: Falun Gong,[62][63] police brutality, Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, freedom of speech, democracy,[64] Taiwan independence,[62] Tibetan independence movement, and the Tuidang movement.[65] Foreign media websites such as BBC News, Yahoo! Hong Kong and the Voice of America are occasionally blocked.

See also:List of websites blocked in the People's Republic of China

Search engines

One part of the block is to filter the search results of certain terms on Chinese search engines. These Chinese search engines include both international ones (for example, and Google China) as well as domestic ones (for example, Baidu). Attempting to search for censored keywords in these Chinese search engines will yield few or no results. Previously, displayed the following at the bottom of the page: "According to the local laws, regulations and policies, part of the searching result is not shown." As was the case when searching for information about the 2011 uprising in Egypt.[66] When Google did business in the country, it set up computer systems inside China that try to access Web sites outside the country. If a site is inaccessible, then it is added to Google China's blacklist.[67]

In addition, a connection containing intensive censored terms may also be closed by The Great Firewall, and cannot be reestablished for several minutes. This affects all network connections including HTTP and POP, but the reset is more likely to occur during searching. Before the search engines censored themselves, many search engines had been blocked, namely Google and AltaVista.Technorati,[68] a search engine for blogs, has been blocked. Different search engines implement the mandated censorship in different ways. For example, the search engine Bing is reported to censor search results from searches conducted in simplified Chinese characters (used in the PRC), but not in traditional Chinese characters (used in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau).[69]

See also: List of words censored by search engines in the People's Republic of China

Discussion forums

"For reason which everyone knows, and to suppress our extremely unharmonious thoughts, this site is voluntarily closed for technical maintenance between 3 and 6 June 2009..." (translation)

Several Bulletin Board Systems in universities were closed down or restricted public access since 2004, including the SMTH BBS and the YTHT BBS. In September 2007, some data centers were shut down indiscriminately for providing interactive features such as blogs and forums. CBS reports an estimate that half the interactive sites hosted in China were blocked. Coinciding with the twentieth anniversary of the government suppression of the pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square, the government ordered internet portals, forums and discussion groups to shut down their servers for maintenance between 3 and 6 June. The day before the mass shut-down, Chinese users of Twitter, Hotmail and Flickr, among others, reported a widespread inability to access these services.

Social media websites Although the government and media often use microblogging service Sina Weibo to spread ideas and monitor corruption, it is also supervised and self censored by 700 Sina censors. After the 2011 Wenzhou train collision, the government started emphasizing the danger in spreading 'false rumors' (yaoyan), making the permissive usage of Weibo and social networks a public debate. In the second half of 2009 the social networking sites Facebook and Twitter were blocked, presumably because of containing social or political commentary (similar to LiveJournal in the above list). An example is the commentary on the July 2009 Ürümqi riots. Another reason suggested for the block is that activists can utilize them to organize themselves. In 2010 Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo became a forbidden topic in Chinese media due to his winning the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize.

Notable sites that were blocked in China

Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, Chinese Wikipedia, Yahoo, DailyMotion, ImageShack, Human Rights Watch, Pornography websites.

2 censorship statistics

Censorship stats.png

Size of Internet Police

Blocked urls

Removal of Anonymity

Weibo users are now required to register using their real name, thus decreasing anonymity and likely forcing bloggers to be cautious about the messages they share.[70]

China holds a tight grasp on internet content censorship. Commonly known as ‘The Great Firewall of China’, internet content restrictions have been in place since 2000. It sieves out sensitive keywords and blocks the offensive sites completely.[71] China's foreign ministry spokesman, Ma Zhaoxu, said that internet users enjoyed freedom of speech "in accordance with the law".[72]

Popular social media tools like Twitter and Facebook are blocked in China. Discussions on sensitive issues like the Tiananmen Square protests and Jasmine Revolution are blocked. China’s netizens are however, finding ways to ‘climb over the wall’ by hacking into blocked sites and using Virtual Private Networks (VPN) to get around the restrictions. Also, sensitive keywords are misspelled on purpose and alternative codewords created to escape the filter system.

