Baidu's English-Language Blog Illuminates Chinese Web Activity

China's equivalent of Google offers a window into the world of the country's netizens—but how transparent will the leading Chinese search engine be?

Naked college girls. Vegetable sellers. Cheating husbands. Those are just three of the topics you can explore on the new English-language blog begun this week by China's leading search engine, Baidu. The blog—titled "Baidu Beat"—gives readers around the world a peek into Chinese web culture. (And if those three topics are any indication, that culture is not very different than the one found in the U.S.)

"As China's largest search provider, as well as the operator of some of its biggest online forums, we offer English-speakers a window onto the Chinese Internet," says Baidu spokesperson Kaiser Kuo. "You can see what the intentions of Chinese people are by what trends are on Baidu."

The site's lead authors are an international group of young bloggers, Chinese and non-Chinese, including a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley.

The move by Baidu is seen as a step toward global expansion and many are speculating that the company is on the verge of a major announcement, possibly having to do with Weibo, a Chinese micro-blogging service, but no official details have been revealed yet.

The launch comes at an interesting time for China—with talk of a Skype ban and other online moves by the government, a blog promising an inside look into the habits of Chinese netizens will likely be received with plenty of skepticism. The country is not exactly known for being open with the media and Baidu may be motivated to reveal more about Chinese Internet users, in the interest of global expansion, than the government would care for.

"It's really out of a desire to give people who are interested in China but who don't necessarily read Chinese or don't read fluently in Chinese an opportunity to understand what Chinese Internet users are doing," says Kuo.

It remains to be seen what degree of censorship Baidu Beat will employ in its effort to give the world a window on the Chinese web.

Follow me, Jenara Nerenberg, on Twitter.

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