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Baidu's patriotic doodle ruffles Japanese feathers

Chinese users offered chance to plant flag on disputed islands, instead of rioting

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Chinese search giant Baidu is in fire-fighting mode after releasing an ill-advised doodle on its homepage on Tuesday depicting the disputed Diaoyu Islands – a move which could harm its international operations.

September 18 was the anniversary of the Mukden, or Manchurian, Incident of 1931 which led to the Japanese invasion of China.

Users visiting Baidu’s homepage on that day could click on the animated depiction of the Diaoyu Islands, which are also claimed by Japan, taking them to another page with the fairly unequivocal message: “The Diaoyu Islands belong to China!” and another image of the islands.

Users were then able to plant a virtual Chinese flag on the disputed territory to stick it to Japan and show their patriotism.

On a day when violent anti-Japan protests – the worst for several years – sprung up all over the People’s Republic, Baidu was forced to issue a statement clarifying exactly why it had allowed the provocative homepage doodle:

The vast majority of Baidu’s users, as well as our employees, are of a mind on the issue of the Diaoyu Islands. But the real purpose of the logo and the microsite was to encourage people to be rational in their expressions of patriotism, to renounce violence and other forms of extremism. The way we see it, planting a digital flag to express your feelings on the Diaoyu Islands is a far better alternative to throwing rocks or smashing cars.

Whatever the explanation, it’s unlikely that Baidu’s Japan office will be too happy with what happened. Nor will such naked patriotism go down very well in other Asian markets the firm may want to expand into in the future, especially given many of them also have territorial disputes with China.

For the record, Baidu was not the only Chinese web firm to jump on the patriotic bandwagon on Tuesday.

The country’s biggest net firm Tencent made clear its feelings with a banner on the homepage of its popular QQ service stating: “Never forget national humiliation. Enrich the people and build a powerful nation.”

According to Bloomberg, users could also click through to a second page which displayed info on the number of Chinese casualties that resulted from Japan’s invasion. ®

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