Although most people would assume that China’s netizens are unhappy about the restrictions on the internet, most Chinese actually say that they approve of internet control and management on the part of the government. In a recent survey conducted by the PEW Research Center[73], 84% of respondents said the internet should be regulated by the government, as the reliability of online content is low and there are worries about the potential impacts of unregulated internet use on the youth.

Source: "Ignoring the Great Firewall of China"

Link to case study on Jasmine Revolution

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Top 5 Internet Personalities in China

  • Han Han

28-year-old Han Han is a man of many hats. A best-selling novelist, champion amateur race-car driver, wildly popular blogger and is also known as China's most media-savvy celebrity rebel. Having appeared on China's literary scene at the age of 17 in 2000 with his first best seller, Triple Gate, Han has shrewdly mined a seam of youthful resentment and anomie through his stories of anguished characters in their late teens and early 20s. One of China's top-earning authors, he is widely seen as a torchbearer for the generation born after the beginning of the country's opening to the outside world, a group the Chinese call the "post-'80s generation": apolitical, money- and status-obsessed children of the country's explosive economic boom.[74]

His main weapon is his blog, where he criticizes the Writers' Association, literary critics, bureaucrats, city mayors, and whoever he takes it into his head to dislike. In a country where the old conventions and traditions are respected, Han Han is somewhat an underground force.[75]

  • Issac Mao

Issac Mao is China's first blogger and he is currently the co-founder of Social Brain Foundation. He is also is a venture capitalist, blogger, software architect, entrepreneur and researcher in learning and social technology. He divides his time between research, social works, business and technology. He is now Vice President of United Capital Investment Group and Director to Social Brain Foundation, advisor to Global Voices Online and several web 2.0 businesses. [76]

Isaac is also a global bridge in blogosphere. He is regular speaker/keynote to Wikimania, Chinese Internet Conference and other global internet cultural events. Isaac Mao recently made waves in the technology and business world with his open letter to Google, challenging the search engine giant to support anti-censorship efforts and change its China strategy.
His twitter account, @issac currently has 27,881 followers

Xu Jinglei started blogging in 2005 and garnered over 10 million viewers and she is one of the top celebrity blogger in China. In late 2006, Xu Jinglei started to expand her talents into singing and released her 1st album.[77]

  • Yao Cheng

Yao Cheng, born on 5 October 1979, a native in Fujian Province, is the top sina weibo personality with the largest number of followers.

She graduated from Beijing Film Academy in 2003 and became an actress. Currently, she is part of the Xi An Flim Studio Cast. She acted in a Chinese show called "Legend of Martial Arts" in 2005, which was widely loved by the general audience.

Crossing the traditional media boundaries, Yao Cheng started using social media platforms to reach a wider group of audience. In September 2009, she started her personal weibo account, writing many interesting and humorous content. Her popularity on Weibo increased due to her being straightforward, real and sincere in what she writes. She also maintains a blog account.[78]

  • Lee Kai Fu

Lee Kai Fu is the founder of Innovation Works. He had an illustrious career at top US software companies before founding Microsoft Research China in 1998, which is widely considered a success. He joined Google in 2005 and a widely reported legal squabble ensued between Microsoft and Google over his ability to work for Google without disclosing proprietary information and trade secrets.[79] However, he left Google China in 2009 to start his Innovation Works.[80] Supported by industry giants, he invested $115 million enable Chinese entrepreneurs to the develop next wave of high-tech companies in China. Essentially, it is a business creation platform that focuses on establishing the next wave of Chinese high-technology companies founded by Lee.[81]

He is a prominent Weibo personality with 4.2 million followers and also maintains a blog. He has a following amongst the young and entrepreneurial in China.

  • Huang Jianxiang

Huang Jianxiang is one of the more famous sports commentators in China. His football commentary is highly praised and he has commentated at the FIFA World Cup and at the German Bundesliga. He also commentates during various multi-sport events such as the Olympic Games and the Asian Games.

He received international infamy during a World Cup commentary incident in 2006 when he yelled passionately during his commentary on a match between Australia and Italy. He received much flak for his blatant support for the Italian team.[82] Subsequently, he resigned from CCTV on November 2006 and joined Hong Kong's Phoenix TV. His blog and his Weibo updates are essential for any Chinese sports fan.

