Chinese-language search engine Baidu has an unusual new mascot atop its home page: U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.
A cartoon version of Obama is depicted next to a donkey, the Democratic party emblem. He's holding a net as though casting it, and attached to the end of the net is a computer mouse--get it? It's the Internet.
This is part of a "person of the month" feature that Baidu has instituted since November, the blog Shanghaiist explains. Each month, Baidu selects a real-life or fictional personality who has ranked high in its search queries. As Shanghaiist explains, it's "a bit like Google Trends meets Time Person of the Year on a monthly basis." Barack Obama is the sixth installment in the series.
The series is hosted on the domain renwu.baidu.com; "renwu" means "historically important person."
While the biography of Obama on Baidu is largely celebratory, this is not a formal endorsement of the candidate. It is, however, an endorsement of his Web-savviness. Clicking on the Obama-adorned logo on Baidu redirects to a Chinese-language biography of the candidate and links to various media; the central talking point is Obama's status as a young politician who has successfully leveraged digital media and the Web to rise to fame. Of particular note, according to his Baidu page, is his speech about race in Philadelphia that soared to the YouTube stratosphere after appearing on television earlier.
But of more local relevance, the Baidu site about Obama also highlights the high volume of Chinese search queries for both Obama and his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. Charts and graphs detail politics-related searches both Chinese and international. There are also information resources pertaining to what the U.S. presidential election means to China, and what Chinese citizens think about it.
"State and world affairs have become the most popular topics of concern for Internet users," a translation of part of Baidu's page about Obama reads. It doesn't seem to mesh particularly well with the Chinese government's rigid stance on the spread of information, particularly political rhetoric, on the Web.
Nor was it clear whether the Obama campaign would react positively, considering the tense relationship between the U.S. and China. Calls to the campaign's press office for comment were not immediately returned.