The PRC According To Autocomplete

by Jonah Shepp


Warner Brown mapped China’s regional stereotypes according to Baidu autocomplete:

Why is the northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang “so chaotic?” Why are many from the southern metropolis of Shanghai “unfit to lead”? And do people from central Henan Province really steal manhole covers? These are just some of the questions — ranging from the provocative, to the offensive, to the downright ridiculous — that Chinese people ask about themselves and each other on Baidu, the country’s top search engine, which says it processes about 5 billion queries each day.

In the West, amateur sociologists use Google’s voluminous search history to finish half-written questions about different regions. They then plot the stereotypes onto maps such as this one of the United States, which The Atlantic called “The U.S. According to Autocomplete.” China, with its long history of regional stereotyping, is ripe for similar treatment.

Christopher Beam explores what else the search engine reveals about Chinese web users:

Sex questions are popular—understandably so, given the relative dearth of sex education in China. (Plus, asking the Internet is less awkward than asking your teacher or mom.) The top “why” question among Googlers may be “why is the sky blue,” but Baidu users have a different primary concern: “Why is my semen yellow?” Runners up include “Why do I ejaculate so quickly?” and “Why don’t I have any semen?” They also pose questions they might be too shy to ask their partners, such as, “Why do girls go to the bathroom after sex?” You may have noticed these are all dude questions. It’s hard to say whether that’s because Chinese men have a disproportionately large number of sexual hang-ups, or because Baidu users are disproportionately male, or because China itself is disproportionately male. Evidence points to the latter two explanations: If you type in “I’m looking for,” “a wife” makes the list of top suggestions, but “a husband” does not.