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5 Tips to Survive Digitally in China

  • Getting around government monitoring and censorship.
Comic Depiction of the Great "Firewall" of China[83]
There are ways around these government controls, especially for foreign businesses and companies operating in China, through the use of virtual private networks (VPN) and proxy servers. The Chinese government grudgingly allows these loopholes,without which no companies will be able to do business. It is allowed as long VPN and proxy use by ordinary Chinese is relatively low.[84]

  • Get acquainted with local versions of social media tools.

If you want to get into the local scene and make local friends, get the whole selection: Weibo, Renren, QQ etc.. And after that, you can start following the country's top 5 internet personalities.

  • Don't assume everyone thinks the same way you do. A majority of Chinese Internet users think the Internet should be controlled by the government.[85]

A 2008 survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project of Chinese internet users found that from 2000 to 2007, over 80% of respondents say they think the Internet should be managed or controlled, and in 2007, almost 85% thought the government should be responsible for that.[86]

  • There are free Wi-Fi hotspots in China.

You can take advantage of them. But be warned, they are only available in urbanized areas. Do expect to rely on internet cafes when in the rural part of the country. Here's a guide to some hotspots.

  • Using your 3G-enabled phone.

There are networks that support 3G capabilities and this is rising in popularity in China and given how most Chinese surf the internet on the go, China Mobile is a popular choice.

To hear from others who have lived and worked in China, refer to the section on 'Hear from the Experts' to listen to podcasts and interviews.

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Top 5 Strategies for Businesses in China

Strategies Description
Digital ecosystem

In China’s well-connected online society today, a company website is not enough to reach out to their consumers effectively. Using all the digital media tools available to build an ecosystem whereby consumers are constantly updated and encouraged to actively ‘converse’ with the company would help create a more personal connection between company and consumer.

Forget Facebook and Twitter[87] . China’s media landscape is unique in that netizens are mainly active on local social networking sites like Sina Weibo and Renren due to Censorship by the government. When building the companies’ digital ecosystem, it would be wise to use these channels instead. Also, China’s netizens are very active on Bulletin Board Sites (BBS), in fact, about 33% of China’s netizens are involved in online discussion forums and BBS[88].

Use Blogger Influence[89]

People tend to trust their peers and what they say. It will be extremely beneficial to companies to seek out the blogs that their target consumers are reading and perhaps work with these blogs to promote their brand/product/service.

Promote sharing

Companies should ensure that consumers are able to share information about their brand easily. In that way, information can reach various networks quickly and rapidly. In China’s case, companies should take note of the unique platforms as mentioned above that are open and available to China users.

Update and reciprocate

The digital ecosystem should be maintained and updated constantly to hold on to the consumers’ attention. This may require a team of people working just to update and respond to comments/problems present online.

Link and comment on relevant online content. China's netizens love to comment on BBS and a personal touch from a brand that cares about what their consumers are saying would be beneficial.

Connect offline with online

Some companies are afraid to go online as they are afraid it would affect their offline business. A better strategy would be to link offline businesses with online marketing. This would contribute to a stronger and more cohesive brand on the whole and drive traffic to both offline and online businesses.

View the video interview with Mr George Zhou to get more insights on doing business in China.

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Case Studies

Rather than eliminate social media entirely, government's restrictions on foreign websites outside China have resulted in a flourishing localized ecosystem in which Chinese equivalents of International social media platforms thrive on.

The following 3 most recent case study highlights the driving force behind China's social media success in a short time span.

1. Dettol in China (2011)

2. Luxury Brands in China

3. Viral effect of Vancl


Dettol in China (2011)

Dettol Campaign.Dettol

Dettol is a great case study of how a disinfectant brand effectively leverage on social media in its marketing campaign.

Granted a high brand awareness, Dettol is not ranked the market leader in the industry.

Objectives of using Social Media
Dettol aim to improve its market share, particularly in smaller cities in China using cost-effective approach to marketing and advertising.

Method of Campaign
1. Distribute 40,000 Dettol spray to mothers
2. Distribute additional 50,000 Dettol spray to ladies possessing natural distribution network

Outcome of Campaign
- Sales of Dettol spray soared by 86%, in comparison to the pre-campaign
- 98% of consumers demonstrated interest in in-stock Dettol spray

Key Success Factor of the Dettol campaign

  • Understanding the market
Dettol targeted the right audience - Females. The company understood where its influencers are gathering on social media, and the extend of their influences. As such, Dettol rightly engages with these influencers on the social media .

