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How Baidu's Robin Li founded China's answer to Google

Li Yanhong, better known as Robin Li, is the co-founder of Baidu -- a search engine that is the world’s 4th most visited website. It also invests heavily in autonomous driving and cloud computing. 

This article originally appeared on ABACUS

Robin Li, or Li Yanhong as he is known in Chinese, is one of China’s most famous internet entrepreneurs.

He co-founded China’s equivalent of Google, known as Baidu (pronounced ‘buy-DOO’), and has since become one of the richest people in China, with a net worth of US$20 billion. Since its founding, Baidu has listed publicly on the Nasdaq and is now the fourth-most visited website in the world. 

In China the company is part of what’s called BAT -- Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent -- the trio of companies that make up the country’s tech giants.

Humble beginnings

Born in 1968 in what was then an impoverished city in China’s Shanxi province, Li grew up during the Cultural Revolution.

After studying for a degree at the prestigious Peking University, where he majored in library science, he was accepted into the computer science programme at the State University of New York at Buffalo.

Following his studies, Li took a job at Dow Jones & Company where he worked on a project for The Wall Street Journal’s online edition.

Chance encounter

Following a chance encounter with William Chang, then the chief technology officer at Disney-owned Infoseek, Li was hired to look after search engine development for the company. 

In 1999, Li decided to form his own search company with Eric Xu, a PhD who had good contacts in Silicon Valley. In 2001, Baidu launched its own website, which many would recognise for its similarity to Google’s.

When Baidu went public in 2005, Li’s net worth from his stock holdings was more than US$900 million.

Close call

But Li’s journey to achieve wealth and fame hasn’t always been smooth sailing. He was recently investigated by Chinese police after live streaming himself in the passenger seat of a Baidu self-driving car, which is currently forbidden on public roads in China.

He is married and lives in Beijing with his wife and four children.

For more insights into China tech, sign up for our tech newsletters, subscribe to our Inside China Tech podcast, and download the comprehensive 2019 China Internet Report. Also roam China Tech City, an award-winning interactive digital map at our sister site Abacus.