Online China goes to Japan for porn

Baidu launches a Japanese version, but the users seem to be mostly Chinese men

By Justin Mitchell for Asia Sentinel
April 14, 2007


The usual Japanese adult content is not the usual content for Chinese internet users
Much ado has been made over China's constant efforts to protect its citizens from the nefarious influence of free flowing Internet information. Falun Gong, Wikipedia, Reporters Without Borders, BBC News, any reference to June 4, 1989, Taiwan independence or a free Tibet are no-nos, of course. Selected blog sites, such as the popular Blogspot, also are often blocked but then unblocked and blocked again in an unpredictable cycle that defies logic.

Lured by all those eyeballs, western companies have enabled the crackdown in their desire to get a share of the rapidly expanding China market. Yahoo, Google, Microsoft and Cisco Systems were widely criticized in 2005 for their complicity in what the conservative American pundit David Kopel called, "China's stranglehold on information." Although, complicit or not, the overwhelming mass of Chinese Internet users continue to favor the country's leading search engine, Baidu - not Yahoo or Google - for their online needs.

But to be honest, it's not the real low-down on Tiananmen Square, updates on imprisoned intellectuals or the aspirations of the people of Tibet that lead to yearning for a breach in the Great Firewall.

It's porn. Pure and simple. The quest for online porn satisfies the same itch in Beijing as it does in Boston, Manchester or Melbourne. In China, though, finding it online it isn't as simple as typing in "Jenna Jameson," "Bang Bus" or "Japanese Race Queens." Official scrutiny of naughty net sites is arguably more focused than that of content championed by western democracy advocates, though access to pirated Korean, Taiwanese, Japanese, vintage American and European porn on DVD is usually as easy as a running to the corner shop for a couple bottles of Tsing Tao and some sesame chips.

Quietly, however, in mid-March Baidu, the monster NASDAQ-listed portal, did a favor for China's smut seekers when it launched a US$15 million Japanese version called Baidu.jp. With its server based in Japan, it allows users from China to access pages otherwise banned by Beijing - images included. "It's just a test version at an early stage, so we don't want to make a fuss about it in the press," Baidu spokesman Xu Jiye, told Shanghai Daily.

I know what you're looking forOn its corporate Website, Baidu explains the company's mission in lofty terms. "Baidu was inspired by a poem written more than 800 years ago during the Song Dynasty. The poem compares the search for a retreating beauty amid chaotic glamour with the search for one's dream while confronted by life's many obstacles," the company says. "Hundreds and thousands of times, for her I searched in chaos, suddenly, I turned by chance, to where the lights were waning, and there she stood."

For those who have found the Japanese site, and the numbers appear to be growing, Baidu has revealed what they want to see. Baidu.jp placed 908th in terms of overall traffic in Japan last week, according to the ranking site Alexa.com. But nearly 60 percent of those searching were from China. Despite friction over still-festering World War II issues such as the Nanjing Massacre, sex slaves, the Yasukuni War Shrine and unexploded chemical weapons, Chinese Internet users have put aside any antipathy. They like what they're seeing: Japanese adult video stars in their mostly R-rated glory

Here's what a few bloggers had to say shortly after Baidu.jp's modest debut:

Someone calling himself Lu Xinxin trumpeted the announcement at www.lvxinxin.com: "Baidu Japan is good stuff! (Girls, don't click, neither should anyone under 18!)"

"Baidu Japan is finally online! Liu Xinxin said it's good stuff. It is, it is! All the search results pop up easily!"

"Is this legal in Japan?" wrote "Kereal" in seeming astonishment.

"I'm sweating!" confessed "Aether."

"You can put in a few words and come up with this astonishing stuff," wrote an anonymous poster. "You can tell how good it is by noticing how the female comrades here react to it. It is really very good, but nothing stunning for other countries, especially Japan which has a large, specialized pornography industry. Still this is huge for China!"

"I hope now Baidu.jp can develop a video search engine," wrote "Ivxnxn."

There were words of caution, too. "You're a bunch of idiots!" scolded "Gdgfd." "After you talk about it here it will probably be banned by the GFW (Great Fire Wall)."

You can also find banned politics on Baidu JapanRest easy, Gdgfd. Official oversight is capricious. For example, how does one explain China's official state news agency Xinhua, and its frequent postings of partially clad females - Chinese and foreign models and actresses alike - on its website under the guise of "art" or "culture," sometimes on the same page as a dictum/news release from the Party about the dangers of online titillation? Xinhua's predilection for saucy pics led one of China's leading foreign bloggers, Jeremy Goldkorn at Danwei.org, to dub it "Skinhua." The nickname has stuck.

It's not all T&A, though, At Baidu.jp. Type in "6./4/89," "Tianamen 89" or variations of them in Chinese characters and the results roll in, albeit in Japanese and many appear to be academic or government documents related to the massacre. Included among the results, though, are graphic, bloody photographs not easily found even on western websites as well as a skillfully edited YouTube tribute that uses documentary footage, still photos and a banned-in-China song urging the world not to forget.

As for Baidu.jp's future in Japan, porn and politically sensitive topics aside, it faces substantial challenges. Yahoo Japan is the country's top pick, with about 86 percent of Japan's Internet users, according to JapanNet. The current version of Baidu.jp has no advertising and offers nothing more than a search engine minus its popular Baidu blogging service and news.

In vaguely addressing the issue, Baidu's chairman and CEO said in a press release that 'We believe that our proven strength in non-English language search, the high internet penetration in Japan, as well as similarities between the Chinese and Japanese languages make this market an ideal next step for Baidu.''

Copyright 2007 Asia Sentinel. Reprinted with permission.


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