Meaningful insights from Dettol case study
Clearly, Dettol case study in China has successfully demonstrated that success in influencer marketing is not just catered for established brands like Pepsi and Coca-Cola. Dettol has showcased that social media can be implemented even for mundane household brands. Going forward, Dettol can broaden their audience base to target people online who are concerned with hygiene.

Source: Social media case study - Dettol in China

Luxury brands in China

Given the growth of the economy, consumers in China are driving the growth for many international luxury brands. Despite the proliferation of imitation goods, concerns of having a luxury brand on the digital sphere, it has not stopped luxury brands from engaging with their customers on the digital platform[90]

Burberry Campaign.

An example of what a British luxury brand Burberry has done:

• Launched a Chinese-language website in February 2011 • Streamed its China based runway event online[91]
• Launched shopping site for Chinese consumers
• Offer customers 24-hour customer service with an online Chinese chat system on their website

Social media platforms effectively used

  • Location Based Service - Jiepang

Burberry in China launched an extensive social media marketing campaign, also known as 'Bobo Li'. This offered 10 lucky participants who using Jiepang application the chance to attend concert and to live-blogged about the event.

  • Microblog, Social Networking sites - Sina Weibo, Kaixin

Burberry actively integrated its marketing campaign in the following ways:

• Engaged Two Chinese celebrities through its account to send out comments on Sina Weibo[92]

• Set up accounts on Chinese social-networking sites and, and on Internet television site Inc.

Outcome of Campaign At the end of Burberry's three months campaign (February 2011 to May 2011), Burberry gained over 100,000 followers on its Sina Weibo microblog. This demonstrated the reach and impact of the campaign through social networking sites.

Creating viral effect: Vancl

VANCL Campaign.

Background of Vancl

Vancl is China’s largest online clothing store that targets urban young Chinese seeking distinctive stylish clothing at affordable prices. The company was launched on the web with no physical presence.

Mocking Campaign

In April 2010, Vancl ventured into unconventional social media campaign, largely by modifying the slogan and distributing its commercials online without resorting to official disclosure.

Aim of Campaign

"Online Mockery" is used as an over-arching theme by Vancl. The company's marketing strategy aimed at leveraging the growing popularity of “online mockery”, where Chinese netizens tend to express their views in a distorted angle or even in a ridiculed manner.

Social Media Platforms used

- Vancl used TV advertising and billboard advertising along the subway and bus stops in Shanghai and Beijing. The message used on the billboards were ‘introspective’ about themselves and the world around them.

- Using a popular online microblogger Han Han, they managed to find a spokesperson that is able to identify with the masses[93] , as well as actress Wang Luodan.

Responses to Mocking Campaign

The campaign went viral by user-generated content when Netizens created a group on social network Douban- created and shared their own version of the ads.

12,000 members were created within 2 weeks and shared more than 3000 versions of their own ad[94].Content were spread them all over China’s well-known social networks and BBS message boards.[95]

Key Success Factors

1. Understanding of Chinese environment and culture

Essentially, Vancl successfully tailored its marketing campaigns to the Chinese environment and culture, effectively building on the Chinese trend of "Online Mockery". This established the necessary connection between the company and the masses.

2. Right utilization of relevant social media platforms in its advertising campaign

Vancl attempted to create value for its consumers through delivering consistent marketing messages through the appropriate social media channels, where its target audiences are located. Ads are posted on the most popular and frequently visited mainstream communities, forums and some instant communication tools to achieve deep penetration of key target groups. This allowed Vancl to gather a more representative and accurate key statistics to its campaign.

