Skip to content

Why a College Student’s Death Led to Baidu and a Beijing Hospital Being Punished

The death of Wei Zexi, a college student from Shaanxi Province, who received false information from Baidu on treatment for his cancer, has stirred up a big anti-Baidu wave in China.

Wei Zexi had synovial sarcoma, a rare form of cancer. When he searched on Baidu, the search engine showed him that the Second Hospital of the Beijing Armed Police Corps offered effective treatment. Wei decided to forego another treatment which had some, but not very high chance of a cure, and went with the Armed Police Corps Hospital. His family spent 200,000 yuan (U.S. $30,000), depleting the family’s entire saving and even borrowing money, for the treatment.

It turned out that the Baidu search result for the Second Hospital of the Beijing Armed Police Corps was a paid advertisement. The hospital was, in fact, making a false claim. However, since the hospital paid Baidu a large fee, Baidu displayed its claim among the top search results. As Baidu did not differentiate between its paid ads and its regular search results, it misled Internet users into thinking paid ads were authoritative results.

The Second Hospital of the Beijing Armed Police Corps had been widely collaborating with "Putian doctors." "Putian doctors" are people from Putian City, Fujian Province, who may or may not have had a medical education, but claimed they were doctors and rented hospital’s offices to offer medical services. "Putian doctors" count for 80 percent of the private medical practices in China.

The hospital’s treatment offered no help to Wei Zexi who eventually died on April 12. Before his death, he posted his story on the Internet. A wave of public denunciation of Baidu for its lack of moral standards flooded the Internet and the media.

The State Internet Information Office led an investigation over Baidu’s role in this death incident. It recently required Baidu to carry out the following corrections:

1. Overhaul all its commercial services for the medical practice industry. Take offline any information violating regulations, and do not promote any medical institution that does not have proper medical practice qualifications.

2. Change its search ranking algorithm from paid fee based to reputation based; add a mark to indicate those that are paid ads; and limit paid ads to less than 30 percent per result page.

3. Establish a netizen’s rights protection mechanism. Speed up the process to handle Internet users’ cases; immediately put a stop to all information that violates the law, regulations, or netizen’s rights; compensate netizens for their losses due to inaccurate ads on Baidu.

The Second Hospital of the Beijing Armed Police Corps was ordered to stop all services to the public immediately. It was also ordered to make the following corrections:

1. Immediately stop cooperating with Shanghai Claison Bio-tech, which offered the cancer treatment solution to Wei Zexi.

2. Overhaul all false information and medical advertising. Review the medical qualifications of every medical practitioner and take proper actions.

3. Punish medical practitioners involved in Wei Zexi’s case, including revoking the doctor’s certificate and taking legal action.

4. Carry out legal and disciplinary education; improve the hospital’s management.

1. BBC Chinese, May 9, 2016
2. Xinhua, May 20, 2016