David Wertime

The World Through Chinese Baidu's Eyes

What do Chinese people think of the U.S.? Or Korea? Or India? On March 2nd, Tea Leaf Nation attempted to see the world through Chinese eyes–or more accurately, through the eyes of a Chinese person using Baidu, China’s most popular search engine. For simplicity of analysis, we reproduce only the first page of results for each country. 

One thing is for certain: Although China’s Internet censors often cite stamping out smut as a primary directive, they either haven’t seen or don’t care about the surprisingly high level of nudity that results from even innocuous searches like the below. Fear not, a few selectively placed tea leaves make this article “safe for work.” They also allow us to produce (highly unscientific) rankings for the least family-friendly country searches. They are available at the bottom of this article.

And now, in no particular order, Tea Leaf Nation presents the results.

China: A search for “China” calls up images of politics and power–maps, a black Mercedes, the Communist seal, and attractive young women (the latter a recurring theme).  

United States: The images here are not negative, but neither are they sentimental. Steel and stone abound; we see images of permanence (or in old photographs of lower Manhattan, tragic impermanence), politics and power. And of course, a few young women.

Japan: Japan tops our nudity rankings with three tea leaves, suggesting a certain amount of objectification towards the country’s fairer sex. Tea Leaf Nation feels compelled to ask: Are these or similar images burned into the retina of every elementary school student with an Internet connection? Notably missing are painful historical, political, or hateful images. They abound on the Chinese Internet, but either did not rank high enough to make the first page or were “harmonized” to the back of the queue.

France: Generally speaking, Chinese people bear good will toward France and are keen to visit. The below images reflect France’s reputation in China as a beautiful and romantic tourist destination. And a cute bulldog makes his first appearance.

South Korea: Sino-Korean relations are often fraught, but many Chinese also view it as a country with beautiful women and cool pop stars. At this point Tea Leaf Nation begins to notice the relative paucity of male images in these searches.

India: The country has something of a reputation within China as a rival, albeit one in the rear view mirror. But that is scarcely in evidence here. Instead, featured prominently are human beauty, gastronomic pleasure, and of course the lovely Taj Mahal. (Notably, the soldiers shown are not Indian; they’re Chinese.)

Syria: Many in China were not thrilled with China’s recent veto of UN Security Council sanctions against Assad’s regime. Not surprisingly, Syria rates as the most severe of all the search results surveyed–maps and military might.  

South Africa: Wildlife, stunning natural beauty, the World Cup, and the obligatory ladies. 

Mexico: As with Brazil and Turkey, a bizarre humanoid image appears among the top results (an alien was discovered–no, really!), as does a picture of casualties from Mexico’s horrific drug wars. But there’s plenty of natural beauty to counterbalance the terror. 

England: At the speed of an electron, our international bulldog of mystery has traveled from France to England. Like France, a search for England calls up mostly images that suggest it is fine destination for travel, or in this case study. China’s historically antagonistic relationship with England is nowhere to be found, but England’s stunning pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo 2010 makes two richly-deserved appearances. 

Vietnam: Nominally China’s brother in Communism, factually something of a rival to the Middle Kingdom, and source, if Baidu is to be believed, of countless marching women in uniform. 

Brazil: Brazil is reputed to be a beautiful country in both the natural and human respects, and Chinese netizens appear to share this predisposition. 

Thailand: A country with a beautiful and complex culture gets an unfairly one-dimensional reception on the world stage. China, in this respect, follows suit. At two tea leaves, this results page ranks ahead of only Japan and Turkey on our Family Friendliness Index.

Turkey: Baidu results make Turkey appear a nice place to visit, with lots of spots to take a nice swim or a bath, or grab some delicious coffee. A man covered in fur (allegedly from Mexico, not Turkey) appears as part of an article about “horrible curses” that also discusses Turkey. One image of damage from the October 2011 earthquake makes an appearance, along with yet more gratuitous nudity.  (NB: Animal nudity does not count.)

Bonus: Tea Leaf Nation’s exclusive Family-Friendliness Index:

  1. England (0 Tea Leaves)
  2. Syria (0 Tea Leaves)
  3. France (0 Tea Leaves)
  4. India (0 Tea Leaves)
  5. Mexico (0 Tea Leaves)
  6. South Africa (0 Tea Leaves)
  7. United States (0 Tea Leaves)
  8. China (0 Tea Leaves)
  9. Korea (1 Tea Leaf)  
  10. Brazil (1 Tea Leaf) 
  11. Vietnam (1 Tea Leaf) 
  12. Thailand (2 Tea Leaves) 
  13. Turkey (2 1/2 Tea Leaves)  1/2
  14. Japan (3 Tea Leaves) 


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David Wertime

David is the co-founder and co-editor of Tea Leaf Nation. He first encountered China as a Peace Corps Volunteer in 2001 and has lived and worked in Fuling, Chongqing, Beijing, and Hong Kong. He is a ChinaFile fellow at the Asia Society and an associate fellow at the Truman National Security Project.