Andrea Fenn is Regional Digital Strategist at Ogilvy 360 Digital Influence Shanghai, the social media strategy team of Ogilvy. Andrea helps foreign brands or organizations understand and plan communication strategies on Chinese social media. He also writes on Chinese and foreign media about communication, social issues and lifestyle in China. link title

It was said that the campaign was seeded by a social media agency, and managed to hit an ‘unidentifiable’ critical mass that spread throughout China.[96] A factor that contributed to their virility was their ability to allow netizens to express themselves.[97]

Original Campaign

User-generated ‘Copycats’

Social uses

Help in Anti-trafficking


A web-based nationwide campaign on Weibo - the Chinese alternative to Twitter - was launched to crack down on the trafficking of children. The "Street Photos to Rescue Child Beggars" campaign called for the public to take photos of child street beggars and post it on Weibo with the time and location. In less than three weeks, the microblog account attracted 175,000 followers, with more than 2,500 images of begging children posted online for parents to identify.[98]

Mr Yu Jianrong, the creator of the campaign, is a prominent government critic and a professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and so far hasreuntied six children with their families. It began in January 2011 when Mr Yua published a short article on his microblog titled ‘Save child beggars by taking photos of them as and when you see them.’ He encouraged the public to upload photos of children whom they suspected to have been kidnapped and then forced to beg by child trafficking rings. He hoped to use the power of social media via Weibo to provide leads in the search for missing children. The number of followers of his microblog has already passed the 150, 000 follower mark in Feb 2011.

Unlike previous social media campaigns involving citizen action have run into confrontations with the government, this particular campaign has been met with approval.

The professor’s campaign represents a real opportunity to change these children’s lives, and the booming interest means there are already thousands of microblogs focusing on the issue, with hundreds of mobile phone camera snapshots having been taken by users and uploaded to blogs.


An example of a success story would be that of Lele and his reunification with his family with the help of this campaign. Lele found help from Deng Fei, a journalist, who had a massive following on the internet. Deng Fei tweeted Lele’s picture to his two million followers. Someone saw it and spotted the boy in Jiangsu province, 2,000km away from where he was kidnapped. So Lele’s father went in search of his son using this lead and was eventually reunited with his son, with the help of the police. It was all filmed and tweeted live by journalist Deng Fei.[99]


1. Jasmine Revolution 2011

Protestors in China attempting to imitate Tunisia's Jasmine Revolution [100]


In January 2011, a wave of protests began sweeping through countries in North Africa and in the Middle East following a popular uprising in Tunisia which resulted in the collapse of its decades-long dictatorship and the overthrow of Ben Ali, the dictator. This uprising was then known as the ‘Jasmine Revolution”. [101]

Spread to China

Soon, an active campaign using Chinese microblogging sites such as Weibo was started and it called for people to start similar protests and shout slogans such as "We want food, we want work, we want housing, we want fairness”. Police in China showed up in force in several major cities after an online call for a "jasmine revolution", seemingly modelled after the happenings of the Arab world. [102]

Social Media

Social media was the main tool utilised by the organisers of the protests before the authorities began their clampdown. The first call to protest was first posted on a US-based Chinese-language website, which then reported that its website was attacked by hackers late Saturday, 19th February.

The appeal called for protests to take place each weekend, [103] arguing that "sustained action will show the Chinese government that its people expect accountability and transparency that doesn't exist under the current one-party system." [104]


Link to section on Censorship in China

  • China Mobile and China Unicom blocked the word "jasmine". [105]
  • Mass text messaging service was also unavailable in Beijing due to “technical issues,” according to a customer service operator for leading provider China Mobile. [106]
  • On Sunday, 20th February, searches for words such as “jasmine” were blocked on and status updates with the word on popular Chinese social networking site were met with a warning to refrain from postings with “political, sensitive ... content.” President Hu Jintao called for stricter controls on the internet "to guide public opinion" and "solve prominent problems which might harm the harmony and stability of the society". [107]
  • On 25 February, several foreign journalists were contacted by police and told that they could not conduct interviews without applying for permission. [108]
  • Regulations issued by the Chinese government forbid entry by foreign reporters into the Wangfujing shopping district in Beijing or the People’s Park in central Shanghai without a special permit. Enforcement of the new rules on Sunday 28 February resulted in beating of one camera operator and detention of several reporters for several hours before their release and confiscation of their materials. [109]


