Zhou Jing: Baidu’s PR chief has left after sparking a PR nightmare for the Chinese tech giant

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Baidu’s PR chief, who sparked a public relations crisis with his controversial comments endorsing a strict workplace culture, has left the Chinese search engine.

Zhou Jing resigned from her position as vice president and head of communications, a person familiar with the matter told CNN on condition of anonymity. CNN also saw a screenshot of an internal employee system that appears to confirm that she no longer works for the company.

Baidu did not immediately respond to a request for comment. By Thursday night, Zhou had removed the title of “Vice President of Baidu” from her account on Douyin, China’s version of TikTok.

In a series of short videos posted last week on the website Douyin, Zhou spoke about her dedication to her job, strict management style and strict requirements from her direct reports, striking a chord with young workers tired of grueling work hours and constant pressure.

In one video, she criticized an employee who refused to go on a 50-day business trip during the COVID-19 pandemic, when China imposed strict travel restrictions and quarantines.

“Why should I take the employee’s family into consideration? I’m not her mother-in-law,” Zhou said. “I’m ten years older than you, twenty years. I did not feel bitter or tired, even though I had two children. Who are you to tell me that your husband can’t stand this?

In another clip, Cho shared her personal sacrifices as a working mother. She was working so hard that she forgot her eldest son’s birthday and which class her younger son was in at school. She said she did not regret it because she “chose to become a career woman.”

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“If you work in PR, don’t expect a weekend,” she said in a third video. “Keep your phone on 24 hours a day, always ready to answer.”

Zhu had apologized earlier in the day and said her posts did not speak for Baidu, but her fiery remarks have already sparked a backlash in China, where young people have long complained about a culture of excessive overwork and highly competitive professional environments, especially in China. Technology industry.

The controversy quickly became a popular topic on Douyin and Weibo, the Chinese X-like platform that dominates online discussions. Users criticized Zhou for her aggressive and insensitive manner and accused her and BIDU of promoting a toxic workplace.

“In her voice and her tone, there is a deep indifference and lack of empathy for the shared plight of her colleagues,” said Ivy Yang, a China technology analyst and founder of consultancy Wavelet Strategy.

“A lot of what she said really struck a chord, because people feel that in their workplaces a lot of times. The fact that she said it in such a direct, in-your-face way generated that kind of emotional response,” she said.

“That’s what bosses think, and she was just saying it out loud,” Yang added.

Young workers in China have increasingly spoken out against the harsh workplace culture that has come to dominate many industries.

In 2019, Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma sparked heavy criticism after endorsing the “996” trend, which means working from 9am to 9pm six days a week, and calling it a “big blessing.”

Yang described the backlash against Ma as a “watershed moment” that prompted people to rethink the relationship between the workplace and themselves — a trend that has intensified as China’s economy has slowed.

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China’s economy has registered stronger growth than expected at the beginning of this year, but problems – including a real estate crisis, declining foreign investment, and tepid consumption – are piling up.

“When companies demand complete loyalty, time and energy from their employees, employees feel there is no reciprocity or reward for their sacrifices or contributions, especially when things slow down. This becomes the central conflict, and this conflict is also at the heart of the Baidu saga,” Yang added.

As public anger escalated, videos were published Douyin’s personal account of Qu It was taken down.

After days of silence, Zhou apologized on Thursday for “causing such a big storm” in a post on her personal account on WeChat, China’s most popular social media app.

“I have carefully read all the opinions and comments from various platforms, and many of the criticisms are very relevant. I think about them deeply and accept them with all humility,” Zhou wrote.

She also sought to put some distance between her statements and Baidu’s, saying that she had not sought approval in advance and that they did not represent the company’s position.

“Many inappropriate and inappropriate points were made in the videos, resulting in misunderstandings about the company’s values ​​and culture, causing serious harm,” Zhou wrote.

A person familiar with the matter said Zhou’s clips were part of her push to amplify Baidu’s voice on short-video platforms, which have become an increasingly important channel for disseminating information in China.

Shaw had asked all members of the public relations team to create their personal accounts, according to the person who requested anonymity.

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“The main purpose is to improve everyone’s ability to create short videos. Everyone can have different choices regarding content, and Christina chose to talk about her personal experience,” the person said, referring to Qu’s English name.

Zhou worked as a reporter for China’s official news agency Xinhua before turning to the public relations industry. She joined Baidu in 2021 from Huawei, a Chinese tech giant known for its strong “wolf culture,” where employees are expected to emulate the bloodthirsty nature, courage and resilience of wolves.

A former Baidu employee said Zhou brought Huawei’s aggressive corporate culture to Baidu.

“(It caused) a very big culture shock. “About 60% of the team left within months of her arrival,” the former employee told CNN on condition of anonymity.

The PR team was expected to always be available, keep their phones on, respond to messages promptly, and attend meetings in the middle of the night and on weekends with short notice, the former employee said.

Xu also adopted the military-style language used in corporate management at Huawei, which requires the team to be “disciplined” and “capable of winning battles,” the former employee said.

CNN has reached out to Huawei for comment.

This article has been updated with additional information.

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