From Bing to Baidu: How people in China search online
Bing goes offline for some Chinese internet users, prompting censorship fears
Update, January 25, 2019: Microsoft confirms that Bing was inaccessible in China, but service is now restored.
No matter where you go, Bing seems to be the forgotten search engine -- eclipsed by Google globally, and trailing Baidu in China.
Bing even trails Google in China, which is remarkable because Google is blocked in China -- and Bing has an official presence in the country. Still, even a small share is a lot in a country with more than twice as many internet users as the entire population of the US -- and as trust in Baidu drops, Bing has room to grow.
“I started using Bing in 2013. That’s because a few years back, reports started to come out questioning how Baidu ranked search results and screened false ads,” said Zhao Zhiyong, a 24-year-old student.
She’s not the only one choosing Bing over Baidu. In one discussion on the Quora-like Q&A site Zhihu, plenty of people recommended Microsoft’s service as an alternative.
“I’ve basically dropped Baidu. The world feels so refreshing all of a sudden. I’ve been using Bing. It’s pretty good,” wrote FanMo.
Comments like this echo mounting frustration over the quality of search results from Baidu, China’s dominant search engine with over 70% market share.
Just this week, a WeChat article titled “Baidu the search engine is dead” went viral, drawing more than 100,000 views within 24 hours. The article claimed that Baidu was prioritizing its own platforms in search results.
And that’s part of the reason why on Thursday, some people in China were unnerved when Bing -- an alternative to Baidu -- became unreachable in parts of the country.
In a statement, Microsoft said, “We’ve confirmed that Bing is currently inaccessible in China and are engaged to determine next step.”
On Chinese social media, friends are offering possible reasons for the outage and exchanging tips on how to get around it. One media report suggested that dissatisfied Baidu users might be turning to Bing in droves, overwhelming the latter’s servers. Others pointed to alternative web addresses, such as http://www2.bing.com, that might still work.
More are wondering if Bing has finally fallen outside China’s Great Firewall, which blocks a large number of foreign websites.
But if that’s the case, many weren’t sure why it’s happening now. Unlike Google, which closed its mainland China search site in 2010, Bing has maintained a China-specific search engine that produces government-friendly results. Searching “Dalai Lama”, for example, yields a state media documentary at the top of the page. In contrast, the international version of Bing shows the Dalai Lama’s official website as the first result.
Censorship is the norm on the Chinese internet. Even Google was reportedly working on a censored search engine for China. Without Bing, most internet users in China are left choosing among a handful of homegrown search engines, which are also censored.
The second most popular search engine in China is Shenma, a mobile-only search engine founded by the team behind UC Browser and its owner Alibaba. The name literally translates to “divine horse”, which rhymes with the Chinese phrase meaning “what?”
(Abacus is a unit of the South China Morning Post, which is owned by Alibaba.)
Next is Sogou, which was once accused of hijacking Baidu’s traffic, and Haosou, created by internet security firm Qihoo 360.
Despite these existing options, some people said they still prefer Bing to the others.
“I’m really drawn by the featured photos on the homepage. The quality of English search results is also several levels higher than Baidu’s. I have used it as my default search engine for years,” wrote DC Lee on Zhihu.