  • On the day itself, there appeared to be many onlookers curious about the presence of so many police and journalists at the proposed protest sites, in busy city-centre shopping areas. Police in the two cities dispersed small crowds who had gathered. Authorities increased number of police on streets and censored online calls to stage protests in Beijing, Shanghai and 11 other cities. There were no reports of protests in the 11 other cities. [110]
  • According to the BBC's Correspondent Chris Hogg in Shanghai, men arrested there were roughly handled as they were dragged away shouting "why are you arresting me, I haven't done anything wrong". It was not clear what prompted the arrests and the men had not shouted any political slogans. [111]
  • On Beijing’s Wangfujing shopping street, about 100 people stood in front of a McDonald’s restaurant, slated to be the site of the protests, according to an Internet message that spread on Saturday, 19th February.
  • China’s authoritarian government has appeared to be unnerved by the recent protests in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Yemen, Algeria and Libya. [112] Ahead of protests, over 100 activists across China were taken away by police, confined to their homes or were missing, Hong Kong-based group Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said. Families reported detention or harassment of dissidents, and some activists said they were warned not to participate.
  • On March 1st, the Chinese government established 'no reporting zones' in Shanghai and Beijing to prevent foreign journalists from covering potential protests inspired by Tunisia's 'Jasmine Revolution'. [113]


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2. Baidu and China


When, Baidu’s own search engine site was launched in September 2001, it was perceived to be a copy of Google, owing in part to its simple design. However, Baidu faces a host of legal challenges including lawsuits charging that Baidu violates copyright laws as it has a popular MP3 search which directs users to third party hosting sites. [114]

When comparing Google with Baidu, we see that Google has a large advantage over Baidu unsurprising given how Google is a global company while Baidu is only big in China and Japan. In terms of liquidity, Google Inc. is doing relatively better as compared to Baidu Inc. However, in terms of valuation, Baidu Inc. is trading at a higher P/E ratio as compared to Google Inc. Baidu is trading at an impressive P/E ratio of 90.65 while Google is trading at a P/E ratio of 24.08. This is indicative of the high growth potential for Baidu especially after Google exited the Chinese search market, giving Baidu a great void to fill. [115]

Legal Issues and Controversies

  • 2011

In March 2011, Baidu was blacklisted by US Trade Representative’s (USTR) and joined its notorious list of counterfeiting and piracy for both physical and online markets. Baidu was accused of directing consumers to third-party websites which host pirated materials. According to the USTR, Baidu is the most-visited website in China and among the top 10 in the world. [116]

"Industry reports that personal computer malls throughout China, such as Hailong Mall in Beijing and Yangpu Yigai digital square in Shanghai, sell computers with illegal operating software and other unlawfully pre-installed software," reported the USTR. It claims that the production and sales of counterfeit goods were detrimental to the growth and success of businesses across the globe. "Piracy and counterfeiting undermine the innovation and creativity that is vital to our global competitiveness," said USTR's Ron Kirk. "These notorious markets not only hurt American workers and businesses, but are threats to entrepreneurs and industries around the world," he added.In its bid to protect American businesses against piracy, the US Chamber of Commerce urged the government to block foreign websites that sell illegal goods from operating in the US.

Link to report: Out of Cycle Piracy Review of Notorious Markets, USTR. Published 28 February 2011

  • 2010

In 2010, Baidu was cleared of copyright charges that were brought by the music industry in Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People's Court. The court ruled that deep linking MP3s—legal or not—does not violate copyright law in China. Baidu’s stand was that it simply provided search results and this did not count as copyright infringement.[117]

The case was brought by the international sibling of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), back in February 2008 when it accused Baidu and a handful of other Chinese companies of supporting piracy. The charge was that Baidu's results provided links to file sharing sites and, in many cases, direct links to illegally shared MP3s on various servers around the world. The IFPI said it unsuccessfully attempted to negotiate a resolution with Baidu, leaving it with no other choice but to sue over the deep linking practice. The labels being represented by the IFPI were seeking maximum damages totaling up to at least US$9 million, but could have gone into the billions if more songs were discovered.

Unfortunately for the IFPI, the Beijing court disagreed with the definition of copyright infringement. In its ruling, the court said that the IFPI failed to identify any of the sites that were allegedly hosting the illegal music, and Baidu itself was not hosting the songs. Under that interpretation, providing search results to users isn't enough to contravene copyright law, and Baidu was unscathed. The Baidu case is the IFPI's second go at the search engine—its first case, brought in 2005, was thrown out by the same court saying that the files were not infringing on anyone's copyright.

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