The world's first Tibetan-language search engine could help provide accurate information about China's Tibet Autonomous Region, according to its developer. But an expert warned that security departments should be alert to separatists using the search engine.
Launched in August 2016 in Northwest China's Qinghai Province, the search engine yongzin.com receives an average of 10 million visits a day.
"The website was developed to cater to the growing demands of Tibetan-speaking netizens. It also helps preserve and spread Tibetan culture," Laji Zhuoma, president of yongzin, told the Global Times during the 1st Digital China Summit, which was held from Sunday to Tuesday in Fuzhou, East China's Fujian Province.
Yongzin has more than 100 staff members, 84 percent of whom are ethnic Tibetans. Yongzin received its initial funding from the government to develop the engine, which cost 23 million yuan ($3.6 million).
"Some foreign Tibetan-language websites provide inaccurate information, such as the distortion of the actual living conditions of Tibetan people. So we developed the search engine to link curious Tibetan-speaking netizens with accurate information provided by government-approved news portals," she said. She cited an example, that when searching for "Dalai Lama" on yongzin.com, users will be linked to more than 200 domestic Tibetan-language news websites.
The search engine that automatically provides links to government-approved news portals could help netizens have a correct understanding of Tibetan history, culture and religion, Xiong Kunxin, a professor at Beijing's Minzu University of China in Beijing, told the Global Times.
"However, the engine's administrator and the country's security departments should be on high alert for the possibility that the search engine may be used by 'the three evil forces' - terrorism, separatism and extremism - through technical means to promote extremism," Xiong warned.
The search engine is not only used by domestic Tibetan users but also by people from foreign countries including the U.S., Germany, France and Switzerland.
According to Laji, most domestic users are more interested in searching for news as well as entertainment videos and music, while many foreign users prefer Tibetan books and related literature.
Yongzin means "master" or "teacher" in the Tibetan language. The search engine has sections for news, links for websites, images, videos, music, encyclopedia, literature and forums, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
Hot news topics, ecology and environmental protection are the most frequently searched items while religion isn't a hot search, said Laji.
Laji said they are currently working on voice translation tool that will help people use the search engine, as many Tibetan people are illiterate. They're also seeking partners to develop translation software that can accurately translate Chinese to the Tibetan language.